The bad news buzz
There are two search terms in my Google Alerts list whose daily internet discoveries are a sure-fire way of depressing even the most buoyant mood and invoking dyspepsia: ‘private investigators’ and ‘Leeds United’. The tragic descent of a once-proud northern football team is an irritation I’m probably going to have to learn to live with – at least for the rest of this season – but the media-wide smearing of an entire profession is rapidly becoming my bête noire.
Watching the detectives
I blame the TV for the general public’s rather jaded view of the profession. In TV dramas, private investigators are routinely portrayed as slightly grubby mavericks, operating on the edges of the law and not afraid to indulge in underhand practices, should the need arise. A long line of small-screen gumshoes have graced our TVs over the years – from slightly bumbling Jim Rockford, man-about-town Magnum and down-at-heel Eddie Shoestring to the often bruised and battered Jackson Brodie – all, admittedly, on the side of the angels.
But even the small acts of heroism that have endeared these characters to us are often predicated on a little ‘harmless’ felony here and there – a bit of personal information extracted from an unwitting receptionist, the odd rogue filing cabinet interrogation or a spot of digital breaking-and-entering when someone’s back is turned. The audience doesn’t much mind as long as the bad guys end up in the slammer but there’s actually an important principle at stake here.
Professional investigators don’t bend the rules. They don’t commit illegal acts and they don’t compromise the evidence. The truth is that the work of bona fide private investigators would probably make for pretty dull viewing. No-one would be really that interested in a drama in which months of diligent investigation resulted in the orderly conviction of a fraudster – but in the real world, it’s exactly the result a company like Tremark wants.
Read all about it
The thing that’s done the most to damage public perception of the profession, however, is the publicity surrounding the recent News of the World scandal. The stories of rampant computer and phone hacking that emerged from the Leveson Inquiry and The Parliamentary Home Affairs Select Committee Inquiry were literally jaw-dropping.
No matter that most of the dirty work was undertaken by journalists, investigative journalists or criminals employed by journalists, the news outlets continually referred to these miscreants as ‘private investigators’. Yet, of all the so-called ‘private investigators’ arrested, none are members of the Association of British Investigators (ABI) and none were known by any of the hundreds of legitimate investigators I deal with around the country – which in itself is odd as it is common for investigators to sub-contract work to each other, when location or speciality requires it.
It’s quite clear to me is that the individuals under scrutiny were not private Investigators, but criminal ‘blaggers’ who were commissioned by journalists and editors who turned a blind eye to the sources of their information in pursuit of a newsworthy story.
Is it time to rewrite the headlines?
Legitimate private investigators have no need or wish to break the law – why would they risk passing illegally obtained information to a client that they can’t produce before a court of law? And why would they risk their reputation, career and freedom for a back-hander? I’d welcome more effective industry regulation that would shake up the status quo, with a view to improving standards, promoting best practice and regaining public trust.
I really want to read a headline that rewards integrity: ‘private investigator helps victim of fraud by recovering hidden assets’, but at the moment that seems as likely as: ‘Leeds United Premier League Champions.’ Pass the Rennies.