A FEW days ago, there was a knock on Richard Broady's front door. It was mid-evening. 'I looked through the peephole to see who it was and I didn't recognise him, so instead of finding out or even opening the door on the chain I ended up grabbing a knife and hiding behind the settee.'

There is much that is sad about the plight in which Richard Broady finds himself, but the worst thing is probably the fear. It may be irrational, but it does not go away.

Yet in the summer of 1991 he was flourishing. He had always worked with money, first in banking and then in bureaux de change, and for 18 months he had been manager of the Thomas Cook bureau at the car-ferry terminal in Newhaven. With a lot of cash passing through the office every day, Richard was well aware of the need to keep the bureau secure. But on 4 August it became dreadfully apparent that maintaining tight security on the premises was by no means enough.

Richard had left work late and it was almost midnight when he pulled up outside his home in a small village in Kent. Two men approached, indicated for him to wind down his window and introduced themselves as police officers. When he asked to see a warrant card they produced a gun. It was the start of an ordeal that has ruined Richard's life.

At gunpoint, he was forced to drive back to Newhaven, a journey of some two hours that his kidnappers filled with a variety of threats, mainly to the life of his girlfriend.

'When they took me they gave me my girlfriend's name and address, which isn't even in the phone book, and told me she'd be hurt if I didn't play the game. All the way they kept reminding me that my girlfriend had someone with her and that if I did anything wrong she would get seriously hurt, as would I'

Having finally arrived back, Richard had to open up the office and then the safe. The contents, thought to be about pounds 50,000, were stuffed into a holdall. It was six in the morning when Richard was dumped, tied to a fence in a field outside Caterham.

The men drove off in his car, which was later found burnt out in south London. They have never been caught.

'It still scares me. Even now I feel very guilty, that I've let people down, let the company down. The robbers said that if I helped the police they would come back, which, of course, is always at the back of my mind.'

He describes as 'horrific' the realisation that his kidnappers must have been watching him, monitoring his movements, for weeks. They had also somehow gleaned enough to convince him, falsely as it turned out, that they were holding his girlfriend.

'Obviously when you're working with money you're advised there's always the possibility of a hold-up and basically you know what to do if that happens,' he says. 'But I would never have expected to be taken from my home. You're not trained for it.'

Richard says he understands why his employers had not considered the risks. Even as recently as 1991, kidnap was still considered a freak possibility. But, sadly, it is no longer so extraordinary. The number of kidnaps notified to the Home Office last year - excluding child abductions - was running at 929, an increase of 70 per cent in two years. While there is no breakdown of the statistics, it is believed kidnapping for financial gain, predominantly the kidnapping of key-holders, makes a significant contribution to a burgeoning figure.

The Metropolitan Police's annual report described it as 'the worrying trend towards kidnapping' and in the last few weeks in London alone, a bookie, an assistant manager of a building society and a dog-track cashier were all abducted either from their homes or en route to work. But it is not simply a metropolitan crime: from Essex to Cheshire there is a trail of victims: a 75-year-old postmistress from Bristol, a banker's octogenarian mother in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, a banker's wife in Holme Chapel, Lancashire, a clutch of supermarket managers and their families, a jeweller and his wife; all people whose work gave them access to cash or whose relatives had such access.

Kidnapping appears to have increased as a direct response to improvements in security on business premises. As it becomes more difficult to break into buildings, individuals who handle cash become targets. The threat has extended away from their workplace and into their homes.

Nick, an armed robber who has tested the security of a number of organisations and is currently enduring the maximum security conditions of Whitemoor Prison, Cambridgeshire, says it is quite simple: 'The more security they make, you've got to find another way of getting at that money.' He points out that exerting pressure on a family through hostage-taking is a very effective way of, as he puts it, 'getting it all, the lot'. It is also a good way of drawing a sentence of 12 years plus.

While many police shy away from discussing the matter publicly - they say they are fearful of encouraging copycat crime - John Stevens, the Chief Constable of Northumbria, has ordered his force to draw up plans to combat kidnapping. And the British Bankers' Association, which represents all the big retail banks, has been taking action of its own. The 350,000 bank staff, from managers to cashiers, now receive kidnap warnings as an integral part of their training and are shown a 20-minute video called With the Benefit of Hindsight. It is a somewhat lurid film in which armed men burst into the home of an assistant bank manager, assault him, take his family hostage and demand that he extracts large sums of money from his bank.

He duly reports for work, breaks down, blurts out: 'They've got Mary and Liz', only to be met with the immediate response: 'We've got to tell head office'. The police are informed, the baddies are arrested and jailed and the family celebrates with champagne, toasting the belated installation of a peephole and chain on their front door.

The banks are hoping that the melodrama will impress on staff the importance of vigilance and security at home as well as at work. Certainly, many staff who have seen the video say it has addressed a danger they had not previously considered. And there is a demand for other cash-handling businesses to follow the banks' lead in taking steps to cope with the potential risks of kidnapping.

Whatever the moral responsibility, for bosses there is a legal imperative, too. According to one of the leading authorities on employment law, Patricia Leighton, new EC directives that have beefed up the Health and Safety at Work Act place the onus on employers. 'Any employer aware of the risks, must take reasonable care for employees, by training, by security. They must address their minds to this. It is not an optional extra.'

Richard Broady is still with his girlfriend but in most other respects his fortunes have nose-dived since his kidnapping. His bright career is over - his own choice - and he now spends his days either on retraining schemes or looking for work. He will consider almost anything that does not involve handling cash.

On this he is unequivocal: 'I never again want to work with, or be in charge of, large amounts of money. I just wouldn't want to be that vulnerable again.'

'Hostage to Fortune', a Public Eye programme, will be shown on Friday at 8pm on BBC 2.

(Photograph omitted)