MetroMania: Sound the alarm

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The Independent Culture
THE DAYS are growing shorter. Bad news, especially for female urbanites, as walking home in the dark becomes unavoidable. All women know this is their least favourite part of the day - when they are most vulnerable to being mugged, raped or worse. Which is why carrying an attack alarm is a good idea.

A good idea, too, because popular urban myths about women being prosecuted for carrying potentially 'offensive weapons' - nail files, hair spray, car keys - are true. Under the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 it is an offence if you have in your possession anything made, intended or adapted for use as an offensive weapon. As for toting a can of Mace, think again. Made from oil of capsicum, cayenne pepper or ground pepper, it is prohibited as a section 5 firearm and cannot be sold legally in Britain.

Personal attack alarms, however, are approved of by the police, who see them as a viable deterrent to attack.

Before buying one, you should seek professional advice. You can do this by speaking to the crime prevention officer at your local police station; calling the community affairs branch at New Scotland Yard on 071-230 4073 and asking for the collator; contacting the Suzy Lamplugh Trust on 081-392 1839; or writing to Kathy Aubeelack at the Community Affairs Branch, New Scotland Yard, Broadway, London SW1H OBG.

'If you choose to use an alarm, have it ready,' says WPC Aubeelack. 'It's no use at the bottom of your handbag.

'If you're on your own at night, walk purposefully and with confidence. Avoid alleys and try to walk in the middle of the road. Attacks don't happen every day, so the best thing you can do is reduce your fear of crime.'

Meanwhile, we've road-tested five of the best attack alarms.

The Stopatak Personal Safety Siren by Remington, pounds 29.99 (includes 15-minute personal safety video): Newest on the market, the Remington is made from 'bullet-proof' plastic - the siren continues to sound even when the alarm is thrown against a wall. Every owner has a unique deactivation code, so only she can turn it off.

It emits an ear-blasting 130-decibel siren with 'omni-directional' sound waves that will cause attackers to feel disorientated, and comes with a hand strap.

What we think: This is a stocky alarm the size of a small aerobics handweight that you feel safe holding. The fact that in event of a false alarm you might be too panicked to remember your deactivation code might be a problem.

Marks out of 5: 4.

Stockists: 0604 762794.

The Bodyguard 1 pounds 15.95: This also has a 130-decibel siren. Simply pull out the pin and the alarm will sound. When activated it will sound continuously for two hours or until the pin is replaced. It has a clip on the back so that it can be attached to belt, waistband or handbag, and can also be mounted on doors.

What we think: The alarm is user-friendly and not intimidating to operate. The pin is attached to a cord, which can be yanked easily (and inconspicuously). Best of the bunch.

Marks: 5.

Stockists: 0525 853973.

The Suzy Lamplugh Alarm pounds 6.99 plus 95p postage: This emits 115 decibels and is intended as protection against mugging, assault, rape, animal attack, abduction and obscene phone calls. It can emit short blasts, or, when pressed firmly, will sound continuously. Belt holsters are also available from the trust. Of the alarm's price pounds 2 goes to the trust.

What we think: It is like carrying round a small can of Impulse. It seems a bit light and insubstantial.

Marks: 3.

Stockists: Write to 14 East Sheen Avenue, London SW14 8AS.

Security Systems Personal Attack Alarm pounds 9.99: It has an easy-to-use rip-cord that instantly triggers the small, compact alarm. It fits into pockets and handbags, or around the neck. The continuous running life is approximately 30 minutes.

What we think: It is fluorescent orange, so if it is thrown or pulled it will be easy to spot on the ground.

Marks: 4.

Stockists: 081-881 2001.

Walk Easy Emergency Alarm pounds 5.95: This one has a blast duration of six minutes with the facility to lock down for continuous alarm shriek. Alternatively, it can emit 300 short blasts of 130 decibels. It has won repeated acclaim from Perfect Home and other consumer magazines.

What we think: This alarm is very similar to the Suzy Lamplugh model, a lightweight canister preferably carried, not hooked or buried somewhere out of sight on your handbag.

Marks: 4.

Stockists: 0223 892623.

(Photographs omitted)