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Special Forces - Lock Picking and the Long Arm of The Law

Posted by Chris Dangerfield on


Good gosh the end of the British summer is a dreary time. Forced into introspection by the predictability of seasons, the end of what we call summer is a few days when we finally accept the annual fact that we don't actually have a summer, rather one long teasing transition between spring and autumn; a myth of a season defined by promising sunny mornings followed by dull, grey afternoons that have you shivering in your summer wear by evening. Put your flip-flops away, it's over again, England is cold and always has been. So, unless global warming sorts itself out and actually warms globally, it's going to stay cold. Perhaps we could start a movement of people spraying CFC's into the air, smashing up fridges and burning whatever fossil fuels we can find, surely if everyone done it we'd make an impact? Admittedly the countries with the hotter climates will be frazzled from the face of the earth, but come on - they've had it good for centuries, surely it's our turn? Anyway, I've got my jumper and bathrobe on and the warmth from the laptop will no doubt get me through. As students we burnt the floorboards for heat, which was great until we drank copious amounts of cheap booze, which was - of course - always, and more than one of us ended up limping, as well as shivering. Good times.



This is the 11th autumn of UK Bump Keys selling lock picks online. Some of you will now that we started like the films with an idea and a dream. Well many dreams actually as I slept a lot back then, but from even sleepy acorns do giant oak trees grow and once upon a time UK Bump Keys was literally a man, a lock and a key; really!



Things picked up quickly. I was reminded about how we made giant steps after watching a You Tube video last night. The lad was demonstrating how to make bump keys 'The Right Way!' he exclaims in the video's title. And sure enough he explained how to make a bump key. The moment of interest was when he applied a 'Dampener' - or has he called it, a rubber ring. The reason I call it a 'Dampener' is because I invented it. Really - cool eh? Yep, I was the first person on record to use a 'rubber ring' on a bump key. That's some claim, I know, but if anyone can find documentation of anyone making public the use of any rubber-ring type of device on a bump key before me I would be surprised. And now the bump key worked - OK it worked before, but now it was efficient. Previously you needed to reset the key every time you hit it, and as anyone who has ever bumped a lock knows, that's one hell of a lot of resetting. With the average lock requiring around 20 taps to open, the bumping technique was a laborious, inefficient and largely useless technique. With the dampener, and the simultaneous development of bump-hammers, and people like me with a pack of blanks and a file - bump keys exploded.



It was quite something, the lock picking world had never seen so much attention. There were news stories proclaiming the end of domestic safety, TV shows had people demonstrating the keys, and explaining - as they are prone to do - how the creation of the tool meant anyone with access to the internet was going to rob your house. It wasn't all bad. The You Tube videos on bumping went into overdrive. From 100's to 1000's to 100's of 1000's. My original Dampener videos are now 9 years old. Pixelated in motion as I filmed them on my old webcam camera. The UK Bump Keys forum (we were a forum before a shop!) reflected this interest. We went from a handful of members to 1000's, and the main reason these people (mostly professional locksmiths) joined was to ask, 'Can I buy some keys?’




Watch out! Bumping goes crazy in the world news media.

At first I was making them by hand, with a set of needle-files and a box of blanks. It took a while. And when orders from the second week were around 300, it was time to get a key cutting machine, which I did - an old semi-automatic Curtis model. An antique, virtually, with a cutting time of around 4 minutes per key. A neighbour gave me a little bench grinder which I used to remove the shoulders (to give room for the dampeners) and deburr and hand polish the keys.




Not mine, but identical to my Curtis machine.



They were good times. I had the shiniest although cut-ridden fingers in the world, and me and my Curtis went into overdrive, staying up all night to meet the crazy new demand for bump keys. And then the Special Forces arrived at my house.



