Close Protection

by Mark Rowe

Author: Richard Aitch

ISBN No: 978-1-3999-2661-4

Review date: 02/03/2024

No of pages: 868

Publisher: Self

Publisher URL:

Year of publication: 19/12/2022




They say that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover; in this case you absolutely should. Or rather, not the cover, but the box that Richard Aitch’s ‘revised and updated’ guide to close protection (CP) comes in. Even more than the first edition, this is a substantial, literally heavy book. It’s got colour illustrations (this book is the equivalent of ‘The Beast’, the limousine pictured that carried President Obama and family on his 2011 visit to Britain), even one of those fine bookmark strings (red, matching the dust wrapper) that you place inside the page you’ve reached. It all sends the message; this is a work with care gone into it. Why don’t CCTV and alarm response control rooms, or other branches of security, have an equivalent volume?

The only quibble with such a massive, 868-page book is that it doesn’t have an index; although it does make up for that with full descriptions of each chapter at the beginning. Just to take the barest skim through those headings: roles and responsibilities, threat-risk-vulnerability assessment, planning, security of residence and estate and yacht, your fitness and unarmed combat training, communications, using vehicles – driving, and embussing and debussing, the CP terms for taking the ‘principal’ in and out of the vehicle, when you’re particularly vulnerable – and how you react to various attacks, including with guns. That takes up the first part of the book, exactly 500 pages.

We’re taking for granted it’s a standard text for anyone doing CP; and, makes the incidental point, that the author spells out, that the two-week Security Industry Authority course for the CP badge ‘barely skims’ (page 564) the surface of what the work can involve. By comparison (page 516) the police CP course takes four weeks, and the Royal Military Police course, eight.

That does serve as an introduction to the second half. Followers of Richard on Linkedin or indeed readers of the interview with him in the September 2022 print edition of Professional Security Magazine will know that Richard is a rarity in commercial private security, or indeed any part of security or indeed anywhere; a man with opinions that he is able and unafraid to articulate in public. For example he airs the ‘pitfalls and limitations of sub-contracting’, that he might as well have sub-titled the downsides of the internet. A UK client for a principal seeks close protection for a day in Munich. The client approaches a UK company, believing its website that it has international contacts. The UK firm puts out an advert for someone to actually fulfil the job; in other words, the firm is not providing a security service so much as acting as an employment agency (and adding a mark-up to the German, in-country firm’s quote). The sub-contracting, as Richard points out, does not end there: the German firm may well do likewise, and source another German firm to actually do the work: “In effect, the client is paying Peter to pay Paul to pay Pedro.” The client, as Richard adds, believes they’re getting the service in the blurb.

As this example shows, Richard’s book is of interest to those hiring CPs or indeed anyone in the security industry. It’s also – such is the passing of time – a historical document about the shortcomings of the SIA. Richard goes back to the start of the SIA licensing regime; he was sitting in a classroom in 2006, to get his CP badge. He recalls ‘what an absolutely derogatory and humiliating debacle this was’; people who had guarded generals, prime ministers and royals were answering exam questions compiled by, and listening to training delivered by, less experienced and qualified trainers. So begins Richard’s bombardment of the regulator and politicians with his closely-argued points and getting either no response or ‘cut and paste’ answers showing that once the SIA bureaucracy was in place, it was like a tanker afloat that was set on its course and no amount of criticism, no matter how well-meaning or informed would alter. That’s as true in 2021 (Richard lists his ‘no replies’ from the Boris Johnson era ministers) as when he began approaching Vernon Coaker, the junior Home Office minister in charge of the SIA in 2007 (no longer an MP since 2019; now in the House of Lords). Richard is one of those people who cannot help but nag away to set out how things stand. Behind the SIA stands the Home Office, which (page 553) ‘monopolises the private security industry for no other reason than the revenue in taxation it generates and the reductions of payments made by the welfare state’. The SIA’s remit of ‘raising standards’, is, Richard says, a ‘tick box’.

The fact is (to leave Richard for a moment), it’s unsurprising if the CP sector is little considered in the SIA regime and ends up with a raw deal, because the SIA’s own figures show that of the roughly 400,000 holders of an SIA badge, only about 15,000 are CP – or four per cent, the percentage Richard quotes (page 553). How well treated will anything be that’s only worth 4pc to any organisation?

The last 80 pages cover how Richard found himself ‘a person of interest to the UK’s government agencies through detecting their surveillance on my principal’, from Battersea heliport in London, ‘and in so doing, requiring intelligence on me that they [the National Crime Agency, NCA] hard-stopped me, searched me and my vehicle and arrested me for a crime I did not commit to meet their intelligence needs’. Richard challenges officially through the police complaints regulator the IOPC. The take-away, Richard concludes, is that ‘if close protection operations identify hostile surveillance with the reasonable likelihood of it being Government with a grievance-suspicion to complain’, you need evidence, and you need to go about your complaint promptly; but don’t expect any transparency or truth to ensue.

Richard at length (though he tells us he has left out a lot) shows how the state and its agents can and do act with the ‘gloves off’ if you disrupt their surveillance. Richard adds lessons to learn for doing the job of bodyguarding, ‘where the principal is a person of interest to the [UK] Government’; your priority remains the protection of the person who’s employing you and is trusting you. Richard describes it as ‘irony’ (page 840) but in fact it’s a moral dilemma; ‘that just doing your job could appear to be working against the UK’s own national interests by aiding and abetting the principal’. Are you, the protective professional, then an adversary of your own country?

That matter between Richard and the NCA does show that close protection matters. As Richard says in the epilogue (page 847), if a company CEO is physically attacked, its share price may fall; if a head of state is attacked, its very democracy (or indeed dictatorship) may appear threatened, or weak. CP training, selection of operatives, whether the CP provider has to meet diversity targets of male-female mix that may get in the way of protecting the principal, having the budget to provide enough 24-hour cover, vehicles and equipment; all matter. The ‘elephant in the room’ Richard brings up (page 849) is that if nothing bad happens, the complacent CP operative can say that standard of service is fine, and ‘we have always done it this way’ – why change?

Richard closes by stating why he has written such an enormously long and detailed book: ‘to highlight proper training and operational methodology, to highlight the UK regulator’s standards debacle’ (page 851) and, the other side of the coin, to express his exasperation at the poor standards imposed by the SIA, and the poor service given by the security industry. Richard does acknowledge (page 854) that the SIA’s standards are minimums. It is, then, for clients to be informed and hire accordingly (someone can gain the CP licence and not have a driving licence – would you hire such a person?). It’s for the security operatives to mitigate the risks according to best practice.

This review cannot do justice to the sheer size of the work; Richard covers fully for example use of technology: live messaging, digital mapping, flights and hotels booked from the smartphone in our pockets (‘one wonders how on earth we ever managed to provide CP without it’).

Richard has, as with the first edition of this book, created something major, that anyone doing close protection or hiring their services can read with profit. I would query – no more than that – whether the story of his detecting the NCA’s hostile surveillance of his principal belonged in the same book as the bulk of it, the ‘tactical doctrine’; whether the two should have been separate. I hope also that Richard writes a further book; a distilled, 140-page account of close protection for the mass market, to explain CP to society; to explain why, he regards CP as a ‘calling’ (page 858), his reason for getting out of bed in the morning.


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