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  • Writer's pictureSentry Private Investigators

How to Become a Private Investigator

Private Investigator Birmingham

When a private investigator is asked what they do for a living, it can often come as surprise to the person asking when they hear the answer. It is often the case that they have never even met a private investigator before as the industry we work in is very small unlike other professions. The follow up questions is usually on the lines of, "How do you become a private investigator?" So, to that end we have put together a blog explaining how most investigators fall into this profession, and the route in which Sentry Private Investigators Ltd company director took.

UK Police Officer

Who Can Be a Private Investigator?

There is no typical route into the private investigations industry due to the fact that investigators come from all walks of life and specialise in different areas of the profession. That being said, we think its fair to say that the most common type of private investigator you will find is often ex-police. From the moment they join the police they are taught all aspects of investigating so it's only natural to move from the public sector to the private sector. As mentioned though, the industry is not swamped by ex-police officers. We often work with ex military personnel (where our company director came from), security operatives, ex government agency and sometimes from backgrounds with no relevance to private investigations at all. This industry attracts people from all walks of life for obvious reasons but it must be know that this profession becomes a lifestyle and not just a job. Being a private investigator (or at least a successful private investigator) requires a certain skill set and a lot of determination. Without either of these, investigations will fail and ultimately, so will the career of the private investigator.

The Rifles Cap Badge

The Route We Took

The founding director of Sentry Investigations Ltd stems from an extensive background with HM Forces (British Army/The Rifles). Having served on operational tours of Iraq and Afghanistan, promoting to the rank of Full Corporal (Section Commander) and teaching at the prestigious Infantry Training Centre, Catterick, the time came to leave the armed forces having achieved the goals set early on as a young Rifleman. Like all other soldiers who have served for a minimum term of 4 years, Enhanced Learning Credits are offered to a leaving soldier through the ELCAS scheme. This allows the soldier to make a decision on his or her desired career path following discharge which is almost fully funded by the scheme. Furthermore, the soldier can access ELCAS funding for further training years after discharge which we see as just simply brilliant for service leavers. The options are vast as you can attend courses and achieve qualifications in fields such as plumbing, HGV driving, scuba diver instructing and you can even study for a degree. The list went on and on... In our case and after much deliberation, consultation and frustration, the decision was made to specialise in covert surveillance which is one of the main fields of private investigation.

Our director enrolled onto a 4 week intensive course with The Surveillance Group Ltd. The course was found to be excellent in all respects and it really set the foundations for our director to branch out into other areas of investigation work. Upon completion of the course, our director was awarded a BTEC Level 4 in Foot and Mobile Surveillance and BTEC Level 4 in Tactical Surveillance Procedures. Not only did he achieve these qualifications, more importantly, he was offered a full time position with the company as a Covert Surveillance Operative.

Working for The Surveillance Group Ltd involved conducting surveillance operations on people suspected of submitting suspected fraudulent claims against insurance companies. This job role gave our director a great understanding of the industry and invaluable experience on the job. Clients do not see what goes on behind the camera but believe me, a lot goes on. The clients will only see the end product, which in this case is the video footage we produce. For this very reason, The Surveillance Group Ltd stressed the importance of good quality camera skills, meaning filming at every available opportunity whilst keeping the camera steady, in focus and on target. This is something over the years we have seen other training providers (including the police!) clearly didn't touch on much... It soon became apparent that as the investigations industry was not regulated by any governing body (meaning you do not need to be licensed to practice), nor were any of the qualifications held by surveillance operatives recognised by, well, anyone, some form of qualification was needed as to display trade competence which was to be recognised across the board. This qualification was to be the Pearson EDI Level 3 for Professional Investigators. Luckily for us we were employees so we got on the course and achieved the qualification free of charge. We will list the price ranges of everything someone new to the industry will expect to spend later in this blog post.

