Private Investigators

Written evidence submitted by The Surveillance Group [PI 05]

Executive Summary

The Surveillance Group is the largest provider of manned surveillance and surveillance training to both the corporate and public sector within the UK.

The company is unique in that all of our operational staff are required to obtain a Level 4 BTEC Diploma in Tactical Covert Surveillance before being allowed to work for the company. The qualification includes a module on the legal parameters that govern the use and application of surveillance within the UK. In addition all staff (including office based administrators) are CRB checked prior to employment.

The majority of the company’s work is governed by contracted service level agreements with its major clients who are predominantly financial institutions, global brands and public sector departments. These agreements encompass the training provided to staff and the standard operating procedures that all staff work within.

The company’s work has led to countless high profile convictions and numerous landmark judgements in court. Our work as both a training provider and major operational company means that we are seen as being the benchmark for surveillance standards within the UK.

The company has argued for better regulation within the industry for years and are keen to see a form of licensing being introduced. Clearly a further consultation needs to be undertaken and differentiation made between ‘directed’ and ‘intrusive’ surveillance as part of this process.

The company feels that a blanket licensing process for any type of ‘private investigation’ activity would potentially be flawed due to the dilution of subject matter and training within such a broad subject. The company is therefore strongly in favour of seeing investigative licensing being split into sub categories such as surveillance, desk top enquiries / data research and physical investigation and interviewing.

There are existing qualifications in place to cover the areas mentioned in section 6. In the case of surveillance this is the Level 3 BTEC ‘Certificate’ or above that includes a minimum of 120hrs of learning (as opposed to a Level 3 BTEC ‘Award’ that requires only 10 hours of learning). For all other investigative processes we feel that the Level 7 BTEC Advanced Professional Certificate in Investigative Practice would provide the correct level of essential training. Both awards are with Edexcel, with the latter currently being delivered through major Legal Training Providers such as Bond Solon.

It is our belief that the SIA relied too heavily on generic security organisations for consultation regarding the licensing of private investigators and as such the process seemed very much led by manned security rather than investigative organisations. We are also against the consultation being reliant on trade bodies such as the Association of British Investigators who in our opinion exist predominantly as a networking medium and do not represent the true voice or interests of the industry as a whole. We also feel that there is a danger of the licensing being overseen solely by ex-police officers who only have experience of criminal investigations. The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act would be difficult to adapt to civil litigation and to that end any future consultation group needs to have a members drawn from a diverse range of specialist areas.

We would hope that as a result of the Select Committee’s work recommendations will be made to parliament to licence the use of electronic tracking devices and their use subject to ‘RIPA’ style intrusive surveillance applications. We also feel that sentencing needs to be introduced to police the illegal accessing of data from digital devices.

We think it is important to note that every aspect of the surveillance we undertake is linked to either civil or criminal litigation, where exaggeration, fraud or other types of crime are suspected. In all of these instances there is a good / legitimate case for the use of surveillance and we feel that the same basis should apply to any licensing proposals. Proportionality should therefore be one of the major considerations when deciding what operating parameters should be covered under a licence.

We would also question whether the provision of licenses should be a local authority led process or whether it should be controlled and administered via the MOJ or a body operating on its behalf. In our mind the licensing of Investigators is of sufficient gravity to warrant it being structured around suitable training rather than a series of mandatory checks.

The Surveillance Group respectfully request the opportunity to submit our opinions orally to the Committee.

Background of The Surveillance Group Ltd

The Surveillance Group Ltd is by far the largest provider of manned surveillance and surveillance training in the UK. What makes the company unique in terms of its specialist position within the industry is the fact that all of its employees are trained to a Level 4 BTEC Professional Diploma in Tactical Covert Surveillance (course code PF437) The company’s operational staff are all ex Mod employees and our work has been responsible for high profile convictions in the fields of Brand Protection / Counterfeiting, and Anti Social Behaviour including drug related issues and violent crime.

The company is also the largest provider of surveillance to the Insurance Industry who, in 2011 suffered losses through fraud of in excess of 2 billion pounds. We undertake surveillance on over 500 personal injury claimants a month all of whom are claiming in excess of £150,000. In 2011 just over 81% of all claimants were filmed undertaking activities that directly contradicted major elements of their claim and 18% were filmed working whilst receiving unemployment related benefits.

The company’s surveillance footage was responsible for the Landmark ‘Contempt ‘ judgement in the case of Walton v Kirk [2009] EWHC 703(QB) that changed the way fraudulent or exaggerated personal injury claimants could be prosecuted by Insurers. In 2011 our footage was responsible for the first ever personal injury claimant and their family receiving custodial sentences for fraud in the case of Motor Insurers Bureau v Shikell [2011] EWHC 527 (QB.)

