1 The role of the private investigator |
What do private investigators
5. Private investigators in the UK are not subject
to direct licensing or regulation. Powers to regulate under the
Private Security Industry Act 2001 have not been commenced.
According to the Institute of Professional Investigators,
part of the reason that investigators were not regulated under
the previous Government was the difficulty of defining what it
is they do. The Act
defined private investigation as:
any surveillance, inquiries or investigations that
are carried out for the purpose of(a) obtaining information
about a particular person or about the activities or whereabouts
of a particular person; or (b) obtaining information about the
circumstances in which or means by which property has been lost
6. In the popular imagination, a private investigator
is a lone operator, hired to solve a particular conundrum. This
image remains accurate in some cases, but the solo sleuth is joined
in the market by a range of small- and medium-sized enterprises
and by a number of major corporations, which undertake large corporate
contracts. The Data Protection Act 1998 required all private
investigators (and others) processing personal information to
register themselves as a data controller with the Information
Commissioner's Office. As of January 2012, some 2,032 registered
data controllers claimed they were operating a business as a private
investigator. Threshold Security believed that there were between
3,000 and 10,000 investigators operating in the UK.
7. The tools of the trade are also far more varied
than the popular image. Invasive field work, such as direct surveillance
and face-to-face inquiry still play a prominent part in the work
of many investigators. However, for many others the mainstay of
the work is desk-based, conducted through the Internet. Investigators
emphasised that they make extensive use of open-source data, such
as the Land Registry, the Register of Births, Deaths and Marriages
and the Electoral Roll. Often, private investigators are highly
skilled in their trade, with a background in the police, customs,
intelligence and security services, military security or intelligence,
journalism, academia, accountancy, or the law.
For example, the Ravenstone Group told us that they primarily
selected staff with experience in the police forces or Financial
Services Authority to meet its clients' requirements.
8. Private investigators have often been involved
in tracing witnesses or serving people with court documents, on
behalf of lawyers. Law firms may also employ private investigators
for surveillance or background checks, or to obtain evidence for
use in court. Dan Morrison,
of Grosvenor Law LLP, told us that "most lawyers, particularly
in litigation matters, would regularly instruct investigators".
9. Other investigators told us that their work
was focused on helping others to fulfil their legal requirements,
for example in relation to the Bribery Act 2010, the Proceeds
of Crime Act 2002 and anti-money laundering regulations. GPW said
that its use of the term "investigation" primarily related
to the due diligence investigations. The work required "collation
and analysis of legal, commercial, media and other material both
directly accessible from the public domain and also expressed
as opinions of informed individuals whose independent views we
seek on behalf of our clients".
10. We also conducted a survey of newspapers
and local councils, which revealed that there was significant
use of private investigators by media organisations and public
authorities. In most cases, investigators were used to serve papers
or to obtain basic information available in open-source records.
However, investigators were also employed on more sensitive issues,
such as detection and prevention of potential insurance fraud
or child protection cases.
11. Private investigators may also have a place
in the changing landscape of law enforcement. Some police forces
are beginning an experiment in procuring services previously carried
out by police officers from private companies (through the national
procurement hub) and there is some overlap between the firms that
run private investigation services and those that are expected
to undertake a policing role, such as G4S.
Moreover, the police will be facing cuts of 20% during this Parliament
and may not be able to continue to undertake the full range of
investigations they do at the moment.
12. We were told that private investigators had
already helped to save billions of pounds for UK companies, taxpayers
and the economy through their work in fraud detection.
For example, Cerberus is a major player in the defence of intellectual
Cerberus and other firms have used "trap purchase techniques"
and undercover practices to assist in the recovery of stolen goods,
working alongside local law enforcement agencies as well as the
According to the Surveillance Group, in 2011 the insurance industry
suffered losses of over £2 billion through fraud, which could
be reduced by surveillance evidence gathered by private investigators.
13. Several witnesses believed that as police
cuts take effect, private investigators would step into the breach.
We heard that investigators often take up cases that are very
important to the public, but too small or too complicated for
the police to deal with. The Association of British Investigators
said that finite police resources meant that "the investigation
of business crime appears not to be a priority for the police
service". The Association told us that victims of crime
were even advised by the police to instruct private investigators,
as they do in civil matters, to gather sufficient evidence to
assist in a police investigation.
The Information Commissioner's Office agreed that official channels
offered scant assistance in the recovery of some unpaid debts
and other legitimate civil purposes, in which private investigators
were a feasible option.
Dan Morrison suggested that, in London, the Metropolitan Police,
the City of London Economic Crime Unit and the Serious Fraud Office
may not investigate a commercial fraud unless "very significant
sums of money" were involved, because of limited resources.
14. Steve Bishop told us that there had been
suggestions that the security industry could become "part
of the police family". He believed that evidence from professional
investigators could be relied upon in court and that investigators
could undertake investigations on behalf of the police and described
his experience in murder investigations, with a mix of warranted
and non-warranted officers, many of whom benefited from their
knowledge as former police officers.
The Ravenstone Group said that its evidence was regularly presented
in both civil and criminal courts without challenge.
15. The business of private
investigators is essentially the gathering and reporting of information,
with a premium paid for information that is more difficult to
obtain, confidential or important to the buyer. They undertake
tasks that are important to an individual and to a business and
often fulfil and important social role. In future, it is possible
that increasing numbers of investigations that are now undertaken
by police will fall to private investigators, though whether this
is desirable is a matter for further debate.
16. In its response to this
Report, we recommend the Government sets out its assessment of
which policing roles could appropriately be undertaken by private
investigators and which should not; how it believes cuts to police
funding will affect the involvement of private investigators in
law-enforcement; and what part private investigators will have
in the new landscape of policing. In particular, given the evidence
we received, it will be important that this assessment includes
an analysis of the role of private investigators in fraud detection,
recovery of stolen goods, maintenance of public order and major
investigations, such as murder inquiries, with a statement of
the risks associated with the involvement of private investigators
in each of these areas.
3 Ev w9 [Institute of Professional Investigators] Back
Private Security Industry Act 2001 Schedule 2 Section 4 Back
Ev w6 [Threshold Security] Back
Ev w17 [Bishop International] Back
Ev w22 [Ravenstone Group] Back
Q 403 [Julian Pike]; Ev 64 [ABI] Back
Q 403 [Dan Morrison] Back
Ev w23 [GPW] Back
Ev 85-86 [survey results] Back
Home Affairs Committee, Work of the Permanent Secretary (April-December
2011), Second Report of Session 2012-13, HC 145, 29 May 2012 Back
Q 416 [Dan Morrison] Back
Ev w16 [Cerberus Investigations Ltd] Back
Ev w17 [Cerberus Investigations Ltd] Back
Ev w7 [The Surveillance Group Ltd] Back
Ev 64 [ABI] Back
Ev 65 [ABI] Back
Ev 70 [ICO] Back
Q 416 [Dan Morrison] Back
Ev w17 [Steve Bishop] Back
Ev w22 [Ravenstone Group] Back