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North London practices are targeted in crime rampage

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A rash of break-ins has hit architectural practices in Camden, north London - one office being the target of armed raiders.

A female member of staff at Curl La Tourelle Architects was threatened by two teenagers as she left the practice's offices last week. The youths produced a pistol and forced her back into the office where she was held with the gun to her head, while the raiders plundered the office. The thieves escaped with a laptop computer and personal belongings.

Ushida Findlay Architects was also the target of thieves last Wednesday - the day after the practice unveiled its Grafton New Hall Scheme. The project was the winner of the RIBA Modern Country House Competition (AJ 14.2.02).

A source close to the practice told the AJ: 'It's the third time this has happened, and the second time in four months. They took all of the PCs - everything. It's so crap, timing wise. They were on a real up because of the competition and then this.'

The practice had fitted iron bars to the windows prior to this latest break-in to discourage local gangs from targeting the office.

Another practice in the Camden area, which asked not to be named, told the AJ: 'To be honest, we are hit periodically. The last time was in September. We now have a security guard on the premises. The problem is the inconvenience.'

Camden crime prevention officer Dave King has often visited this unnamed practice. 'I've been to their offices regularly over the years. They've tried everything and they still get broken into on average three times a year. They've got security guards, video, alarms - the lot. But they are in a dream of a spot for villains - tucked away and quiet.'

Architectural practices are 'hot targets' for 'repeat victimisation' according to King. 'They have a lot of valuable kit on their premises - and it's kit that will be replaced fast - which makes for an easy return visit for nice new computers, ' he said.

RIBA vice-president for small practices Elspeth Clements told the AJ: 'It can be tremendously damaging. We were broken into twice in two weeks. Bars on the window can help - but in our case they just smashed the door in.'

Clements added that the best defence was to have a good alarm system, ensure all information was backed up regularly and that the insurance was adequate. Local police stations have a crime prevention officer who can offer advice on security.

King added that an excellent deterrent was to ensure that all computers and valuables were clearly and visibly marked. 'You'd be amazed at how much that cuts crime - if it's marked they can't sell it, so they won't nick it.'

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