Worried about an attack? £30,000 buys a safe haven

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The Independent Online

For those prone to apocalyptic fears, the terrorist crisis has provided all the incentive they need to prepare for Armageddon.

For those prone to apocalyptic fears, the terrorist crisis has provided all the incentive they need to prepare for Armageddon.

Britain's nuclear bunkers and military equipment stores are reporting unprecedented interest in their services while chemical suits are the latest fashion accessories for survivalists.

Despite official reminders that no specific threat has been made against Britain and expert warnings that easily available gas masks and suits may prove useless, some people refuse to remain calm.

One chemical suit manufacturer said the number of inquiries from the public went from zero to 200 in a week while a nuclear bunker in Scotland has seen the amount of visitors double since the suicide hijacks in America.

The Secret Bunker, a former RAF bunker near St Andrews now used as a tourist attraction, often has inquiries about using the shelter in the event of war. But Susan Love, a spokeswoman for the shelter, which is 100ft below ground, said there were nearly 200 visitors last Sunday, twice the normal figure.

The shelter is now considering setting up an insurance scheme whereby people pay an advance fee to reserve a place.

A similar scheme is under way in Essex where Mike Parrish said he had received dozens of inquiries about places at his private shelter in Brentwood.

Mr Parrish has reserved 40 places for his family and friends at the shelter, which was originally made to house government officials. There are 200 more spots to go at £30,000 a go.

He denied he was scaremongering to make money, saying he was "just being sensible" in the light of stories about nuclear or biological attacks. "Those who look ahead stand a better chance of surviving in the event of a disaster," he said.

A third bunker near Sevenoaks in Kent has reported a "phenomenal" amount of calls from companies wanting to ensure the survival of their data and records. Dominic Hawkin, a director of AL Digital (Telecommunications) which bought the shelter at a former RAF base four years ago, said: "People started to come to terms with what happened about a week ago and felt they needed to protect their data."

For those unable or unwilling to bag a place underground, protective chemical suits are next on the shopping list. Liverpool-based International Safety Products said the company had received a "huge" amount of interest. Its marketing director, Chris Owen, said: "We've gone from receiving no inquiries from the general public to over 200 e-mails in the space of a week."

The demand was repeated at military equipment shops across the country. At WH Orchard, an army surplus supplier in Dobwalls, Cornwall, 50 chemical suits have been sold in the past week, to the surprise of its owner, Graham Orchard. "I will sell people the suits, although I tell them I don't think they are going to be of any use," he said.

Barry Martin, who runs Leith Army Stores in Edinburgh, said he received more requests for gas masks in 24 hours than he would normally expect in a year. He said about 70 people had asked for gas masks and nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) protective suits normally worn by the armed forces.

Defence experts warned that for most people, buying military equipment was likely to be as futile. John Eldridge, editor of Jane's Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Defence, said: "If you buy a respirator or a suit, what are you going to do – wear it all the time?"

He added that the equipment would be unlikely to protect against biological weapons because of their tendency to spread slowly through the population.

Downing Street said that although it was important people remained vigilant, there was no evidence of a specific threat against Britain. "There is no reason why people should not carry out their normal day-to-day goings on in the usual way," he said.

* An emergency goods company based in the western Japanese city of Osaka says that it has been swamped with inquiries about its underground nuclear bunkers. Seiichiro Nishimoto, president of the company, Shelter, said: "In the 10 years I have been selling nuclear bunkers, I have only sold five. But since the attack [in America], I've already sold three."