The country’s first ‘private police force’ is investigating hundreds of crimes that regular officers are too busy to look at.
A firm led by former Scotland Yard senior officers has successfully prosecuted more than 400 criminals and is now carrying out murder inquiries.
TM Eye, which has a 100 per cent conviction rate, is thought to bring more private prosecutions than any organisation besides the RSPCA.
The company, the country’s first de-facto private police force, is operating against a backdrop of rising crime rates and police budget cuts. Its activities include:
- A service called ‘My Local Bobby’ costing wealthy households up to £200 a month each for guards to patrol their streets;
- Three high-profile murder investigations that police have been unable to complete, including one case dogged by allegations of corruption and cover-up;
- Help in cases of rape, missing persons, burglary, theft, stalking and blackmail.
Co-founder Tony Nash, an ex-Metropolitan Police commander, said: ‘This is going back to Dixon of Dock Green to a degree. It’s what people want.
‘There is no substitute for going out and knocking on doors. But with the current state of finances, police are solving cases behind their desks and that has become the culture.’
In the past two years the company has brought successful private prosecutions against 403 criminals for fraud, intellectual property theft and other offences. A total of 43 were jailed.
The company, staffed by retired detectives and cyber-crime experts from Scotland Yard, the National Crime Agency and GCHQ, is now expanding its services beyond predominantly financial investigations.
It comes as police chiefs admit they do not have the money to investigate high- volume crimes such as shoplifting and stretched officers complain that they are at breaking point.
But critics fear the rise of private policing could lead to a two-tier system where only the wealthy get protection from criminals.
Metropolitan Police Federation chairman Ken Marsh described the rise of private detectives as a ‘staggering indictment’ of the state of policing.
‘Eventually there will be a two-tier system with the haves and the have-nots, and if you have money and live in a £20million house in Chelsea you can pay for private security,’ he said.
‘My concern would be, where is the public scrutiny if it goes wrong? If they are allowed to go and do police’s job for them, that is a dangerous status quo.’
Last week official police figures revealed the largest recorded annual increase in crime for more than a decade, with surging levels of violence, sex attacks, knife and gun offences across the country.
But what was not recorded in the figures is the astonishing number of criminals being locked up – and in some instances even deported – through the work of private investigators.
TM Eye currently has 36 criminal cases pending at Crown and magistrates’ courts around the country and is working on a further 60 investigations in London, Cheshire, Dorset, Avon and Somerset and Essex.
In the past six months, its 60 investigators have snared suspects wanted by police for attempted murder and rape.
Recently a stalker was jailed for four years on the basis of its work.
Using covert surveillance and undercover operatives, the private firm has managed to smash a major counterfeit goods gang, securing convictions for 60 offenders in Manchester selling fake designer handbags and clothing.
All of its convictions and suspects’ DNA and fingerprints are recorded on the Police National Computer.
It does not charge for its investigative services, seeking instead to recoup costs from courts after offenders are convicted.
The firm has offices in London, Manchester, Essex and Mumbai in India, where investigators have helped to catch a major manufacturer of fake medicines.
The firm launched its subscription service My Local Bobby last March and its staff now patrol some of London’s most expensive streets in Belgravia, Mayfair and Kensington.
Individual uniformed ‘bobbies’ cover up to 250 houses, whose owners each pay a fee of £100 to £200 a month.
In return, clients get a ‘meet-and-greet’ service from their car or the Tube, and have a hotline to their bobby whose location they can track on their iPad.
If there is a crime, the firm promises to have a local response officer on the scene within five minutes.
Like police, the patrol teams have body cameras to record evidence. They can apprehend suspects using a citizen’s arrest.
Mr Nash said his ambition is to get local authorities to outsource their patrols to the firm.
TM Eye also offers more traditional security work such as bodyguards for foreign dignitaries.
The firm’s managing director David McKelvey, a retired Scotland Yard detective chief inspector, said: ‘We probably do more undercover work than any other law enforcement agency. We have a better surveillance capability and equipment than most forces.’
He added: ‘It’s about catching the bad guys and protecting the public, and we can help with that.
‘Police are on their knees, sick to the teeth with what is going on in their job. The bottom line is we have better uniforms, better pay and better support at work. It’s a huge growth industry.’
David Green, of the think-tank Civitas and a former adviser to the Government, said: ‘This seems a reflection of the fact that the police are overstretched, underfunded and unable to cope and this group has emerged to fill the gap.
‘There is nothing wrong with private security or private patrols.
‘But if they take on some of the functions of the police and the call for this grows, there is a danger there is not the same safeguards that we have with the police.
‘If the police do something wrong there is a clear disciplinary structure, a chain of accountability and independent scrutiny. If these private firms exercise police powers without public accountability, there could be dangers there.’