Private Investigator


Has anybody left the forces and either worked for a company in this field, or started up there own business?

Thinking about starting up my own company, and would like to know of any experiences.



War Hero
Check your PMs


Could you also pm me with the info please. looking to sign off shortly and am definately interested in private investigator / surveillance work.

many thanks


War Hero
I'll put a post together later on and send on to everyone who has requested.

Don't expect any earth-shattering revelations - it has been a while since I was involved in this work - but my experience may be of some help.

I do however have one cunning plan that may be of some benefit to all.

Please be patient. I'll get on to it asap but I also have to prep for a course starting Friday and am away tomorrow.



War Hero
I've sent replies to all who posted or PM'ed me but for some reason they seem to be sitting in my Outbox and not my Sent Box.

If you don't get them, let me know and if necessary I'll make it a public post.


War Hero
Hi guys,

I've tried sending PMs again this morning but again they're only going as far as my Outbox so I'll make it public - not that there's anything to hide in any case.

I've written a little more than my previous blurb, given the number of requests for info I've add.

My experiences were some years back and then only for a couple of years. There are guys posting on these forums who I know have more up to date experience but for what it's worth I'll give you a small taste of my own.

At the end of 94 I left the army as a SNCO, after 12 years regular service, on Phase 3 Options for Change so the first advantage I had was a good wedge of cash in the bank and a small pension. At the beginning of ’95 I thought I’d put my previous investigative and surveillance experience to use and go into PI work.

I researched what was required and set up a basic business infrastructure including:

* Photographic (including remotely operated kit so I could hide them in at night - in gardens, etc., then stand off during the day to take the photos then recover at night; very long range lenses – 1000mm – for areas where hides weren’t appropriate)

* Covert audio and video recording equipment (hi-tech toys in those days cost an arm and a leg so I kept it relatively simple but these days you can get lots of very useful kit and at reasonable prices)

* Surveillance vehicle – unmarked, cheap and insignificant with one-way windows - cheap in case it gets trashed

* Documentation, etc. then set about looking for work.

* Comms Eqpt - I did make the mistake of initially relying on others (crap) comms equipment but in hindsight I should have bought my own.

I am completely, totally, 100% crap at sales and marketing but I initially wrote introductory letters to every single firm of solicitors within a 25 mile radius and some further away, introducing myself, outlining my experience and the services I had to offer. I received very few positive replies and didn’t get any direct work out of any of those that had the decency to reply.

Making enquiries I found out that it’s a very difficult market to get into as it's all much of a closed shop so, as with setting up any business, do not expect results overnight and be prepared to be knocked back. You need to make contacts with insurance companies and solicitors but most of them have established PI firms that they use and tend to stick with so it can be extremely difficult to get your own direct contracts straight away and you may want to think about doing some sub-contract work for the other PI firms. You could advertise in Yellow Pages and you may get some work but this is expensive and would be more likely to attract private work, marital stuff mainly.

So I tried the next avenue of approaching other PI firms for sub-contract work and this proved to be far more productive, which for me was fine but you have to accept that you're only getting a fraction of what they get.
Some were good to work with, ex-military, some SF, but the civvies including ex-coppers I was working with weren't used to lor didn't like lying in the undergrowth for long periods, getting pissed soaked through, for the sake of a couple of photos which afterwards turned out to be shite. I also found that some civvies were incapable of putting together an Op Order or plan an OP properly and tried to do everything on the hoof - literally made it all up as they went along - and in this respect you'd probably run rings around them, being able to plan things properly.

There are a few different areas of work, for example:

Missing persons tracing but I didn’t do anything along these lines so can’t really comment. I heard this doesn’t pay very well.

‘Process serving’, which is essentially turning up on someone’s door and presenting them with an envelope containing the court summons, in return for which they will serve you with a length of 4 x 2 or an introduction to the family Rottweiler, or they may equally say thank you and close the door.

Marital investigative work, which can be a good nobble but quite often you have to work for peanuts as they often don’t have a lot of money.

The real money is in the work for insurance companies and solicitors. This is pure investigative work, the majority of which is surveillance but you can also expect to interview people and even record witness statements.

More often than not you are carrying out surveillance on people that have been allegedly injured in accidents to whom the insurance companies don't want to pay out. Some are genuine, some are genuine but stretching their incapacity, some are out and out BS merchants and you will laugh at some of the things you will see, but then again you’ll probably have seen enough of this on TV – it’s just funnier in real life.

