Paul Blench has recently returned to Swindon after working in dangerous places around the world to set up MARC Security Solutions which offers security services to individuals, companies and educational establishments
Although he and his wife Kay have had a house in the town for a number of years, they have been abroad for the last eight, with Paul working for the media and the Foreign Office in the Middle East and Africa. Here he describes the various roles he has had which qualify him as a security consultant.
After a long career in the Parachute Regiment, I decided to try something a little different and started my own paramotor flying school at Kemble Airfield. For ten years I divided my time between Kemble Airfield and the Loire Valley in France, teaching students to fly.
I was having a great time and then a friend of mine asked if I might be interested in becoming a Hostile Regions Security Advisor for the media. Initially I said no, but the chance to work in such an exciting environment was too good to miss.
I put the flying on hold and soon found myself travelling to Baghdad to join a four man team working for a large US news agency. Working in Iraq then was pretty relaxed, but suddenly it all changed. The uprising began in earnest, the airport closed and people started to get killed on a regular basis.
Fortunately, the guys I worked with were real professionals and for the next few years I went in and out of Iraq working with the American television news agency.
Later, I was asked to work for Sky News and I travelled around with them to Iraq and to the Lebanon to cover the war with Israel in 2006. I worked alone with Sky and it was fascinating. Journalists are some of the bravest people I have ever met; gone are the days when they were left alone by all sides to do their work, now they are the target for kidnap and worse.
I joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in 2008 and travelled to Ethiopia, as Security Manager for the British Embassy in Addis Ababa. While the work with the media was fascinating and exciting, I spent my days concentrating on keeping the news teams out of trouble so that they could do their jobs and tell the story.
With the FCO I had to do the same job, although now I was responsible for infrastructure security and crisis planning as well. Every diplomat had a house and visitors stayed in hotels, so in addition to monitoring the security at the Embassy itself, and running and training the guard force, I surveyed each house and hotel to make sure they were safe to occupy.
However, as the threat of terrorism in Ethiopia was lower, I could get out and do some work with the local population and frankly, in Ethiopia they needed all the help they could get.
My chance to help came when I attended a medical casualty, an Italian man, who had been injured playing rugby. A British diplomat had called me and as a medic, I would not refuse to help a casualty in need.
There are no paramedics or ambulance services in Ethiopia, but the Embassy did have an old ambulance and although the casualty was not linked to the Embassy, I summoned a driver and off we went. I stabilised the casualty at the scene and took him to what passes for an A&E Department at the main hospital in Addis Ababa.
I could not believe my (or the casualties) luck when we were greeted by a Norwegian doctor, who I later discovered was Dr Kjell Kiplesund, a trauma surgeon, who was working for a charity based at the hospital. He received the casualty and the next day informed me that he had a serious spinal injury and had he not been stabilised and moved correctly, he might not have walked again.
Dr Kiplesund then approached me and asked if I would write and run a First Responder Course for Ethiopian nurses. His charity had managed to organise the donation of some ambulances and my job was to train the medics who would attend various incidents, including road traffic accidents, stabbings and building site accidents which are the main causes of injury in Addis Ababa.
The Embassy allowed me time away from the office to lead the most worthwhile course I have ever run. Survival rates improved as the first responders had the equipment and training they needed to stabilise casualties at the scene and call ahead to A&E so they could prepare.
In the UK we are used to the excellent service our paramedics provide and it is hard to imagine what it is like to know that if you are injured, the best you can hope for is a cramped taxi ride to hospital.
Many seriously injured people died en-route or soon after arrival at the hospital. Now, at least some of them stand a fighting chance.
My next posting was to a British Embassy in North Africa (location withheld for security reasons). This was a very different place with lower crime rates, but with an increased threat of terrorism. Threats and alerts came and went and I was able to keep British and foreign Embassy staff, NGOs and business people informed and safe.
In September 2012, my biggest challenge came when the Embassy was attacked. I had gathered intelligence that warned us we might be targeted and I advised staff to stay away from the Embassy. However, we had a number of staff living on the compound, fifteen guards and seven German members of staff working at their embassy next-door. I went to the Embassy that day to provide leadership and direction, should the worst happen. It did.
At around 2pm a crowd of around 2,000 rioters arrived and immediately began to surge towards the gates. I and two other members of staff were on the roof monitoring events, whilst the remainder of staff were safely in an emergency assembly area. The police were there in some numbers and we expected them to hold the rioters back and initially they did.
Later, they pulled back and allowed the attackers to try and get through. Around ten minutes after the start of the riot, the gates to the German Embassy fell and although I managed to get their staff out, the embassy and all of the vehicles were destroyed.
With the German Embassy in flames, the focus shifted to us and the crowd managed to get inside the first set of gates.
The attackers, using whatever they could find, smashed the windows in the guardroom and tore down fences and gates. They managed to tear down a wall to a neighbouring building, not linked to the Embassy, and attack the occupant.
It took him some time to convince the rioters that he was not part of our Embassy and he was lucky to survive the severe beating he received. Getting into the neighbouring compound brought the attackers closer to the three of us still stationed on the roof and the hail of missiles intensified to the point where we had to think about falling back.
We had to think of a way to discourage the attackers and just when it looked as though we would be over-run, I decided to throw signal smoke to confuse the rioters. This harmless, white smoke, was the same colour as tear gas, but has no adverse effects on the human body. The rioters fell back.
Several more times they tried to advance and get into our compound, but each time the smoke pushed them back. Eventually though, it became obvious to some in the crowd that they could get through and a large number made it through to the inner gate and the last barrier between them and us. The shower of missiles intensified.
At this point, we threw distraction devices, which make a very loud series of bangs and can disorientate attackers. Again, the attackers fell back only to surge forward once more, urged on by some in the crowd. This time, a very determined group made it to the inner gate and found a way around the razor wire and into the compound. We were just about to pull back to the furthest perimeter and hope for the best when the police at last started to control the rioters.
After over an hour of very intense activity, it appeared that a disaster at the British Embassy would be averted. I gathered our staff and those from the German embassy and briefed them. It would be fair to say that everyone was extremely relieved it was all over. Planning for attacks such this was part of my job and I use the film I shot during the attack in my planning lectures for business.
My time with the FCO came to an end in July 2013r and I returned to the UK with my wife, Kay, to start my new business, MARC Security Solutions.
I offer a range of services to businesses, individuals and educational establishments. In addition to surveys, reports and presentations, I provide security and crisis planning, medical and advanced driver training and advice for anyone who might travel on business or holiday.
Find out more at www.marcsolutions.co.uk or call me on 077318 48928.