The regulation of private investigators is likely to come into force next autumn

Allianz UK has been named as one of the clients of private investigators convicted of unlawfully obtaining personal information.

The two men, Barry Spence and Adrian Stanton, were today found guilty of breaching the Data Protection Act. Their firm, ICU Investigations, tricked organisations including GPs’ surgeries and utility companies into revealing personal details of the people they were trying to trace.

Five other men from their company, ICU Investigations, had previously pleaded guilty to breaching the Data Protection Act. They will be sentenced on 24 January. They can be fined, but the law does not allow custodial sentences for this type of conviction.

Allianz was one of its clients, but the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) stressed it found no evidence of criminality by any organisation that employed ICU Investigations.

It added that the information requested could have been obtained legitimately, and there was no evidence that clients were aware the data had been obtained by illegal means.

The ICO investigation estimated there were nearly 2,000 separate offences between 1 April 2009 to 12 May 2010.

ICO’s criminal investigations team manager Damian Moran said: “Private investigators must learn they are not above the law.”

“While the majority of private investigators go about their business in an honest manner, unscrupulous operators such as ICU Investigations taint the industry and blight the reputations of their counterparts.

“These men knew they were breaking the law, but did so anyway, presumably confident they would not be caught. That faith was misplaced, and they and their employees will now face the consequences of their actions.”

In response to the investigation, an Allianz spokeswoman said: “The ICO have made it quite clear that they found no evidence of wrongdoing by the organisations that employed ICU Investigations Ltd.

“We condemn unequivocally, any attempt to obtain information unlawfully.”

ICO calls for tougher action for rogue private investigators

The information commissioner Christopher Graham met home secretary Teresa May this week to urge her to introduce more effective sentences for these types of offences, which are only punishable by a fine of up to £5,000 in a magistrates’ court or an unlimited fine in a crown court.

“Public confidence in the security of information held about them is the foundation on which all sorts of online services and developments depends,” Graham added.

The other clients named in the case include Brighton & Hove Council, Leeds Building Society and Dee Valley Water.

Future regulation of private investigators

In a report last month the Financial Conduct Authority warned that managers at insurance firms are unaware of the scope of investigations carried out in their name by hired private investigators.

The regulation of private investigators is likely to come into force next autumn and will be carried out by the Security Industry Authority.

Licences will be granted to investigators with a government-recognised qualification who have confirmed their identity and undergone a criminality check.