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Inside Out: Surprising Stories, Familiar Places

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   Inside Out - East: Monday January 10, 2005


Two men talking in darkened office
Do you have what it takes to become a surveillance agent?

With billions of pounds lost every year through benefit fraud and false insurance claims, companies are fighting back - and their secret weapon? The private eye.

But you can forget dry Martinis - shaken not stirred - Inside Out goes undercover and incognito to find out what is really involved in the spying game.

Big brother is watching

With the expansion of CCTV throughout town and city centres, public transport networks and in the workplace, you are probably captured on camera on a daily basis.

For the majority of law abiding citizens the cameras are simply a means of increasing their personal safety.

But for a handful of people flouting the benefit system, pursuing false insurance claims, or working when supposedly signed-off sick, advances in surveillance technology can mean their number's up.

The spying game

Based in Buckinghamshire, Marley Manor is one of many companies who employ a team of surveillance operatives to carry out covert operations, as Marley Manor's corporate fraud expert Dave Thomas.

"We follow people ranging from politicians, to pop stars, to football players, when other individuals want to find out information about them either in a fraudulent inquiry, or just intelligence gathering."


Dave Thomas
Dave is a corporate fraud expert

Benefit fraud has been one of the largest growth areas in recent years.

The Marley Manor team recently invested one man who had been signed off work with a bad back.

His company had reason to believe he was working "on the side" and asked Marley Manor to carry out covert surveillance.

Using a female agent posing as a holiday maker on her way to the airport, a second surveillance operative used a concealed camera to catch the man working as a taxi driver.

Stood 15 to 20ft away, the second operative was in a position to capture the man lifting the suitcases into the taxi with little difficulty.

Patience is a virtue

The footage was clearly incriminating and a job well done for the team.

Yet what the footage doesn't capture is the many hours of painstaking investigation and days spent in surveillance.

Camera footage of the mobile phone fraudster
A long lens allows surveillance operators to zoom in close on their subjects

The team often have to wait days or even weeks to capture their subject in the act.

In a recent case of mobile phone fraud, a five man team spent over a month collecting intelligence.

Whilst surveillance work within the corporate sector can take even longer.

There is a growing problem in business with employees passing on confidential information to competitors.

In these cases, companies are often reluctant to call in the police and are turning to surveillance agencies instead.

Exhibit A

As well as surveillance work, the team are also required to collect evidence such as DNA from subjects and like their surveillance work, the team's actions have to be completely covert.

"We had to get the DNA of two subjects and the way we did that was to pick up the cigarette butts they discarded on the street. That went off to the lab.

"Of course if the guy turns around and says 'that's not my cigarette' - we've got it all on film."

Spy in training

Dave setting up David's equipment
David is kitted out with the latest high-tech surveillance equipment

So if sitting tight and waiting is all that is required on surveillance, surely anyone can be a spy?

Marley Manor invites Inside Out's David Whiteley to prove us wrong.

David is asked to spend an evening carrying out surveillance on a nearby house.

But before David sets out on his mission, he is fully equipped with the latest high-tech gadgetry.

Tools of the trade

  • Radio - The operator is wired to a concealed two-way radio
  • Camcorder - A discrete handheld camera used to capture the action
  • Dictaphone - To log information including: a running commentary on the action, exact timings, addresses, vehicle registration numbers and descriptions.

A sitting duck

Alone in the car with the doors firmly locked, David keeps a log of all the comings and goings from the house in question.

6.45pm: Subject leaves the house. Goes to van. Goes back inside.

Nothing eventful so far, but all that is about to change as the subject leaves the house for a second time, crosses the road and heads straight for David's car.

"He's coming over the road - I'm out of here. I'm not staying around here mate - I'm not stupid!"

Stitched up

"I'll leave the surveillance to you guys - I'm definitely not surveillance material."
David Whiteley

A visibly shaken David heads straight to Dave at their rendezvous point only to be introduced to his supposed surveillance target.

David has been set up.

"I just panicked. I thought 'I'm not even going to entertain this,'" explains a sheepish David.

"I'll leave the surveillance to you guys - I'm definitely not surveillance material."

And to add insult to injury, David discovers that he had become the latest target of the Marley Manor surveillance team who captured a day's footage of his movements.

Dave was at times, only 15ft away from David who admits he was completely unaware he was even being watched.

So if you are ever tempted to do something you shouldn't, be warned, it's not just big brother who's watching, it's the Marley Manor team too and they have the footage to prove it.

See also ...

BBC: Crime

On the rest of the web
Office of Surveillance Commissioners
National Crime Intelligence Service
Benefit Fraud Inspectorate
Marley Manor
Spy Games

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