THE BLOG

Has Theresa May Forgotten About The Licencing Of Private Investigators?

31/03/2017 11:39 BST | Updated 31/03/2017 11:39 BST
Stefan Wermuth / Reuters

Theresa May has been a little busy of late. Her rise to become Prime Minister of the UK, coupled with the shifting political landscape and the small matter of having to trigger Article 50 has, I am sure, kept her occupied.

Sadly, however, this has meant that some of the things that occupied her as Home Secretary seem to have been forgotten and the licencing of Private Investigators is one such matter.

You may recall back in 2013 she made the announcement that "The Home Office is to introduce a new system of regulation for private investigators to protect the public from unscrupulous activity."

In a flurry of activity, it was said that "Operating as an unlicensed private investigator will become a criminal offence" and "It is vital we have proper regulation of private investigators to ensure rigorous standards in this sector and the respect of individuals' rights to privacy".

This new regime was due to commence early in 2014 and as a long established Private Investigator I welcomed the move.

Key to this was going to be the licencing requirements and early signs were that if they adopted the American system of 'grandfathering', that is people who have been established for a long time in the industry would automatically be granted a licence, then the system of licencing could press ahead in good time.

But then came the fly in the ointment.

It turned out that the Home Office's preferred approach was to put everyone through training courses., which they would need to pass to be licenced. Whilst this might sound like a clever plan it was flawed from the start. You see these courses were to be run by people who applied to run the courses and the crucial element that was missing was that you needed little or no experience in being a Private Investigator to be able to run a course accrediting others.

In summary, anyone off the street could set up a company to accredit Private Investigators.

This, of course, would have been a disaster and the Home Office were told this in no uncertain terms. They resolved to go away and look at this issue and report back as soon as they could.

Fast forward four years and we are nowhere near a solution. Nothing has happened. In fact, it may seem that all this seems very familiar and if you recognise some of this then it's probably because I wrote about this very topic back in August 2013.

Since then the world has changed significantly. Whilst the legislators are busy twiddling their thumbs the world has moved on.

In the time I have taken to write this article yet another unlicensed PI could have spun up a website and will no doubt be desperately trying to propel themselves to the top of Google. Whilst many people trust the top results on Google, most people are unaware that this is absolutely no guarantee of quality.

Add to this the increased risk to our own security and the huge vulnerability of the online environment and frankly, there has never been a more pressing need for some kind of regulation.

In the absence of anything from the Government, I can only recommend that same safeguards as I did in 2013 which was to use a professional Private Investigation Agency that is a member of a recognised TRADE Association of which there are three in the UK. The World Association of Professional Investigators (WAPI), The Institute of Professional Investigators (IPI) and the Association of British Investigators (ABI) all of whom have a list of Members and operate a disciplinary procedure. They are Private Investigator TRADE Associations, and if you are looking to hire a private investigator you would be as well advised to choose a member from one of these associations.

So, if I may, a small suggesting for our current Prime Minister. Call Amber Rudd into your office for a cosy chat and let's get this thing sorted once and for all. The industry has provided you with all the information you need and we have even supplied you with a workable solution.

Time for the excuses to end. Time for action.

Tony Smith is a director of Insight Investigations