I did do some marital work and interviewing / statement recording, etc. but the majority of my work was investigative and surveillance work - I wasn't interested in process serving mainly because you can then be compromised for any subsequent surveillance work in that area. Sometimes, in order to carry out the surveillance you have to get up close and personal with your target beforehand so you know exactly who it is you’re marking. It does require an amount of bullshitting talent and it takes a good BS artist to sit in the pub or knock on doors asking questions (indirectly) about their neighbours or even to sit in someone’s house (even the false claimant themself) feeding them a line when what you’re trying to do is built up a rapport and trust so they will tell you that, whilst they’re trying to rake in a £ 20K personal injury claim they’re also working the night shift down the local scrapyard. You’ll find yourself telephoning people with all sorts of nonsense. I used to like fake competitions. Wait until the mark was out then phone up with ‘You’ve won a new Hotpoint washing machine’ and the like to get the wife talking - you'd be surprised what they'll tell you when you've told them they're getting a brand new Hoover for nothing. Start practising now – I always found a good way was to see how far you could stretch a story down at the pub - it has to be believable so you have to know your subject – it’s also essential to be able to remember your own BS when the beer is flowing.

Another point is that, whilst the vast majority of these cases get settled out of Court, the occasional ones get contested and do go into Court and you may have to provide an Affidavit (statement of evidence of sorts) and even give evidence in Court regarding your evidence and the manner in which it was obtained so you will need to know what you’re doing, just in case. It is highly unlikely but you never know.

There’s always a small element of risk; some people I worked with had their surveillance vans rolled over or had good kickings but these are very few and far between and are the real exception to the rule. You just need to be aware of it and take the proper precautions. It can be ring twitching, sitting in the back of your van at 0630 in a very dodgy village when the local psycho unexpectedly takes his bin bags out, sees your van which does not belong there and does his best to see through the one way glass when you’re sat no more than 2” away from him, turned to stone and turning fcuking purple as you hold your breath in case the tiniest drop of moisture clouds the window, then goes back into his house, probably to get a mallet to open the van, at which point you do your Stirling Moss impression and don’t bother waiting around to find out. More often than not, they think you are DWP snoops.

It can be rewarding in some respects but also frustrating in others. I had some very good 'collars' in the false claims market but I like to think I have a certain degree of personal integrity and got very fcuked off by insurers that did not want to believe that some people have been genuinely injured and demand you 'amend' your reports to suit their needs. This turned me against the job in the end.

There is a legal element involved in what you will be doing and it is essential that you understand exactly what you can and can’t do. Some stuff you do may be close to being illegal so you need to be well aware of what it is you’re doing. As an example, I was unlucky enough to be seriously injured in a workplace accident and did put in a claim - after a while the PI's called in but I was waiting for them and spotted them a mile off - the guy called to my house claiming to be from a delivery company that had been having trouble making a delivery because I was never in and wanted to arrange a delivery. Apart from being all crap because I hardly went out - big mistake, bad research - he was using letter headed forms purporting to represent a Limited Company - that is a criminal offence. Furthermore, when formally asked the insurers then had to declare to me which company they were using which turned out to be unregistered under the Data Protection Act - another mistake. When I did go out their vehicle drills were absolute crap and it was easy for me to lead them a dance and their foot operators stood out like sore thumbs - ex-coppers, all 6'4" +.....derr, very discreet - I used to sit and wave at them. They were on me for weeks, which probably cost the insurer a fortune - the insurer eventually gave up and settled but I doubt they will use that firm again.

The point I'm making is that you need to get your drills worked out and if possible rehearsed - it's not rocket science and doesn't require months of practice but thinking about the op and sitting down and talking through your actions with your colleagues, figuring out alternatives, RVs, etc., goes a long way. I worked one job with some civvies who had been on this case for weeks and were getting nowhere - I thought hard about the job, put together an OP and picked up a trail first time out, second OP planned to the letter using a surveillance vehicle inserted at night picked up all the evidence (and cleared all the rubbish from my garden) and saved the insurers literally tens of thousands of pounds, just be applying some basic op planning principles - timing, coordination, comms, logistics, contingency plans (spare batteries - you would kick yourself if you knew how many times I've heard 'the batteries run out!').