Now, I am being intentionally dramatic there. The Special Forces did arrive, but not as I hope you'd assume, through the windows. Annoyingly, they didn't smash down the door, throw in a stun-grenade and come piling in, spraying their Heckler and Koch automatic weapons all around the place, with me hiding behind my Curtis key-cutter begging for mercy. They emailed me. Yep. I was contacted by email by a government agency representing secret military services. It was super cool. Having harboured dreams of being an SAS operative since I was a toddler, deep in the South American rainforest, sneaking along the mud waiting for my helicopter extraction, having them coming round my house for tea was the next best thing. 




Who Bumps Opens.

Two blokes arrived, plain clothes (but I mean really plain) nice big, fast car that had seen better days (no doubt chasing drug-lords round Monaco the day before) they walked in my front door and sat, rather uncomfortably on my imitation leather sofa while I made tea. They were great, they showed absolute focus in my demonstrations, and quickly got the hang of the technique. They knew about locks, locks far more advanced than anything I'd encountered, but were naive to this new technique that seemed to lead the common pin cylinder into simple submission. They didn't stay long, about an hour and a half. But they did have time to tell me about a number of jobs where they used the ultimate destructive entry tool - the thermal lance. If you don't know, a thermal lance uses pressurized oxygen to cut through anything. These things reach about 4000 °C and can cut through some serious obstruction. The lads not only told me about a job where they'd abseiled down the side of a ship, cut a hole with a thermal lance and went in, but even sent me over a few photos; there they were, dangling halfway down the ship with the burnt metal sparks exploding like fireworks around them.




To offset their fear-mongering they offered this sort of nonsense.

I took a couple of photos of them bumping locks an uploaded both sets of pictures onto the site. How cool to say I had special ops round my house! Here they are on my sofa, here they are dangling from a ship.



It took about 3 hours before the original government agency contacted me instructing me to immediately remove the photographs. No blurring, no nothing - just take the damn pictures down! Understandable really.



A few years later and I was performing at the Edinburgh Fringe. Scotland doesn't even pretend to have a summer and August in Edinburgh is a wet and windy affair, with everything seemingly uphill (the whole city is like an MC Escher drawing as all roads lead upwards and you never go down) it's at least honest about its seasonal distinctions. All that aside, it's a few weeks away from running the business and my yearly brake from a zillion daily emails asking 'Can I pick locks?' a question people really should be asking themselves, not me.



During one such holiday I received a call from work back in London. Detective Sargent XXXXXX was at the warehouse asking all sorts of questions about who we sell lock picks too and why. It was about 9 AM and I was not feeling too clever. The Fringe is not only wet in weather with the whole city essentially drunk for the entire month. I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and attempted to deal with the call. Did they have ID? Were they submitting a warrant? Have you informed our lawyers? How does the Data Protection Act work here? Etc, etc. Certainly a far cry from cutting a handful of bump keys a few years previous.



It wasn't too dramatic the truth be told. They'd been a few car-thefts in the area and a receipt for one of our tools was found in one of the stolen cars. Loose evidence of foul-play on our part, I know. But it's always good to help out and be as open as possible when dealing with the law. Something I learned the hard way as a young man and have never forgotten.



Years later and how things have changed. We now regularly supply lock picking tools of all types to various police and other security services. We supply information and training to some groups and a lot of assistance and non-destructive entry tools to other professions such as the Fire Brigade and roadside rescue.



I came close to real glory two years ago, having been contacted by a US Government agency based in Langley, Virginia. They didn't say who they were exactly, but I've seen enough films to know it's not the Salvation Army based there. They were looking to have a group of officers trained in all forms of lock picking. At first they suggested coming to me. But looking for adventure and being a nosey bugger I suggested I flew out to them, it's a quarter of the air-fare to send one person out there than four here. They agreed and I got very excited. I set about writing up a training program. I asked Oliver Diederichsen the German lock expert extraordinaire if he would accompany me and assist with writing the program and training it. It was all looking good until I gave the quote. 'Too expensive' they said, 'We'll see if we have funds next year'. Well, it couldn't have been that important.




A small security organisation in Langley, Virginia.

Take care, Lock Pickers.




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