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Boots on the ground for the legal industry

Boots on the ground for the legal industry


What use is a legal document when it doesn't reach the person in question? Step forward the not-so-shady men in trench coats and trilbies, writes our anonymous private investigator

Someone is refusing to appear in court and has fled their home in hopes of avoiding the summons. Your client needs evidence for a co-habitation dispute. A parent has absconded with a child in joint custody and disappeared. A desk full of forms isn’t usually the best way to solve these quandaries.

I’ve been servicing these needs for over 30 years; being the ‘boots on the ground’ that ensure the legal industry works as designed. The history of the company is a veritable smorgasbord of the areas that reside slightly out of reach for solicitors. I’m a private investigator.

The image of private investigators as shady men in trench coats and trilbies, working in the grey area between legal and illegal simply isn’t how we operate in modern times. This, along with a general ignorance and fear of an industry that isn’t regulated has soured the reputation of the field as a whole.

UK PIs aren’t underpowered policemen, nor are we unscrupulous agents lurking in the shadows. In the USA PIs are granted access to police databases and can run license plates for the drivers details. In the UK we have no special powers. We rely on our expertise and a thorough knowledge of public records, investigative databases, court records, online information, surveillance, and human intelligence to succeed in our investigations.

As an industry, we’re not shadowy entities and we’re not performing ‘no questions asked’ jobs, we simply aid solicitors in delivering their services effectively.

Putting it into practice

There was one case where a mother had suddenly left the UK with her child, and the father had joint custody. The father approached a southern law firm which contacted us after failing to find her. We sent out agents posing as holiday makers in two-week shifts, operating what the industry call a trace inquiry. After combing through the country for some time we traced her to mainland Portugal and promptly served her, bringing the child back to the father in England and the mother to face a court.

This was just one of many trace inquiries; a common occurrence for most firms. Knowing where to send documents and establishing communication with a relevant person is hugely important. A lot can hinge on a successful trace inquiry; finding a witness to serve him/her summons could make or break a case, or tracking down a debtor so someone can receive what they’re duly owed could save a business.

The same can be said for serving documents like bankruptcy notices, where the court has to have a guarantee of delivery and acknowledgement. If the person in question ignores the first one, or denies they received it, it means you have to make sure they acknowledge the next, usually calling on PIs like me to physically hand the documents over, usually to a recipient who are less than willing.

You can sit outside a house for an hour a night over a week and have them refuse to come out. But the art is the persistence that gets them to talk to you in the first place, all with a smile on your face and a friendly demeanour. It’s usually a job that solicitors are too busy to do, and one that most PIs with their backgrounds in police work are familiar with; calm discussion and a professional but helpful attitude.

Aside from simply aiding solicitors in re-establishing communications and reinforcing their methods, PIs are also commonly tasked to gather and collect intelligence for cases.

On the recommendation of a solicitor we were hired by a large food company in the Midlands to establish the source of substantial losses. For three weeks in a sub-zero February we surveilled the night shift staff at one of their main warehouses. We observed the entire night shift staff of the warehouse, including management, stealing products from the company. After three weeks of recorded evidence we called the CID in at 6am. When they arrived and swept the area they found that every employee had their car boots filled with food products, and one employee who had called in sick had brought a friends van in and filled it with product. The entire night shift staff were sacked and we saved the company tens of thousands of pounds.

These are exactly the kind of jobs that are most effectively handled with a mix of practical application and legal admin. What use is a legal document when it doesn’t reach the person in question? What use is an order or summons, if the person it applies to has disappeared?

The writer is a private investigator with A1 Investigations Bureau Ltd