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Guide For PIs

The Security Industry Authority has brought out a best practice guide for private investigators.

The Security Industry Authority has brought out a best practice guide for private investigators.

The 14-page document begins by pointing to what the SIA calls a ‘set of six activities around which investigations, regardless of context or complexity, were based. These activities were: implement Investigations, interview witnesses, interview suspects; search for information and evidence; carry out basic surveillance; and laws, standards and regulations’. In other words, there is what the document calls an ‘investigation cycle, of plan, gather evidence and report.

PIs, the document goes on, should have ‘basic skills and related knowledge and understanding’. Among other things, a PI should deal with conflicts of interest, and ‘obtain information by lawful means’. To coin a phrase, what matters is not only what you do, but the way that you do it; it’s not what you call your job, but the task that you do, as indeed the SIA say about other licence sector such as door work and contract guarding. As for interviewing suspects, for instance, PIs should record interviews, and produce statements, accurately; and ‘sensitively and courteously interview suspects in ways which take into account their rights, privacy and identified needs whilst maximising the acquisition of facts.’ Similarly, when searching for evidence, PIs should be, among other things, courteous and lawful; and when carrying out surveillance, investigators should for instance choose and use ‘appropriate, ethically acceptable and legal
surveillance methods’ and ‘use surveillance equipment in accordance with legal requirements’.

The document ends by listing more than two dozen ‘laws, regulations and standards of behaviour which were regarded as best practice’ such as PACE, the Data Protection Act and Human Rights Act. And a page of ‘standards of behaviour’ says that private investigators should accept responsibility for their actions and diligently carry out their roles, and goes on to list a dozen points, from the exact (agree fees, terms and conditions with the client) to the vague (promote ‘the professionalism and integrity of the private investigation community’).

Background: As the SIA website reports, since June 2005, the authority has been researching what PIs do, with a view to publishing proposals for licensing this sector in a Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA). However, the SIA adds, it cannot confirm when the RIA will be published by the Home Office. Instead, it has put the results of its research on its website, ‘to allow the private investigator sector and other stakeholders to benefit from the best practice which has been identified’. While readers might be tempted to see the guide as a checklist for what to do to be ready for an SIA licence, the regulator adds that this is not linked to SIA licensing in any way, stressing: “The contents of this document should be regarded as best practice only.”

The best practice identified by the SIA also complements, the guide says, areas set out within the recently developed National Occupational Standards (NOS) for private investigators. Richard Newman, president of the Association of British Investigators, chaired the panel that put those standards together.

Professional Security: The first striking thing is, what a lot of ground the role definitions of a PI cover?

Richard Newman: Well, a lot of people have come to realise in the SIA that an investigator is not just an investigator. The definition of investigator includes almost everybody and anybody that has anything to do with an investigation. And you will perhaps recall Tony Imossi on the website [the Investigators’ Sector Group was set up five years ago by Tony Imossi, as then ABI president] – there’s a list of over 100 different activities that an investigator can get involved with.

PS: And a lot of various people do private investigations?

RN: Yes, not just private investigators. I think one of the problems is the word private; I don’t think there should be a difference between a private and a public investigator, we are all investigators. [There is overlap, Richard admits, between Skills for Security, and Skills for Justice, the skills body covering the police, and prisons. Postal investigators, for instance, may straddle both policing and private security.]

RN: “But there are people like Capita who employ 24,000 investigators, and investigate failure to pay congestion charges, TV licences, et cetera, but nonetheless under the definition of the [Private Security Act] they are still investigators. And so they [Capita] are looking at 24,000 times £190, every three years. And it comes as a shock to some people that they would be classed as an investigator.

But back to the SIA; the first few pages of that 14-page guide ‘have been cribbed from the national occupational standards’, which pleases Richard; and the ‘standards of behaviour’ page is very closely aligned, he adds, to the ABI code of ethics, “which you will find on the ABI website”. [Visit]

PS: How do you judge standards of behaviour? You are providing a service, and service can be a slippery thing?

RN: We [the ABI] as a professional body have a disciplinary procedure and over the years, unfortunately, we have various people who have committed offences and they are judged by their peers. We suggested at one point to the SIA that the ABI could be the way to getting a licence and you could do it [qualifying for a licence] by accredited prior learning.

(Briefly, to apply to the ABI you have to prove your identity and financial and other fitness; and are ‘grilled’ by an interview panel. The other ingredient for a licence would be the Criminal Records Bureau check. The ABI however cannot use the CRB to check its own members, although, as Richard Newman points out, a PI may knock on a door and see a latch-key child, or indeed a PI may repossess children from one adult to another. Finally, Richard Newman returned to where the interview began, with the wide catchment of the PI definition, taking in, for example, solicitors’ clerks, and investigative journalists. He said: “And I think this is the big stumbling block that the SIA has found.” Richard Newman added the position is similar for security consultants and SIA licensing. How do you pin down a definition of what security consultancy is licensable?

For a copy of Richard Newman’s Data Protection – A Best Practice Guide for Professional Investigators, £45, ring him on 01329 231 963. Details on the ABI website


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