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Last Updated: Monday, 28 January 2008, 13:32 GMT
Can 'tiger kidnappings' be prevented?
By Chris Summers
BBC News

Five people have been convicted over the massive Securitas robbery. The manager of the depot, Colin Dixon, was abducted by the gang along with his wife and child. What can be done to prevent such "tiger kidnappings"?

The abduction of Colin Dixon and his family was a classic example of what is known in the security industry as a "tiger kidnapping".

The term comes from the fact that the criminals mimic the predators by stalking their victims before pouncing.

A reconstruction of Colin Dixon's abduction
Detectives reconstructed Colin Dixon's abduction

Criminals know that no matter how high the walls around a bank or cash depot, how many CCTV cameras there are and how complex the electronic codes for the vaults, the weak link will always be a human being.

The manager of the Securitas depot in Tonbridge, Colin Dixon, was the weak link.

This was not due to any inherent flaw in his character but simply because he knew the most about how the depot worked, and was vulnerable because he was a family man who cared for his wife and children.

So the robbers set about researching Mr Dixon.

What did he look like? What car did he drive? Where did he live? What route did he take to and from work?

The answer to the first two questions might have been provided by the inside man, Ermir Hysenaj, but there was also evidence that the gang did extensive research into Mr Dixon and conducted exhaustive surveillance of the family home in Herne Bay in the days before the raid.

On the night of 21 February 2006, their homework completed, they sprang their trap.

The increase in the rate of tiger kidnappings within recent years is believed to be attributable to a hardening of physical security standards while overlooking the important human factor
James Lewry
Control Risks

Mr Dixon was stopped on a quiet country road halfway between the depot and Herne Bay by two men posing as police officers.

They overpowered him and drove him to the farm near Staplehurst which the robbers were using as a base.

The pair then drove to Herne Bay and used the same ruse to gain entry to the Dixon family home before abducting Mr Dixon's wife, Lynn, and one of their children.

Knowing that his family was being held hostage, Mr Dixon was forced to help the robbers gain access to the depot.

According to the security consultants Control Risks, the number of tiger kidnappings rose by 300% between 2003 and 2006.

Still from CCTV inside the Securitas depot in Tonbridge
Robbers dressed as policemen abducted Mr Dixon

The Securitas robbery was the most high profile, but similar tactics were also believed to have been used by the gang responsible for the 26m Northern Bank raid in Belfast in December 2004, where two executives were abducted.

On both occasions the robbers assumed, rightly, that the people they targeted would do what they were told to ensure the safety of their loved ones, who were held at gunpoint.

Tiger kidnappers are usually able to coerce their victims into unlocking doors, entering the right codes in vaults and even warning them of special secret security measures.

The manager or official who has been targeted knows that if the robbery goes wrong, their families could pay the price.

'Someone will be killed'

Although no relative has ever been murdered in such a situation, the thought in the back of the victim's mind is enough to coerce them into co-operating with the gang.

James Lewry, a senior consultant with Control Risks, says: "People have been roughed up during tiger kidnappings and I fear that it's only a matter time before someone is seriously injured or killed in one.

"The increase in the rate of tiger kidnappings within recent years is believed to be attributable to a hardening of physical security standards while overlooking the important human factor."

Mr Lewry says the media under-reports tiger kidnappings, usually because the police and security companies are not keen to highlight the problem.

He says it is wrong to think only managers of banks and cash depots are vulnerable, pointing to tiger kidnappings involving jewellers, supermarket managers and even McDonald's staff.

Mr Lewry says victims are usually terrified and traumatised, and rarely return to the workplace afterwards.

NatWest case

The first tiger kidnapping in modern history was in 1972.

The manager of the NatWest bank in Sunbury, Middlesex, was kidnapped and held hostage with his family overnight in nearby Surbiton.

If someone's family has been kidnapped, they will do everything they can to persuade their colleague to come in and help them
John O'Connor

He was brought to the bank in the morning before the staff arrived. As the employees turned up at work, they were bundled inside as the vaults were cleared.

John O'Connor, former head of the Flying Squad, recalls: "When the NatWest bank was robbed the security industry was in a bit of a flap about it, because they all felt vulnerable to that, and so set about developing methods to deal with it."

But despite various security precautions adopted over the years, the Securitas robbery saw a tiger kidnapping lead to a massive haul of cash.

"Staff are the only vulnerability they have, with all the alarm systems and security measures. No-one's likely to get through just using sawn-off shotguns," says Mr O'Connor.

He adds it is very hard to combat tiger kidnappings.

"One way is to have a system whereby more than one person needs to be present for a door or a vault to open, but even then if someone's family has been kidnapped, they will do everything they can to persuade their colleague to come in and help them."

'Process failures'

Other systems have been suggested, including discreet warnings which a kidnap victim could use to alert the company.

But some of them seem extremely impractical.

During the Securitas trial, Ermir Hysenaj, the employee who turned out to be the "inside man", was asked by his barrister about what sort of training he had been given about personal security when he started working at the depot.

Hysenaj said: "We were given a card with an 0800 telephone number on it, and were told that if we were kidnapped we should ring that number, which I thought was a bit strange."

Mr Lewry said there had been a number of "process failures" at the Securitas depot, which have since been rectified.

He said: "Most places now have a system of no admittance outside working hours to staff or anybody else, even the police, without prior arrangement."

He said most depots had also introduced a "triple control" system, whereby access to the site was remote controlled by guards in a central monitoring facility geographically far removed from the depot itself.

The guards are removed from the depot's management structure and will not allow anyone into the depot even if they are held at gunpoint.

But Mr Lewry says: "Aside from the physical measurements and procedures, one of the key things is to train staff to be security conscious, which means not chatting about their job in the pub or being seen in their uniform outside of the workplace."

Friends of the Dixon family reveal their story


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