Our footage has thereafter been used in numerous other high profile fraud cases including instances where the DWP have benefited through using our evidence, having been passed a file by our insurance clients. A good example would be the case of Edward Nield, Acromas Insurance Company Ltd v Graham Jeffrey Loveday, Susan Loveday [2011] EWHC 2324 (Admin). We work regularly with many police forces and other government law enforcement bodies and in December 2011 The City of London Police benefited from surveillance evidence acquired by us on behalf of Nike and Adidas in order to close down a major organised counterfeit ring and seize its assets under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

To our knowledge we are the only operational surveillance company to also have a dedicated Surveillance Training business and in 2010 we created the first Level 4 BTEC in this specialist subject that is accredited by Edexcel. We have subsequently trained government departments such as Ofsted and are an approved training provider to the MOD’s Resettlement Service. Our level 4 BTEC includes modules on the various Acts that govern the use of surveillance in the UK and the various legal parameters that operatives have to work within. These include The Data Protection Act, Human Rights Act, Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and the Home Office Covert Surveillance Code of Practice. As part of our contracts with major financial institutions such as RBSI & AXA we are required to have all staff CRB checked at the commencement of their employment.

We only undertake work for the corporate, financial services and public sector and are very much seen as being responsible for setting the bench mark in terms of integrity and training within our industry. The recent revelations about the News of the World’s use of surveillance has been of great concern to our company since we play a vital role in assisting corporate and public sector entities in the detection and prosecution of fraud and organised crime. We are very much in favour of licensing.


Hopefully the information provided in the sections above goes some way to prove that the systems and training that we have developed are effective and fit for purpose. These internal systems not only insure that we play a vital role in the detection and prosecution of crime but in so doing we do not contravene an individual’s right to privacy or breach the Data Protection Act.

We are routinely subjected to major audits by many of our clients and we would willingly to submit ourselves to a similar activity if the Committee wish to assess the systems that we have in place to insure that members of the public are protected from the disproportionate / incorrect use of surveillance or other investigative methods. The benefit to the committee of using us as one of its benchmarks or simply for research is that The Surveillance Group is unique in the fact that we work for both public and corporate entities. Both entities are governed differently. For public bodies we operate within any RIPA Surveillance Authority gained by them. When working for financial institutions our actions are governed by the individual contracts we have in place together with our clients’ various operating parameters under the FSA and guidelines set out by other bodies such as the Association of British Insurers. Licensing based around a RIPA style of surveillance authority would not work for financial institutions since it would not be cost effective and would invariably lead to claimants and other subjects of surveillance being made aware of our presence before we could determine whether they were guilty of any form of fraud. We therefore feel that it is of paramount importance that any consultation is conducted by individuals with both criminal and civil investigatory experience.

As the largest surveillance company in the UK one would expect that our employees and managers would be in court a great deal giving evidence. In reality however this is rarely the case since we work to high enough standards and in an objective manner to insure that legal teams representing those we are placing under surveillance invariably accept the validity / integrity of our evidence gathering procedures and do not contest the submission of our footage as evidence. It is important to note that every aspect of the surveillance we undertake is linked to either civil or criminal litigation, where exaggeration, fraud or other types of crime are suspected. In all of these instances there is a good / legitimate case for the use of surveillance and we feel that the same basis should apply to any licensing proposals. Proportionality should therefore be one of the major considerations when deciding what operating parameters should be covered under a licence. The type of surveillance used by journalists in the case of Madeline McCann to simply ‘mine sweep’ for a story should be totally prohibited or lead to the suspension of a license.

Although we do not undertake any form of traditional private investigations such as those relating to divorce etc we are conscious of the fact that any individual with a computer can access a huge amount of open source data on anyone they choose or indeed simply purchase a video camera and follow whoever they choose. We do not like being included within the Private Investigator category but accept that this is necessary. To that end we would request that the legitimate activities of businesses are not subjected to unreasonable licensing criteria that mean that those businesses can no longer trade or undertake activities that private individuals or non categorised businesses can.

We have grave concerns regarding the illegal application of tracking and digital monitoring devices. Trackers are freely available on the internet for a couple of hundred pounds and transmit their data via a sim card that can be extracted from any ‘pay as you go’ phone. This means that it is very difficult to establish who deployed such a device if one is found. Not only does the deployment of such a device entail ‘tampering’ with another’s property but in our mind it constitutes a breach of that person’s right to privacy. As part of our courses we teach government users of such devices how to apply for a specific Intrusive RIPA Surveillance Authority to deploy such a device. It is ridiculous that private investigators can utilise such devices without having to make a similar application and we would request that any use of these devices by private individuals or private organisations should be prohibited under the licensing criteria. As a training organisation we receive countless enquiries each month asking for our opinion on the use of such devices and we have been alarmed by the number of people using them on a daily basis.

We are conscious of the fact that our industry probably has more sole traders than it does major companies such as ours and we do not want to force these individuals out. What is important is that a specialist licence is mandatory to change the way companies and the media instruct private investigators. The majority of breaches and illegal acts seem to have been carried out by sole traders or small companies who feel they are perhaps below the radar of regulatory and law enforcement bodies. We wonder whether this was the reason they were instructed in the first place. With this in mind complete licensing of the industry is surely the only way to protect the privacy of the general public.

January 2012

Prepared 13th March 2012