The use of private investigators and corporate spies in multimillion-pound legal battles has become increasingly prevalent in the UK, according to an investigation by The Sunday Times.
The report claimed the Royal Courts of Justice in London have become a global centre for litigants, with the corporate intelligence industry reportedly worth over £15 billion per year. However, private investigators in the UK are unlicensed, unlike in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and most of the US. These investigators are often former spies, servicemen, or police officers trained at taxpayers’ expense in covert operations by the British state, according to the report. After switching to the private sector, these ex-military use these skills to defend autocratic states, oligarchs, and wealthy businesses.
One company that has been reported to have thrived in this era of London lawfare is Diligence International LLC. The firm is allegedly made up of highly trained ex-employees from the UK’s intelligence services and armed forces, and rates charged to clients can be more than £800 per hour. The company was allegedly hired by the Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC) to spy on City of London solicitor Neil Gerrard. ENRC had once been Gerrard’s client but blamed him for a criminal investigation into its conduct.
Diligence was said to have used intrusive tactics to gather information about Gerrard, allegedly including following him to meetings across London and abroad. In January 2019, Diligence allegedly trailed Gerrard and his wife Ann on a holiday to Mustique, a private Caribbean island. The company’s operatives, Grant Yates and Sion Bailey, both former Royal Marines in their forties, allegedly attempted to gain access to the island by pretending to be the Gerrards’ nephews giving them “a big surprise”. When this ruse failed, Diligence was reported to have booked another spy, understood to be an ex-MI5 officer, into the island’s luxury hotel a few days later. He too was said to be barred from the island when St Lucia authorities discovered his surveillance equipment.
ENRC allegedly mounted one of the most sophisticated and expensive legal operations London had seen, spending £400 million on “professional fees and other exceptional litigation costs”, including hiring private investigators and more than a dozen law firms to work on the case.
The rise of the corporate spying industry and the use of private investigators in legal battles has, it was claimed, led to the acceptance of evidence that has often been dubiously acquired, such as hacked emails, documents obtained by deceit, and statements from witnesses who were paid.
The Gerrard case – according to the Sunday Times – threatened to bust the budget of the SFO. ENRC was accused in parliament of using immoral and intimidating tactics to damage both justice and the functioning of the British state. Davis, the former cabinet minister, believes that ex-members of Britain’s security services should be stopped from commercially exploiting their skills in this way.
A new bill is going through the British parliament, which is designed to regulate the private investigation industry for the first time. The Sunday Times’ recent investigations exposing wrongdoing in the sector were credited in the House of Commons when the proposed new law was unveiled in January.
The people mentioned in the above report were approached for comment by the Sunday Times and not by AOAV, so all above claims are based on the newspapers’ reporting and not AOAV’s.
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