For sale: des res, security a snag

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The Independent Online
The view from Barbara's kitchen windows is good enough for a magazine article. The security film that the Home Office recently applied to prevent glass flying if a bomb went off is hardly noticeable in the sunshine.

The arched side window of her first-floor home, overlooking the garage, has also been covered with protective glass.

The garage belongs to the owner of the ground-floor apartment of the distinguished Edinburgh villa. He is a high-category terrorist target: Malcolm Rifkind, Secretary of State for Defence.

Barbara and Mr Rifkind moved in, within weeks of each other, 15 years ago. He was an advocate, then in his first term as an MP. Barbara had just returned from overseas: 'We had never heard of him,' she recalls.

Now the pressures of living on top of a terrorist target have almost brought her to breaking point. Her home, in one of the city's most desirable areas, has been on sale for six months. The Home Office initially warned her that she could not sell unless would-be buyers were vetted as security risks. In one briefing, a Home Office official warned her: 'If you insist on putting your home on the market, and someone leaves a bomb in it, don't blame us.' The briefings have gone on since last April, when Mr Rifkind was promoted to the Defence portfolio.

The security people went to work on the entire villa. 'They gave us a special video on how to spot a bomb under your car. A mirror. A video entry system. Special lighting.' Three months of the security regime prompted her to sell up. Even when Mr Rifkind is no longer in the Cabinet, she has been told, his home will still be at 'a residual risk'.

Pressure from her lawyer and local MP forced the Home Office to allow her to market the house relatively normally: an Edinburgh estate agent's window is currently showing a picture and details. But her lawyers believe prospective buyers have been scared away. 'I cannot tell people I've lived here for 15 years and yet don't know who lives below. If they find out through their own lawyers, that's the last we hear from them.'

The Home Office appears reluctant to acknowledge that the situation is unusual. The question of compensation has been explored in vain. The Home Office has refused to buy the property.

The atmosphere at Barbara's is often less than relaxed. Not long ago, a fleet of cars pulled up outside. Doors slammed, men patrolled the street. The then US Defence Secretary, Dick Cheney, had come round for supper downstairs.

At a recent dinner party, some guests remarked that it was taking her a long time to sell. One guest, said: 'Maybe you should advertise in the Irish Times.' Nobody laughed.