I was lucky; I had training and experience but if you haven’t, no worries, there are plenty of courses out there, for example:

It's just a case of developing what the course teaches you. As with most courses, they can only provide you with the basics; the fine tuning is down to you.

Definitely get on an advanced driving course – don’t waste your resettlement credits (or whatever they’re called now) as the cheapest way of doing this is through your local Institute of Advanced Motorists group - £85.00 gets you your manuals, your driving lessons, your test and your first year’s membership – and you can do this now if you’re in UK.

The likes of Stirling Services also run courses in electronic surveillance but there are lots of others as well.

One problem you will find is the geographical footprints you’re expected to cover can be large and varied, even when working in the UK only, therefore, if there are a few of you thinking of going into this field (and it seems there are) it may very well be worth you thinking about setting up some sort of network, or even a multiple-location company. That way, skills can be shared (cross training), costs can be shared and resources put to greater effectiveness. It is always extremely helpful to have a girl on the team – I worked with one on a number of jobs and you just seem to be more easily accepted than just blokes, passing off as a couple.

As for starting up your own business, there should be plenty of advice centres, e.g, Business Connect or local Chamber of Commerce, around your local town. There are start-up grants available and remember to keep all your invoices for any training, equipment. etc. as you can claim for pre-start-up costs in your annual returns which can be offset against your personal tax liability. Get some advice on the pros and cons of Limited Company v Sole Trader, etc.

I would be cautious about using solicitors to start up a company as this can be a very expensive process and there is plenty of cheaper and good advice around. The same thing applies to accountants - just because they have nice offices and pretty letterheads doesn't mean they're necessarily going to be any better than the one who works out of the spare room at home - mistake I made! You'll also need to be registered with the appropriate agencies, I understand you need to be SIA registered these days but you will definitely need to be registered with the Information Commissioner (Data Protection Act 1998) and be fully aware of those regulations and Human Rights legislation. You don't have the protection of the crown any longer so it's all a case of putting up umbrellas.

That's enough drivel from me - this was 10 years ago so this may be out of date to a certain extent but I would imagine the ground rules are pretty much the same – the reason I say this is because, purely out of curiosity, I asked a solicitor a few weeks ago whether there was any chance of any investigative work and she told me they always used the same company.

In any case I hope this has been of some benefit to you and if you’re ever looking for someone to carry out aerial surveillance for you (Man chester United excepted because they've got AAA now!) give me a call.

Best of luck. I hope you make a good go of it.



War Hero
SlimeyToad said:
Hi guys,

I've tried sending PMs again this morning but again they're only going as far as my Outbox so I'll make it public - not that there's anything to hide in any case.


They'll sit in your outbox until they are read. :thumright:


War Hero
Thanks for the heads up.

I'll put my IT Nugget hat on and go to the back of the room but at least I'll know for future reference.

Cheers again.



War Hero
Another point I forgot to mention is that of cashflow.

Whether you are working directly for Solicitors and Insurers or sub-contract to another PI firm, the former are in general notoriously bad payers and your 30 Day Credit Ts & Cs tend to be quite worthless - they'll pay you when they get around to it.

If you're sub-contract this has the knock on effect and you may find the company that has contracted you coming out with the old chestnut 'We haven't been paid for the job by XYZ yet so until we get paid for the job we can't pay you', which is bollox but they all try it on.

This doesn't only apply to PI work but to a great deal of self employed roles.


SlimeyToad said:
Another point I forgot to mention is that of cashflow.

Whether you are working directly for Solicitors and Insurers or sub-contract to another PI firm, the former are in general notoriously bad payers and your 30 Day Credit Ts & Cs tend to be quite worthless - they'll pay you when they get around to it.


