We have spoken
to David Kearns,
Director at Expert
Investigations Ltd, a leading
detective agency that conducts
investigation services across
various sectors including
education to find out more
about the work commercial
investigators undertake for
schools and colleges. This is
what he told us.
Can covert surveillance be carried out
Yes most forms of surveillance can be carried
out lawfully provided certain safeguards
are in place. The material obtained during
surveillance is subject to the Data Protection
Act 1998 which means that we have to process
the information appropriately. Schools that are
funded by the local authority (and are therefore
considered to be Public Bodies) are also subject
to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act
2000 which set out detailed rules about the use
of covert surveillance.
Before surveillance or an investigations takes
place we work with the school or college to
prepare an impact assessment to demonstrate
that any monitoring achieves a balance
between respecting the individual’s privacy and
protecting the organisation’s interests and is
What types of covert surveillance can be
It is possible to install covert cameras, place
individuals under surveillance, follow people and
attach tracking devices to their vehicles, but we
cannot ‘tap’ phones or break into peoples home
to install listening devices or other equipment.
We are also often asked to forensically analyse
computers and software.
Who do you employ to carry out investigations?
We have a specialist team that consists of 38
investigators, including former police detectives
from the National Crime Squad, Special Branch
and Economic Crime Teams to former military
officers from the Special Air Service and Royal
Do you have any recent experience of
Yes. We investigated a long-term false
absenteeism claim by a teacher who had
supplied appropriate sick notes, but was
suspected of exaggerating her symptoms. This
had put a huge financial strain on the school as
it had to fund supply cover. We demonstrated
that the teacher had falsely claimed the injury
and illness and she was dismissed for gross
We have also investigated subversive individuals
which an Educational Trust suspected of
promoting extremist views. It asked us to carry
out surveillance and a computer data forensics
examination on the high profile ‘Trojan Horse’
investigation into extremism and exclusion in
the educational system in Birmingham. After
a period of surveillance, there was no sign
of extremist views or wrong doing, but other
important issues were identified which required
further examination into misuse of computers
by a staff member.
We have also investigated the misuse of
computer networks by pupils and staff, and a
school employee who was running a business
during working hours.
What about issues of child protection?
A child or young person’s welfare is at the core
of the majority of investigations we undertake.
Whether it is problems of bullying, theft (which
impacts on learning and development) or
false absenteeism, the consequences can be
extremely damaging for the child.
Do the police get involved in these types of
Depending on the nature of the investigation
and wishes of the school, the police may
become involved. Our evidence is always
gathered in accordance with police protocol
methods and policies so it can be used in a
criminal court should it be required.
What is the right time to contact an
Our advice is to liaise with an investigator at
an early stage. We can then advise on various
routes to gather evidence and intelligence. It is
easier to gather evidence whilst the activity is
taking place rather than after the event. Often
decision makers will believe something is wrong,
but are unaware of how to begin to compile
A lawful, successful investigation should
leave the school or college in a very strong
evidential position. We have a strong record
in anticipating alibis and excuses and our
investigations tend to leave very little room for
the individual to challenge our findings.