Safe as houses

In the first of two articles examining the subject of forecourt crime, Scottish Grocer takes a look at Cot House Services near Dunoon. After being broken into, the owners of the Jet site decided to upgrade their CCTV and strengthen their alarm systems. The improvements have brought with them a number of benefits for the business.

Technology has certainly moved on a lot since Alastair Murray purchased Cot House Services back in 1985.

Scott Murray (left) and his father Alastair Murray (right) run Cot House Services with the help of other family members. It boasts nine staff members and a strong convenience offering from Premier.

At that time, the site, near Dunoon, was a Shell station with a wooden hut that was considered “well-stocked” if it contained three Mars bars and a Twix, he says.

Over the years, Alastair invested heavily in the site, adding a strong convenience offering in 1995 (at the time, he says, “a leap of faith”) and maintaining high standards on the forecourt, ensuring a successful business in an evolving retail environment.
“At one time every wee corner, caravan site and hotel had a couple of pumps. Now on the Cowal Peninsula there’s a small garage in Stachur and two in Dunoon. That’s it,” said Alastair.
“Every village used to have two or three shops, but now there’s practically nothing left, so we serve quite a useful service.”
However, the last three decades have not all been plain sailing. Prior to signing with Jet, the business struggled with a disadvantageous supply agreement and protracted legal battle (“learning the hard way”, as Alastair puts it).

The Premier store’s counter is watched over by HD cameras, with panic buttons under each till should staff have need of them.

And over the years it has also, unfortunately,  been the target of criminals.
“We’ve had two break-ins, both targeting our self-fill cash machines,” said Alastair. “The first time we were broken into they ripped the machine out and took it away. So we got a burglar alarms and wrote it off as bad luck.
“Then I came to open the shop one morning at 6am. As I was getting towards the back door I realised I could see daylight through it. It was still shut, but the shutter had been ripped off at the back and they’d used a jigsaw to cut through the wooden door. The bottom half of the door was just on a hinge so it swung out and the movement sensor – at the top of the door – never went off.
“We looked and saw the cash machine had been wrecked, the cash box was out. £1,800 had disappeared. All the insurance company did was tell us off for keeping cash in the machine overnight.”

The 1100 sq ft Premier store is equipped with a number of motion sensors. Following break-ins targeting the in-store cash machine, Cot House now has a cash machine that sits out on the forecourt. In-store, customers can find a broad range, including a number of products from local suppliers such as the Wee Butchers.

So a decision was made to increase security, strengthen the existing remote alarm system and upgrade CCTV.
Several sensors throughout the store and on shutters mean that any intrusion will be instantly discovered. A call centre then calls management if the alarm is triggered. Panic buttons are also under each till for staff to use if in any danger. And the system links to a trip switch activating all the lights in the shop and forecourt if the alarm sounds outside of opening hours.
“People who are up to no good don’t like too much visibility,” said Alastair. “So that’s pretty good. It would be a bold crowd that decides they’re going to hang around when all the lights are on.
“I’m very happy with that. It’s a deterrent. I don’t care about catching anyone in the act. I just want them to stay outside.
“I think locks are only good for keeping honest people out. If someone is determined enough, they will get in. So you’ve got to deter them, make it not really worth their while.”
The 18 camera CCTV system has a number of high-definition cameras which ensure high-quality pictures and number plate recognition – invaluable for dealing with drive-offs.

Cot House Services, near Dunoon on the Cowal Peninsula, is now in its second term with Jet. “It’s good to be reasonably competitive with your fuel prices and at times we can be very competitive,” said Alastair.

“The difference compared to our old system is phenomenal,” said Alastair’s son Scott. “Number plate recognition was the main problem on the previous cameras. They would pixelate slightly when you zoomed in and you’d be trying to work out whether it was a B or an 8 or a V or a Y. You could get quite frustrated with it.
“Now in the case of a drive-off we can immediately pass the number plate to the police and they usually get it sorted pretty quickly. Usually it’s a complete mistake. People have just been in a daydream and they’ve got in their car and driven away. Or the passenger comes into the shop while the driver fills the tank and each think the other’s paying. It depends on people’s state of mind. 99.9% are honest mistakes and accidents. We don’t get many deliberate ones.”
Access to all cameras is linked to the owners’ smart phones via an app, so they are always in contact with the store.
The upgrades were partially funded through the site achieving top scores in Jet’s ‘Proud to be Jet’ service and standards programme. The Murrays received advice from a security expert working for Jet who introduced them to AGE CCTV, using ‘Diamonds’ for the new equipment.
“In terms of criminal behaviour, the area is really not bad,” said Alastair. “We’ve taken sufficient steps, we hope, to keep it that way.”