Panic buying as wealthy city homeowners get 'safe rooms'

IT may have seemed extreme when Jodie Foster's character bought a home with its own fortified sanctuary in the Hollywood blockbuster Panic Room.

But growing numbers of wealthy Edinburgh residents are investing in safe rooms, complete with bulletproof doors and windows, to guard against the threat of break-ins by armed robbers or stalkers.

The rooms, common in crime-ridden cities such as Johannesburg, give owners somewhere safe to retreat in the event of a robbery.

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At the press of a button, the residents are locked safely inside and cannot be rescued until they contact their security firm.

Three "panic rooms" have been installed in the city - at costs of between 50,000 and 80,000-plus each - in the last year by one manufacturer alone.

Safe Rooms said it had never installed a panic room in Edinburgh before last year, but over the last 12 months, city home owners accounted for three of its 11 customers UK-wide.

The Bristol-based firm, which is licensed by the Home Office, is also dealing with two further orders from Edinburgh clients this year.

Paul Thomas, the company's director, declined to give any details of its clients in the Edinburgh area.

However, it is understood one client was a politician, while a safe room was also installed in the residential quarters of a stately home.

The biggest job is believed to have seen the firm equip the entire ground floor of a mansion at a cost of more than 80,000.

Mr Thomas said: "They [panic rooms] are often used by rock stars who are getting bother with fans, or well-known celebrities who see themselves as being at some sort of risk. They start at 25,000, which is not a lot of money when you consider the level of protection you are getting.

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"A lot of people will have them in a bedroom, and when you walk into one of them you can't tell it's been made into a safe room.

"We go to great lengths to make sure the neighbours don't know one is being installed.

"We'll even turn up in vans with painter and decorator on the side and leave a couple of empty paint tins on the doorstep when we leave.

"In Edinburgh, the fear is mainly about violent robbers breaking in, whereas one of the big fears in London is terrorists."

Kevlar, the fabric used in bullet-proof vests, is used to coat the door and walls of panic rooms.

All glass in the windows or doors is bomb-proof, like that often used in banks.

The room will also have an independent electricity supply, allowing it to keep operating even if power and telecommunications lines are cut. Surveillance of the rest of the building will also be possible, as screens in the panic room are linked up to a series of cameras throughout the property, while alarms can be set off to alert neighbours and police of the attack.

Andy Piggot, a spokesman for insurance firm Belgravia, agreed that the demand for high-security features in Edinburgh had grown significantly.

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He said: "There has been a 20 per cent increase in our high-earning clients in areas such as Murrayfield, the New Town and Morningside who are taking very costly measures to guarantee the safety of their families, homes and possession."

But Lothian and Borders Police cautioned that the likelihood of such security measures being necessary for most people living in Edinburgh was extremely low.

A police spokesman said: "Edinburgh is a relatively safe city, as shown by the fact violent crime fell by ten per cent last year.

"Research carried out in 2003/04 showed that the average probability of a city resident falling victim to a crime of violence was one in 300, and for a crime of a sexual nature it is one in 550."

Violent attacks against the most affluent

A HANDFUL of violent attacks have been recorded in the homes of the Capital's most affluent residents in recent years.

A city businessman suffered a vicious attack in April 2002 after discovering an intruder as he moved into his New Town flat.

Douglas Cutt, an IT manager, was shocked to find the man sitting on the couch at the plush Dundas Street garden flat. He was subjected to a frenzied assault after threatening to phone the police to remove the man, who claimed to be "dossing" in the flat.

The squatter smashed Mr Cutt's mobile phone, headbutted him, rained punches on his face and stole money from him.

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Mr Cutt fled after the attacker went to the kitchen to look through the cutlery drawer.

In the same year, three men subjected a 45-year-old university lecturer to an appalling attack in her home in Abercromby Place.

During the assault she was sexually molested and warned that if she did not come up with money she was going to be killed. The trio were also charged with attacking and robbing another woman at a house in Merchiston, nine days before, during which she was threatened with rape.

A Tory activist known as Judy X was brutally attacked by sex offender John Cronin in her Edinburgh home in 1992.

Cronin beat her with a poker before sexually assaulting her. He had conned his way into her house dressed as a priest.

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