Suburban Barclays bank robbed

Yesterday a branch of Barclays bank was robbed near London. It happened in Ashford — not the one in Kent where the Eurostar trains stop, but the quiet suburban sprawl north of Staines which is right next to Heathrow airport. The robber made everyone dress in boilersuits so that they would all look like him, but in the end he gave himself up.

News reports, instead of saying the robbery happened in Ashford, said it took place in a bank “near Heathrow airport”, as if the proximity mattered much — as if that made it a grave security threat, for example. Nothing could be further from the truth: apart from the fact that a fair number of Ashford’s residents probably work there or in airport-related industries, the branch that got robbed has nothing to do with the airport. It’s just a suburban branch of a bank.

Something I’ve noticed recently, though, is that security at some banks has gone down. One bank I use quite a lot used to have its counters off to the right, halfway to the back of the branch, and behind glass windows and locked doors. Now, you have to walk all the way to the back, but there is no glass screen, no divide of any sort, and not even one of those fast-rising screens you find at some petrol stations. I wonder how safe that makes the staff feel when they’re handling money.

Is there some psychology behind this — perhaps the need for customers to connect with the staff is more important than protecting the money, given that most customers are not bank robbers? Perhaps it’s because losing a few hundred pounds is better than losing several hours business, not to mention the stress on the staff, potential injuries etc. Perhaps the staff can be told to just hand over the money and get on with it, to diffuse any potential hostage situation. Either way, it was a shock when I went up to the counter the first time and found that there was nothing between me and the woman (as it usually is) behind the counter, having had to speak to them from behind a screen at pretty much every other bank branch I’d been to.

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