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History of Private Investigators

Private investigators have been around for many years. The first recorded instance of an official private detective agency operating dates back to 1833 in Paris where a soldier and one time criminal Eugene Francois Vidocq set up a business that involved the hiring of ex-convicts and criminals to carry out operations that the police of the day would not undertake.

This gentleman however is credited with helping shape the way in which certain types of investigation and police investigation are carried out. For example Vidocq is officially credited with his forms of record keeping to assist operations as well as creating plaster casts of impressions left by shoes on various surfaces. Some of his early breakthroughs and methods of investigations were so vital that they are still used by French police today many years later.

In the United States, private detectives began to take shape in the late 19th century when Pinkerton National Detective Agency rose to the public eye through a variety of successful investigation stories. One of the most famous being the foiling of an assassination plot against Abraham Lincoln.

The Pinkerton Detective Agency grew in fame over the years to the global enterprise they are now, and were recognised as specialising in tracking people down, providing security guards in union disputes, undercover investigations and detection of crime methods.

All of the above services are wholly or partially offered as services by most reputable private investigators in the modern era as detection, being undercover, security and people tracing are all mass requirements of the commercial and private customers alike.

The 1920s saw a massive change in the demand for private investigators in the US due to the boom in middle class workers and residents requiring the services of a private detective agency on an ongoing basis or just from time to time.

America’s private detectives in particular have evolved from state to state with legal qualifications, requirements and licensing factors all needed to operate as a detective agency. In contrast to the UK where anybody can claim to be a private detective without any formal knowledge or training and indeed set up a business as such. The US is much stricter and factors such as an individual’s past and criminal records all come into account before an individual can enter this line of work.

In the UK, we of course have the fictional character of the master of all private detectives’ Sherlock Holmes. His escapades as portrayed in many book and television dramas have left many in suspense, even to the present day, and the updated television drama of his cases renewed our interest in this formidable character, even if it was a drama series, with much left to the imagination and him having extraordinary skills to bring an investigation to completion.

The UK have favoured the term Private Detective whereas America favour Private Investigator. They both mean the same thing, and both professions in the private sector cover the same varied roles. A private investigator can also be referred to as An Enquiry Agent, or a Private Eye.

In the UK, Charles Frederick Field set up an enquiry office upon his retirement from the Metropolitan Police in 1852. Field became a friend of Charles Dickens, and the latter wrote articles about him. In 1862, one of his employees, the Hungarian Ignatius Paul Pollaky, left him and set up a rival agency. Although little-remembered today, Pollaky’s fame at the time was such that he was mentioned in various books of the 1870s and immortalized as “Paddington” Pollaky for his “keen penetration” in the 1881 comic opera, Patience. Source –

Fast forwards to the 21st Century

In 2001, the UK government passed the licensing of private investigators and private investigation firms in the UK over to the Security Industry Authority (SIA), which acted as the regulatory body from then on.

However, due to the cutbacks of this agency, licensing of private investigators in the UK was halted indefinitely. At present, no government-backed authorities in the UK license private investigators.

The SIA announced that private investigators in the UK were to become licensed for the first time from May 2015, this was only the scheduled date for the issue to be discussed in parliament.

The Private Investigations sector, still awaits the licencing of its profession. Insight and its Director of Operations, Tony Smith, are fierce advocates for the advancement of licencing, but we see no signs of this happening in the foreseeable future.

In February 2012, Tony Smith attended the Leveson Enquiry, a full transcript can be accessed here.

This highlighted phone hacking revelations and the ongoing Leveson Inquiry into these underhand activities provided a case for the industry to be regulated in the right way ASAP.

2020 – The industry is still waiting …

As time has evolved, of course the services being offered by private investigators has also changed dramatically, for example the introduction of the internet has played a huge part in re-shaping society across the world which has also expanded the services required by a private investigator and the detection methods undertaken by an investigation agency.

Not only has the role of the Private Investigator changed beyond the realms of what was first established in 1833, but access to a private investigator has changed. You only have to open any internet search for the term Private Investigators, and hundreds of options on “who to use”, “we are the best” appear.

One thing is for certain; Insight Investigations have been operating for over 35 years and we have seen huge changes from year to year, never mind decade to decade. In both the requirements of our clients, but how the industry has evolved.

Here at Insight we like to think we adhere to Pinkerton Detective Agency’s age old motto,

“We Never Sleep”… offering a 24 hour, 365 days a year service.

For an overview of services provided by a legitimate, experienced, modern-day investigation agency, please contact us or call one of our dedicated private investigators on the number below.

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