The investigation sector has existed for many years in the UK and, in fact, the leading representative trade body for private sector investigators; The Association of British Investigators (ABI) can trace its roots to 1913. Unlike their counterparts around the globe, UK Investigators have not, to date, been regulated, despite the arrival in 2001 of The Private Security Industry Act (PSIA), enabling the sector to be licensed.

The ABI, as long ago as the 1950s had lobbied parliament to introduce licences. They have continued to call for it ever since and in the late 1990s, along with other voices in the sector, contributed to the development of the PSIA 2001 leading to the sector’s inclusion in the areas to be licensed. The act was primarily concerned with regulating an inconsistent security industry and so naturally the matter of investigators was not the priority of The SIA.

Investigators in the UK waited patiently and there were several false dawns. In the meantime, The ABI recognised the need to distinguish its members from what are popularly referred to as ‘private investigators’. In the absence of regulation the door remained open to both incompetent and unscrupulous people to operate in the guise of private investigators. This situation led to a number of scandals which in turn tarred bone fide investigators with the same brush and unfairly cast doubt and suspicion over the sector.

The ABI made some bold changes. It had to. The pace of the SIA to introduce regulation was too slow and therefore a standard had to be set. An applicant to ABI must meet the following standard:

From around 2008/9, the ABI was, in effect, self regulating its members and this led to recognition by the Law Society which endorsed ABI and to other partnerships and relationships for the Association. The ABI, in tackling the issues around integrity, had created a one stop shop for due diligence.

The ABI recognised that legal practitioners would be keen to ensure that the investigators and process servers that they instructed were credible people. By making sure their choice was a prudent one, lawyers could be as confident as they ever can be that reputational risk was low and that SRA Code of Conduct 2011, Paras O 91,2) and IB (4.3) with regard to using accredited suppliers is complied with. The ABI provided a facility for legal practitioners to demonstrate their prudence in selecting investigators and process servers with the introduction of their Lawyers Registration Scheme.

This has been further underpinned by a strict code of conduct, a commitment to the ICO personal integrity promise and a robust disciplinary system that includes an independent adjudicator with considerable knowledge of the sector.

Following the scandal of “phone hacking” the focus was back on the shadowy side of the profession as it unfolded that so called private investigators had played a significant role in the crimes that came to light. Similar scandals came to light too. This led to The Leveson Inquiry and to the Parliamentary Home Affairs Select Committee Inquiry into private investigators.

The parliamentary appetite had been whetted and Home Secretary, Theresa May finally announced that private investigators would be licensed. The SIA were tasked with doing so.

Preparing for Licensing

The sector realised that both individuals and businesses needed to prepare for licensing as regulation would probably extend to both individuals and corporate bodies.

The focus for individuals was primarily on ensuring that they are suitably qualified to apply for an individual licence once the process begins. The ABI launched its ABI Academy to make training and qualifications easily accessible. Within its membership are several respected trainers who are on hand to deliver training packages leading to IQ Level 3 qualifications.

The British Standards Institute responded to the concerns about private investigators and with significant assistance from The ABI, a brand new British Standard BS102000 was written and published in 2013. This was the first ever standard dealing with the provision of investigative services and finally addressed the serious aspects of delivering professional investigation services.

BS102000 was a breath of fresh air for true professionals. To met the standard, a firm must demonstrate compliance and best practice in many areas which are out of reach of amateurs.

In July 2013, Probe Investigations (UK) Limited of Merseyside was the first ever investigation company to be assessed against the standard which, at that point was in its final draft form. The certification body, SSAIB required a company to test the standard against and as Probe had recently achieved ISO 9001 Quality Management certification, the company was highly likely to meet the standard. It did.

Soon afterwards, BS102000 was incorporated within the UKAS certification (ISO 9001) of the company while SSAIB developed the standard for submission to UKAS.

A year later, Probe Investigations (UK) Limited had undergone some changes. This led to the incorporation of an arm of the company to become PDQ Process and Investigations Limited and the staggered transfer of business from Probe to PDQ. Naturally, PDQ Process and Investigations Limited became certificated to BS102000.

The Requirements Of The Standard

BS102000 has been designed to examine the processes and procedures of an investigation company to ensure that it is functioning lawfully, ethically and efficiently.

There are many aspects to the standard but the key areas are:

What Does this Mean for The Sector?

PDQ Process and Investigations Limited and a small handful of other investigation companies have invested carefully in their development. Many more will follow in the near future as the investigation sector continues to evolve.

Investigators in the private sector are professional people. They provide support services to industry, commerce, the legal sector and the insurance sector. Those professional services are part of the judicial mechanism. The days of following adulterous people around have long gone and that outdated stereotype is very unwelcome. Likewise, the very term private investigator is something that professionals want to leave behind. The phrase is synonymous with characters from fiction and, of course, criminality. BS10200 offers an investigation company the opportunity to demonstrate that they have submitted to a stringent independent inspection and passed. In turn, potential clients can be reassured that their own reputational risk is massively reduced by selecting a company that has achieved the BS102000 standard. That is what British Standards are all about.

BS10200 – Provision of Investigative Services finally provides a standard, a benchmark for service users to take advantage of. The standard speaks for itself as the kite mark of the investigation sector.

Achieving The Standard

Probe Investigations (UK) Limited instructed a consultant to work alongside them ahead of the inspection. This was very useful to the company directors as they simply did not know what to expect or how to correctly interpret all the requirements of the standard. Brian Nuttall can be contacted via his company K7 Compliance. Brian has successfully guided a number of investigation companies through BS102000 and has established himself as the lead consultant in this field.

Once the company is ready to be examined, then there are a few choices of certification bodies. Probe Investigations (UK) Limited was certificated by SSAIB and found the organisation to be reasonably priced, very helpful and easy to work with. The company is pleased to recommend SSAIB.

Other certification bodies are NSI and BSI.

In February 2015, SSAIB received approval from UKAS to certify BS10200 and it is understood that other certification bodies are awaiting news from UKAS too. This approval from UKAS now brings the standard to life as a recognisable achievement for professional investigators to aim at. Clearly, for prospective clients this forms the major part of any due diligence process when selecting an investigation firm.