Along with race car driver, international spy and diamond smuggler, private investigator has always been improbably viewed as something of a glamorous career. (Usually by those who know nothing of the often tedious and painstaking reality of actual investigations).
After a recent bout of scandals and negative press in the UK, the public perception of the humble private investigator is beginning to shift in the wrong direction, causing this once most captivating of creatures to be treated with the same brand of disdain once reserved exclusively for politicians, bankers and lower echelons of tabloid press.
Almost wholly responsible for this shift was information uncovered during the Leveson inquiry into phone hacking by staff members at News International’s now defunct UK Sunday tabloid, the News of the World (NOTW.)
Over the course of the inquiry, shocked Brits learned that NOTW journalists had secured scoops using an arsenal of dubious tactics. Hacking into the voicemail accounts (including one belonging to the parents of a murder victim) and plying cops with champagne and cash in return for information were among tactics used by NOTW journalists to secure the stories that became a Sunday morning staple for the UK’s gossip hungry readers.
Also revealed was the extent of involvement of private investigators in helping journalists to obtain this information. Among the rabble to receive jail sentences for their part in phone hacking was Glenn Mulcaire, who tapped into voicemails of the Royal Family and whose name is now as famous as the celebrities on whom he once snooped.
Private investigators have been dragged even further into the mire by the actions of four rogue detectives who were jailed on February 27th for the quaint-sounding crime of ‘blagging’ banks into revealing personal information.
All this has caused politicians in the UK to begin looking seriously at regulating the industry. A newly formed committee made up of select senior politicians has already begun hearing evidence from PIs and those affected by the investigations that were conducted around the same time our four rogue investigators were clapped in irons.
The Association of British Investigators now says it is likely that there will be some form of regulation, licensing or certification of PIs before the end of 2013, and the other two UK industry bodies are broadly in support. We are hopeful this regulation may help to repair the British PI’s tarnished image.
A statement on the Association’s website, states: “There has been some comment and speculation as to what is to happen about regulating the investigative sector.
“As may be expected the representative bodies have views on how such regulation should take shape. I know that some views vary but there does appear, at least on the face of it, a desire that some form of regulation be implemented.”
The UK’s pro-regulation camp doesn’t have to search far for inspiration. After all, it was one of Britain’s other last Goliaths of self-regulated industry, the press, that helped us into the mess in the first place.
Bob Clowrey works with www.privatedetective.co.uk an international agency based in Manchester, UK.
Editorial Hint: Blagging is “knowingly or recklessly obtaining or disclosing personal data or information without the consent of the data controller.” and champers is British slang for Champagne.