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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 April, 2005, 09:59 GMT 10:59 UK
Can you out-wit a mugger?
Woman being mugged
Carrying a decoy handbag could keep your valuables safe
Banking high-flyer Nicola Horlick fought off a mugger who was trying to rob her at gunpoint by using her wits. Is it a good idea to try to talk your way out of being attacked or was Mrs Horlick just lucky?

The advice from police is that anyone attacked by a would-be robber should hand over valuables as quickly as possible to minimise the risk of being hurt.

But Nicola Horlick did something different. The 44-year-old fund manager, nicknamed "Superwoman" for holding down a pressurised City job and raising several children, tried to out-wit her attacker. With a gun pressed to her stomach and a man threatening to shoot her, she kept calm and "confused" him by reminding him he could end up in jail.

If someone tries to take something from you by force, it may be best to give it to them
This will help you avoid getting injured
Facing a sexual attack, you must decide whether to defend yourself, which may put you at risk of further injury
Or it may not be possible to defend yourself

Pinned to the ground, she says she deliberately flicked her 50,000 diamond ring into a hedge, then pretended she had dropped it, forcing the robber to release her to hunt for it. Then she told him there was a car coming with her husband in it, scaring him into speeding off empty-handed.

Eric Baskind, director of training for the British Self Defence Governing Body, agrees with police that Mrs Horlick was "very brave" but "extraordinarily lucky".

While stressing he would never recommend trying to fight back against an attacker armed with a gun, he finds her response interesting.

"I notice she took her ring off and threw it in a bush. It's like scattering your possessions over a wide area. Is the mugger going to want to bend down and pick your things up piece by piece?"

Pretending to notice her husband arriving in a car turned out to be another good tactic, Mr Baskind says. But he warns anyone thinking of following in Mrs Horlick's footsteps to be cautious.

Nicola Horlick
"Brave" Mrs Horlick was "extraordinarily lucky"

"She was lucky. It could have gone the other way and if it had I think she would have regretted it. The question is, 'Do you want to take that risk with your life?' Your possessions can be replaced but your life cannot."

He suggests people use tactics to avoid being attacked in the first place.

These include avoiding getting engaged in conversation by strangers in the street by pretending to be foreign. Mr Baskind says many robbers start by distracting their victims by approaching them and asking for the time.

"Rather than do that, pretend you don't understand, say something in a foreign language, even a made-up one, or just walk off. Just don't enter into conversation."

You could also wear a decoy watch or carry a second wallet with a small amount of cash inside which you can hand over to a robber if they demand it, while keeping your real valuables hidden.

If you can teach someone how to avoid confrontation, you can guarantee their safety
Eric Baskind
He warns that many self defence courses don't teach anything other than physical defence moves, "which I find particularly sad, because if you can teach someone how to avoid confrontation, you can better guarantee their safety".

The only time Mr Baskind recommends fighting back physically is in a sexually motivated attack, when it could improve your chances of survival. He also suggests pretending to vomit, to put a sex attacker off, or pretending you have HIV or Aids.

Whatever the technique, he says it is always better to use avoidance and distraction tactics before resorting to physical resistance.

But in sexual attacks too, fighting back can be counter-productive, says a spokeswoman for Rape Crisis Scotland.

"While there's research to say fighting back can help, there's also evidence to show that if you do you might be at even greater risk of being harmed. It's impossible to generalise, because every case is different, but in our experience the most common reaction of women is to freeze because they're in such a state of shock."


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