Law: A very private investigation: Insurers are now turning to ex-policemen to fight fraud, says Jenny Grove

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The fraud investigator is asked: 'If you don't want to be recognised, couldn't we take a photograph of you in silhouette - or standing in the shadows?' The suggestion is not well received. It smacks of straying spouses and down-at-heel snoopers. 'I don't do dirty-raincoat work,' he protests. 'And don't mention my name, or my firm,' he adds hurriedly.

Some members of his profession have such a highly developed sense of security that even their CVs are classed as confidential. But elusive though they may be, there are many such undercover operators - mainly ex-detectives - employed by solicitors.

Some firms - those handling white-collar crime, insurance claims, personal injury or medical ethics - believe they gain tighter security by having in-house investigators. Others find that ex-policemen are good at preparing cases because they know what actions make up an offence.

In the investigative category is Clive Kingswood, a former detective sergeant from west Yorkshire, now working in Leeds for solicitors Wansbroughs Willey Hargrave, looking into matters such as arson fraud. Mr Kingswood does not fit the Raymond Chandler mould. He is bearded, never been seen in a belted raincoat, and more likely to study burnt wood than errant wives. His 30 years in the force were marked by some notable successes.

In the mid-Eighties, when the financial adviser Harvey Michael Ross disappeared, owing investors pounds 14.5m, DS Kingswood helped trace him to Uruguay. Ross was later given a nine-year prison sentence. DS Kingswood also helped thousands of people in Poland who had each paid pounds 50 to a Yorkshire employment agency, in the belief that they were securing work, but the jobs did not exist.

Before Christmas, when he was thinking of leaving the force and setting up his own fraud investigation business, he was invited to join Wansbroughs. Now he is called on when clients - mainly insurance companies - face large or suspicious claims.

Ex-Detective Chief Inspector Vic Green, who works for Wansbroughs in their Birmingham office, also handles large insurance claims, particularly suspected arson fraud. Often, 'before the ashes have stopped smouldering', he arrives on the scene to search for clues. He says that most claims are genuine, but not all. 'During a recession, certain unscrupulous people think a fire will improve their cashflow,' he explains.

Roger Leggett, an ex-detective sergeant with Greater Manchester Police, was thrown in at the deep end when he joined Pannone & Partners, hours after the former Guinness boss Ernest Saunders became a client. Up till then, he says, he was more used to dealing with 'your local bank clerk who's gone a bit iffy'.

Describing his role with Pannone's, Mr Leggett says: 'I'm essentially in the engine room. It's a case of going through the prosecution evidence, analysing it and cross-referencing it into various sections, so that where, say, it's alleged that a piece of money went from the Isle of Man to the Caymans, you can check there's an evidential basis for the allegation.'

His counterpart at the white-collar crime specialist firm Burton Copeland, in Manchester, is ex-Detective Sergeant Alan Neal. In 1970, Mr Neal left the force and built up a business as a private investigator, handling fraud, trade irregularities and what he prefers to call counter-industrial espionage. 18 years later, he sold the business and joined the firm. Now at least three members of the permanent staff share his police background.

Working for Penningtons in Bournemouth, ex-Superintendent David Manuel draws on different skills. In the police, he inspected hotels, breweries and bowling centres. Now he helps them apply for licences.

Former Metropolitan Police detective Rowan Bosworth-Davies is in a different category. Now working at the City practice Titmuss Sainer & Webb, he advises corporate clients on how to combat money laundering.

The 1993 Criminal Justice Act has brought in measures designed to prevent financial institutions from handling dirty money. 'The new Act covers all criminal activity which generates illicit cash,' he says. 'Companies have become concerned about their exposure to this new law which has draconian penalties.'

Since last year, even the Law Society has had its own ex-policeman. In May - in a move to detect deception by solicitors - Barrie Mayne, a former detective chief superintendent and head of West Mercia CID, was appointed as fraud intelligence officer. Working in the monitoring unit in Chancery Lane, Mr Mayne is now busy checking out reports of misappropriation of clients' funds and mortgage fraud. He is also looking into what he calls the 'most fashionable' scam of the moment - advance-fee fraud.

This basically means that a conman charges a fee for arranging a loan or investment, without any intention of actually doing so. 'It's an increasing problem. Solicitors may not be involved in a criminal sense. They tend to get sucked in because the fraudster is looking for credibility. Often the funds purport to come from companies in Europe, Nigeria or the USA. But when one checks, either the lender doesn't exist, or knows nothing of the loan.'

How such scams can be detected and stamped out is one of Mr Mayne's preoccupations. 'The means of perpetrating this type of fraud are immense and they vary from moment to moment. One obvious question is to ask whether anybody has ever used this source of funds before, and whether any loans materialised. We're considering what advice we can give the profession,' he says. His number is 071-320 5703 . . . .

(Photograph omitted)