No prying eyes as the gumshoes gather

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The Independent Online
THE ASSOCIATION of British Investigators met behind closed doors at a hotel near Gatwick Airport yesterday. The doors had no keyholes.

Since a television company covered an ABI annual conference 15 years ago by filming a stuntman hiding behind a potted plant, then peering down a sewer, private eyes have blinked cautiously at journalists. But they have much in common.

'It's very much like your job,' said Peter Heims, the association spokesman, during a coffee break. 'We have investigative assignments, write up our reports,' reflected Peter Heims, the association's spokesman. 'We invade privacy. We door-step. We get thumped - there isn't a member who hasn't been thumped.'

What about boozing and wenching, to which journalists are said to be partial? Mr Heims, 63 and married, crinkled up his round, shiny face. 'I wish, I wish,' he said.

This year is the 80th anniversary of the founding of the British Detectives Association by a London ex-policeman, Harry Smale. When the BDA merged with the Federation of British Detectives to become, in 1970, the ABI, Mr Smale and his period were almost lost to posterity. But two veteran gumshoes, Norman Smith and Anthony Kinghorn, managed to locate Mr Smale's 95-year-old daughter in Hove, coming away with a photograph of her father for their museum.

The methods and ethics of electronic snooping were a fevered topic yesterday. 'In the City the bad guys are using very hi-tech stuff, so you have to use the same for your clients' defences,' said John Law, of Middlesex, who does 'counter- surveillance' for City firms.

He spoke airily of microphones activated by laser beams operated miles away, and of an mentioned of an 'infinity bug' which can be tapped anywhere on a phone line, and microphones activated by laser beams operated miles away.

Today's private investigators include ex-secretaries and ex-solicitor's clerks. Fifteen women detectives were at the conference. Past-president Patricia Storey said a woman can often reach places denied to male colleagues: 'Debtors don't expect to see a woman process-server on the doorstep.'

Mr Heims agreed. 'A male investigator knocks at the door and says, 'Are you Joe Bloggs?' 'I am.' 'I've been instructed to serve you with this summons.' Then bang] Right in the face]'

(Photograph omitted)