Private Investigators

Written evidence submitted by Cerberus Investigations Limited [PI10]

Cerberus Investigations Limited (hereafter Cerberus) submits in the following memorandum that investigators and investigative agencies are diverse in the quality, capability and moral rectitude of their work.

Some investigators may be unaware of, or choose to ignore, such basic human rights as privacy and such basic obligations as being sure of the party instructing them; they may be correspondingly ignorant of legislation protecting these rights (such as the Data Protection Act) or enforcing these responsibilities (such as the Bribery and Corruption Act 2010).

However, other investigators are bound by high standards and observe the law, operating on the best of information rather than from the depths of ignorance or callousness.

Any regulation or legislation will always be observed by right–minded investigators conducting honest work.

It is for this reason that Cerberus submits that the Home Affairs Committee appreciates as best it can that, for all the publicity surrounding the subject for all the wrong reasons, not all investigators are corrupt; indeed, some provide a useful and helpful service.

It also submits that the different sorts of services provided by investigators, and the diverse range of clients, are also recognised. This is partly so that knee-jerk reactive regulations designed to curb shoddy practices such as unauthorised access to (usually famous) individuals’ personal mobile records by investigators at the request of the popular press, do not negatively impact on honourable businesses such as Cerberus.


This submission is made by Mr. Duncan Mee, owner and Director of Cerberus, whose experience as a corporate investigator amounts to nearly 30 years.

Mr. Mee’s background is in the protection of intellectual property rights (hereafter IPRs). He has worked for and alongside IPR owners and attorneys in his time as an investigator.

Factual information

Cerberus provides information to enable IPR owners to protect their rights.

IPRs are most commonly infringed by counterfeiters but also by others, for example by people ‘passing off’ goods or services as those of the real IPR owner (i.e. brand) or by the unauthorised sale or supply of goods in trading areas the IPR holder has exclusive rights to (such as within the EU for instance). In all cases these infringements deceive the public to a greater or lesser degree depending upon the quality and pricing of the rouge goods and services and are likely to leave the consumer with an inferior product/service and with no consumer protection from the genuine brand.

Cerberus assists the growth and development of IPRs especially through so–called ‘verification of use’ work, where a trade mark’s nature and extent of use – including date(s) of first use and the exact goods and services to which they apply – have to be accurately ascertained (often to see if the mark is vulnerable to cancellation proceedings through non–use for five years). Such enquiries must be carried out without alerting the other party for them to have any value, since otherwise the other party will protect itself by making some small use.

Cerberus is instructed by IP lawyers, both from law firms and from within large brand owners that have their own in–house legal teams. Instructions are also taken from Trade Mark Attorney firms and sometimes from the smaller IPR owning brands directly. Cerberus hardly ever undertakes work from individuals and does not, for instance, assist with divorce or other non-corporate work.

Cerberus is aimed at professionals with full knowledge of the laws in whatever jurisdictions apply. It therefore provides a corporate investigation service, rather than being aimed at individuals for ‘private investigation’ work.

Cerberus works for many of the largest law firms here in the United Kingdom and abroad, and through them or similar IP professionals, assists some of the largest brand owners in the world.

At present there is nothing in law to distinguish companies such as Cerberus from corrupt lone operatives. The excellent reputation that Cerberus holds has been gained from full compliance with all data gathering techniques and regulations over many years by the two owners of the business (including from before they established this company seven years ago) with some clients of over 25 years standing. The company employs 8 people, none of whom are ex–police or from a security background.

The present industry organisations, such as the Association of British Investigators (ABI), are of little relevance to what Cerberus does. The ABI is run by ex–police and seems to be mostly for ex–police engaged in the activities of private rather than corporate investigation. Such individuals or companies offer services such as process serving and surveillance for individuals. Most of these are single operatives.

Cerberus undertakes its investigations in order to supply high quality and scrupulous information to well–informed clients. Many of the results are required to be presented before courts, and all results must and do conform to legal standards.

Cerberus has used discreet pretext approaches and undercover investigation in order to ascertain the supply chain and ultimate source of counterfeit goods, so that trading standards officers and police have been able to conduct raids to apprehend criminals making money from selling inferior, counterfeit or unauthorised goods to an unsuspecting public.

Cerberus has used trap purchase techniques and undercover techniques to lead to the repatriation of stolen goods, working alongside local law enforcement agencies as well as the owners themselves.

Cerberus undertakes monitoring of online or other auctions in order to help protect the IPRs of companies whose huge research and development costs contribute to the economy and whose hard work and inventiveness is threatened by criminal imitation of their endeavours. It assists in the removal of these infringing listings.

Cerberus makes use of covert enquiries to elicit the intentions of cybersquatters who infringe the IPRs of brand owners or, where possible, to secure a price more reasonable than could be secured if the brand owner approached the cybersquatter directly, for example, to gain rapid ownership of domain names bearing their brand names.

Cerberus was involved in the 2009 film Erasing David, which highlighted to the general public the security risks of leaving information with agencies which could be obtained by unscrupulous parties under pretence, or leaving un–shredded documentation in bins.

The discreet pretext approaches employed by Cerberus are necessary to procure the information needed by the lawyers to protect the IPRs.

January 2012

Prepared 13th March 2012