Page last updated at 16:03 GMT, Wednesday, 18 January 2006

Protecting the famous' 'underbelly'

Victoria, David and Brooklyn Beckham
The Beckhams' children keep a lower profile since kidnap plots

As Tony Blair's son becomes the latest famous child targeted by a kidnap plot, BBC News talks to an expert about how high-profile families are protected.

"Anyone targeting their children is targeting the underbelly of that individual.

"It's the weakest point. Any parent will be as compliant as possible to secure their own child."

That is the analysis of Ian Hughes - a personal protection expert with 20 years experience in the security industry - in the wake of news of a plot to kidnap Tony Blair's youngest son.

Multi-million earners

The 43-year-old's clients are "high net worth" individuals and their families in the UK, Europe and Asia.

As an MD at security firm Anvil Group he does "crisis avoidance" for businessmen and women, politicians, celebrities and sports people.

They can earn in the tens of millions and need protection at home or travelling, on business, to sensitive locations such as Afghanistan.

We've been with one client and intelligence has come back that an attempt is going to be made on his life
Ian Hughes
Anvil Group

Public figures such as Tony Blair and his family, or Cabinet politicians, are protected by police and the government's security services.

Mr Hughes cannot speculate on individual cases, but says they are likely to face the same issues as those he and other security firms tackle when they plan to protect a high-profile family.

His firm will go in first to assess the risks to each client and manage the threat.

There are two approaches, he says: low profile cover that blends into the background, or an upfront and obvious "bubble of protection".

Upping the ante

It is tailored to the situation: "If he's down on his boat in the Med, they'll not be running about in suit and tie" he says. "To the untrained eye, it (protection) need not be obvious."

And if the security threat increases the visible level of security can be ratcheted up.

"We've been with one client," he says, "and intelligence has come back that an attempt is going to be made on his life.

Tony and Leo Blair
His parents are not the only ones keeping an eye on Leo

"You have to make it very obvious that that's what we are doing and if you want to have a go, we're ready for you."

With children, security can be adapted to make it as low key and unobtrusive as possible. To strike a balance between protecting them and maintaining a semblance of normal life.

For example, keeping the child out of the public gaze, not putting them in a 4x4 vehicle in the company of multiple guards and employing a female protection officer.

It is travel or any routine activity - like the school run - that prove to be the most vulnerable times, he says.

Children are likely to be accompanied on their daily journey and the risks at the building itself, at school, will be assessed.

For internationally famous couples, such as the Beckhams, he says the level of physical protection may appear more intrusive, because they may lack the security intelligence from monitoring afforded to public figures.

Private intrusion

The group behind the Blair kidnap plot is believed to be protest group Fathers 4 Justice, although it has denied involvement.

It is no serious terrorism organisation, but, Ian says, the threat of individual members still must be examined.

"They could be a lot more concerned if the threat had come from somewhere else. But there are certainly individuals who would be prepared to go and do that."

Of course, people can decide not to take the protection - because they do not feel the need, or perceive it as too intrusive in their private lives, despite the confidentiality clauses.

But many take it up.

'Status symbol'

"Some of them like it for a number of reasons - it's a good deterrent; it's a status symbol; and some of them like it because it gives them a degree of comfort in their own security - there's someone there to deal with the problem.

So how much does having someone there to deal with the problem cost? About 750 per day on a long-term project after an initial risk assessment.

That may sound steep to the average wage-earner, or even tempting as a career prospect.

But for "people of a certain worth, with security issues with that lifestyle, it's a fact of life", says Ian.

SEE ALSO
Blairs' family life under spotlight
18 Jan 06 |  UK Politics
Blair opens up about family life
11 Sep 02 |  UK News

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