That is why i gave up with trying too make That kinda of job pay ... they can also quible about expenses too ... twice i waited 2 months for a 300 pound fee from the agency i was subing for, it was only a days work which was good pay in both cases but wating too be paid plus not haveing a lot of leads meant that i was permantly on the bread line .... if you can get employment with a firm full time its better too take a lower pay packet but have it every week while you get to make contacts etc ... then its easier too set up on your own ...
I work for a solicitor and we often task surveilance companies to gain evidence for us in certain cases, from what little personal experiance I have had with these companies on a one to one basis they all very much seem to be drawn from the ex SF and civ pol special branch pool. If you think you are going to leave the green army and then fall into a job like this then forget it. try googleing balmoral consultants or sis (not mi6 sis)


War Hero
Mag_to_grid said:
I work for a solicitor and we often task surveilance companies to gain evidence for us in certain cases, from what little personal experiance I have had with these companies on a one to one basis they all very much seem to be drawn from the ex SF and civ pol special branch pool. If you think you are going to leave the green army and then fall into a job like this then forget it. try googleing balmoral consultants or sis (not mi6 sis)

Agreed mate - SIS (MI5) are actively recruiting just now and offer a wide range of jobs, including Mobile Surveillance Officers. I've heard that they are soon to be setting up new locations throughout the country, however the majority of your work will be London based. The salary isn't bad and lets face it, unless you ferk up there isn't much chance of being made redundant!!. The training and operational experience you will get with them, will be far more interesting and far more testing than PI work.

Private Investigator work (Professional Investigator was my job title) is very much up and down. Work not always guaranteed, pay is shite especially north of the border, Surveillance work can be good, but sometimes its very boring (I've been static in an OP for 12+ hours alone, and its ferkin boring as hell) and unless your employed by a company (as I was) its very hard to break into the market.

If you want any specific questions answered then feel free to PM me, but if you are able to live and work in London, are highly motivated and have a good head on your shoulders, then clicky. it’s a better option. :thumleft:


Yes there are some good jobs there, I was interested in the surveillance photographer. Not only do you get 6 months training in London with expenses paid (final location was based in Manchester) but the salary was good with 70% of the work being field based. If ever there was a job made for me it was that one with over 20 years experience in photography and the last 4 years on location shooting in all kinds of weather.

It is a shame that their stipulation of having to live in the UK for 9 out of the past 10 years means that I can't work for them. I understand that they need to check who you are but for someone that has gone through immigration process I am more checkable than an average UK citizen as the amount of detailed forms you have to fill out. Even my work history and addresses are all lodged with a government body and with technology and communication that is available I find it funny that MI5 would have difficulty checking someone that lives overseas and wants to return and work for their country. Seems immigration are satisfied in allowing me to stay with that information so why not MI5.

Sorry rant over! I see that as the best way of getting into that kind of work, not only because who would argue that training by MI5 would be any thing other than the best, far better on your CV than a private company training course. It would also be stable and if you showed your worth I am sure there would be even better opportunities available.

Good luck to anyone that gets work with them, I am sure it will be a good move.


Hi all
Is there anyone still considering PI work or set up, as we are soon to be setting up and are keen to get others onboard.

PM me if you want anymore info.



War Hero
There is already a wealth of info in this thread, and can be complimented with others from web searches.....

Currently it is my line of work - been involved in it now for 7 years in the insurance/legal field, after an initial 3 years working as an Immigration Officer - which involved interviews, investigations and surveillance.
[I had moved over to the USA after leaving H.M Imm' Service and saw an advert for a surveillance/investigator type, applied... and have been doing it since. When I returned to UK a few years ago I didnt think there would be the same demand here - but it seems to be growing.....]

97% of the stuff I do is covert surveillance tbh, foot/vehicle or both (occasionally static, though rarely) - although would like to have more investigative/interview assignments, the biggest area for earnings is surveillance.

Technically self-employed but do 95% of my work via one firm - who get all their work direct from insurers/solicitors or large corporations. It can be very lucrative (provided you can deal with the potential for tedium and pissing in a bottle in your car) - but there are some less than outstanding firms that dick their people about in terms of money & conditions.... luckily the folks I am with are very good and pay on time regardless and don't quibble about the 'little shit'.

Have also done some work for local councils at times too.

So basically I fall into the sub-contractor bracket at the moment and find it lucrative enough - but with eyes set higher and thinking about joining forces with a colleague & sinking a bit of cash into starting up a firm, while still keeping the sub-contracting going for a while.

More money - but possibly less regular - can be made going into the business end yourself, but this will limit things to a lot of matrimonial/family stuff which most of the big firms wont get involved in; and they already have almost all the insurance work tied up. Used to some of the cheating spouse/partner stuff and it is a royal pain in the ass at times - very irregular hours, short notice and often the clients are a little emotional; all in all I try and avoid it now.

If there are any further specific queries/points will try to help - either stick something in the thread or PM.