Vertical Markets

April print magazine

by Mark Rowe

What do Westminster Abbey, Stonehenge and the London West End branch of the international auction house Sotheby’s have in common, besides the fact that they are featured in the April print edition of Professional Security magazine?

One thing unites them, as editor Mark Rowe found when early this year he visited them (separately). First, he was the guest of Abbey Chief Beadle Stephen Meek, and was taken around the historic central London site – to see that there’s more to the Abbey than the church and its precincts. Not only is it a notable tourist attraction, it’s a working place of worship, and the scene of coronations and set-piece national events, from the day of prayer in May 1940 during a desperate time for Britain in the Second World War, to royal weddings and coronations.

One striking feature is the low rope that guards the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – ever since 1920, one of the most sacred places in the country; yet, to appearances, there is little or nothing to stop someone malicious from trespassing on it. The same is true at Stonehenge, where Professional Security was shown around by Paul Howe, MD of the Andover-based guarding company and ACS Pacesetters member Venture Security. Venture has the English Heritage guarding contract for the Wiltshire monument.

While you can pay (extra) to take a guided tour among the ancient stones outside of regular visiting hours, other paying visitors are asked to keep to a path and not trespass – beyond a rope – into the stone circle. Likewise, only a low fence separates the site from the nearby A road. Again, it appears that there is little security to stop someone malicious, or even passing by and driven to take a closer look at the stones, from trespassing. For the Abbey and Stonehenge alike – and any number of museums, and visitor attractions, and welcoming places like campuses and hospitals – the task of Security is to protect a place, while allowing access without turning anywhere into a fortress and thus spoiling what makes it special to the nation.

The same, we found, goes for Sotheby’s (and other auction houses). We went into Sotheby’s to admire the modern art works ahead of a sale that totalled a nine-figure return, a sign of the booming market for high-end paintings, such as surrealist Rene Magritte’s masterpiece The Empire of Light. Anyone was free to walk in off New Bond Street and without even necessarily dropping their bag off at the cloakroom, could walk around and view artworks that went on to sell for up to eight-figure sums.

Isn’t that rather risky?! Sotheby’s (and nearby Christie’s) have physical, and electronic security, and invigilating staff; while securing the precious works, Security is there to ensure that the viewers and potential buyers have the experience that they wish. All three cases, then, show a profound truth about Security; it is not there for the sake of it; it’s there to facilitate whatever is the business of the site, without detracting from the site’s purpose.

You can freely read April and previous editions on the ‘magazine‘ part of the Professional Security website. If you would like to see a print copy with a view to subscribing, email [email protected].

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