Vigilant staff preserve the good name of self storage

By Antony on February 10th, 2011 | No Comments

Vigilant staff preserve the good name of self storage

Staff at Big Yellow in Leeds alerted the authorities to suspicious activities in April 2010, leading to the arrest of three men accused of handling tonnes of contraband tobacco on which £1.2 million in customs duty would have been due.

Two deliveries of 915 boxes by articulated lorries in January and April 2010 meant that these Big Yellow Self Storage clients ended up renting three units. The boxes contained thousands of pairs of flip-flops, some of which the clients handed out as gifts to the staff. So far, so good: self storage is there to offer such services to retail businesses.

On the scent crime

But after the second delivery, the staff became suspicious of a smell emanating from the units ‒ a smell that they thought might be cannabis. HM Revenue & Customs were alerted. The flip-flops, it turned out, contained pouches of tobacco sealed into the soles. Details supplied by the clients themselves led to a house in Beeston, Leeds, where an attic appeared to be being used as a repackaging workshop, complete with counterfeit empty pouches of well-known brands of loose tobacco.

The defendants deny fraudulent evasion of duty, and the trial continues at Leeds Crown Court. Details can be found in the press, and notably the Yorkshire Post.

Alert staff: the best security in self storage

Films like “Storage” (see our review) play to the idea that the public thinks self storage centres are secretive worlds where criminal activity (and depravity) can take place unheeded. Of course, every now and then the police and customs authorities unearth a case like the above, which perhaps reinforces public misapprehensions.

But these are the very rare exceptions that prove the rule ‒ the rule being that very little that’s untoward goes on in self storage centres. That is because self storage facilities make it their business to protect their core clients: law-abiding, fee-paying customers.

They do so with security fencing, locks, alarms and CCTV. And, most important of all, they rely on the instincts of their staff to spot when customers are acting suspiciously.

That is how alert members of staff at the Access Storage centre in Hanwell, West London, famously discovered the 600kg of ammonium nitrate stored by jihadist terrorists in March 2004; it was apparently their intention to use it blow up the Bluewater Shopping Centre and Ministry of Sound nightclub, before their collars were fingered by 950 police officers (no less) a few days after the alert.

Know Your Customer!

The police are aware of the vital role played by staff in security. Guidelines for reporting suspicious behaviour were drawn up by the Metropolitan Police in 2006, under the tag-line “If you suspect it, report it.” The focus was terrorist activities in particular, but the same advice applies to all criminal activities.

Another tag-line is “Know Your Customer!” ‒ or KYC.

As a matter of routine, good storage companies do indeed know their customers. They carefully monitor who their clients are, and what they are storing: all new customers have to provide proof of identity and proof of address (original copies, not photocopies); give their reasons for using the self storage facility; and make payment by cheque or credit card (not cash, which cannot be traced).

All the work not of gizmos, locks and razor wire ‒ but of staff.

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