Sentry Private Investigators Ltd

The time came for the soon to be director of Sentry Private Investigators Ltd to move on from a full time position with The Surveillance Group Ltd. Now qualified, experienced and determined, our director chose to build something of his own. The first step was to get on the surveillance circuit as a self employed operative. This is where he needed to start taking care of things himself rather than an established company doing it for him. This meant purchasing his own equipment such as camcorders, covert cameras, GPS vehicle trackers and the biggest expense of them all, a suitable surveillance vehicle. Furthermore he needed to register as a Data Controller with the Information Commissioners Office (ICO)(the only legal requirement to operate in the UK) as well as hold professional indemnity and public liability insurance policies. Working on the circuit opened up the world of surveillance and not just the world of fraudulent insurance claims. Tasks were challenging but varied from job to job. One day we could be investigating a suspected cheating partner on an infidelity case, and the next we could be investigating an employee suspected of working for competitors. Our director was building huge levels of experience and making lots of contacts across the industry (some good, some not so good...), and at the same time working in other areas of investigation such as online trace searching and background checks. Surveillance is intelligence led and quite often requires some level of Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) gathering prior to observations. In 2021 as soon as lockdown restrictions were lifted, Sentry Investigations Ltd was incorporated. We still to this day work heavily in the insurance sector alongside some of the UK's most well established investigations companies, and we now offer a range of investigative services to both the private and corporate sectors alike. We are building a reputation of treating our clients with a personal, yet professional approach.

Association of British Investigators

Association of British Investigators

Whether a self employed private investigator, or a well established investigation company with hundreds of employees, it is always advised in this industry to be a member of a recognised professional association. The reason for this is they provide valuable insights and advice, current legislative guidance, work opportunities and training opportunities. Potential clients will also see that you are a professional investigator and not just some cowboy with a camera. Of all the associations out there, we chose to become members of the Association of British Investigators. They are the most well recognised association in the UK and the only association to be recognised by the Law Society of England and Wales. It doesn't just involve paying a fee and becoming a member, there are standards to meet (standards which all investigators should meet anyway). Two years experience with references are required along with ICO registration certificates, insurance certificates and proof of EDI Level 3 for Professional Investigators qualification (thank you The Surveillance Group Ltd). Once all that is taken care of, you need to attend interview with an ABI panel of senior members where you are grilled with questions regarding data protection compliance and how you operate as a private investigator. We have fairly recently attended a data protection course with the ABI which may sound boring, but as private investigators, handling personal data is simply what our job is all about (and it wasn't too boring, quite interesting actually!).

Pounds Sterling

What Does It All Cost?

So what does it all cost? To be brutally honest, a lot! That being said, someone new to the industry wont need to go out and pay for everything mentioned in this blog at once. Our director received funding from ELCAS to pay the majority of his surveillance course but without that, it would have cost in the region of £3000. If you are lucky enough to secure a full time position with an investigations company then you will not need to pay for anything going forward as the company should (and I do stress, should) pay for everything such as equipment etc. If you decide to go self employed, you will need to fund your own equipment. As a new operative you do not need to buy the most expensive, top of the range cameras. You will need to purchase at a minimum, a HD video camcorder, covert recording device and a PC/laptop which can all be picked up second hand to start with. A decent second hand camcorder can be picked up for between £100 and £200, and a covert in the region of £200. A PC or laptop can vary depending on what you personally want to use. A surveillance vehicle will be the biggest expense for obvious reasons (cars are not cheap). The vehicle will need to be reliable and good on fuel. This job takes us across the country day in, day out and as such, we spend a lot of money on fuel. You will also need business purpose insurance for the vehicle which is generally more expensive than for personal use. Other expenses include public liability insurance and professional indemnity insurance policies in the region of £200 per year, ICO registration at £40 per year and professional association fees at around £250 per year. There are many more expenses to consider as you build experience and decide this is the job for you, but as a minimum these are the expenses you should expect to prepare for. It must be stressed that this is a career choice and not just a job. You wouldn't expect a carpenter to work without adequate training, tools and insurance, it's the same with this profession and most others. A true professional will invest in their desired career choice and master their trade whilst making plenty of mistakes along the way.

Contact Us

If you would like to get in touch with us to find out more about getting a foot into the private investigation industry, send us an email at or call us on 01217691626. We are always happy to help budding investigators getting a foot in the door!


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