Can private investigators check criminal records in the UK?

May 26, 2023 - Reading time: 6 minutes

As a leading detective agency based in the UK, we are frequently instructed by our clients to check on individuals and firms using a number of different methods and techniques. Surveillance cases are typically the bread-and-butter for most private detectives; however we can also help our clients by running comprehensive background checks and compiling data on relevant individuals... But what about criminal records? Can private investigators check criminal records?

Private investigators in the UK are not able to check criminal records without permission from the person being checked - the information is classed as private and confidential. However, a private investigator may still be able to learn about criminal cases associated with an individual without their consent using other means.

What do we mean by this? Well, private investigators are able to utilize what is known as 'open source intelligence' (OSINT) to check individuals and learn about their histories. By using records which are freely available in the public domain, the information uncovered is fully compliant and does not entail the acquisition of confidential or privileged data.

While private investigators cannot directly access police records without permission from the person being checked, we can check an individual's reputation by performing deep searches utilising newspaper and media archives. We can also search through court records, which may shed light on cases where individuals were accused in a criminal case, whether or not their court appearance resulted in a conviction.

Private Investigators UK logo with a retina scanner

Searching court records can often uncover useful information; for example, in one case we were instructed to perform a background check on our client's new partner before she took the step of allowing him to move into her property. Our checks revealed that he had recently appeared in court on charges related to sexual offending. Although our client was alarmed to receive this information, it allowed her to be forewarned and to take the steps necessary to safeguard herself.

In this case, as the subject was not yet convicted of the crime, our checks were able to unearth information where a traditional records check may not have done.

Private investigators are also able to research individuals by performing 'facial recognition background checks', which are another form of an OSINT investigation. By searching for instances of a subject's face on the surface web, we are often able to uncover previously unknown details about their histories. This check has been used by us to locate dating profiles, for example, as well as adult material and media coverage of criminal convictions. As the check relies on information which is freely available in the public domain, permission is not required from the individual being checked.

What is the difference between a CRB (DBS) check and OSINT research?

Criminal record checks (previously called 'CRB checks' and now known as 'DBS checks') can only be performed with permission from the person being checked. Many employers require their candidates to get DBS checks done before they begin employment; some employers may even arrange DBS checks themselves, however the employer will need permission from their candidates in this case.

Criminal background check application form

It is important to note that DBS checks will only show a list of previous convictions, and may not alert to pending court appearances which could result in fresh convictions. We can perform court record searches which would alert to pending court appearances without permission from the individual being checked.

What is the criteria for running a background check?

There could be many different cases where our clients request that we perform background checks which encompass reputational or court record searches on an individual. For example, if your son or daughter enters a new relationship and you have concerns about their partner - a background check could be utilised in order to check on them and bring peace of mind.

While police have strict guidelines and procedures for releasing any confidential data; private investigators are not bound by any similar procedures during the acquisition and dissemination of data which is already in the public domain. 

We are therefore able to assist in a wide range of different cases, including:

  • Pre-matrimonial background checks
  • Employment background checks for prospective employees
  • Tenant background checks
  • Nanny or babysitter background checks
  • Online dating background checks

How to proceed

If you would like a quotation for us to perform repetitional and/or court record searches on an individual, then please feel free to get in touch with one of our experienced team members for help and advice.

Important notes

Our "OSINT background check service" or "court record searches" are not CRB or DBS checks. As part of these services our researchers perform comprehensive checks of data which is in the public domain. These services do not guarantee full discovery of all criminal convictions for several reasons; firstly, some offences may not be recorded in the public domain due to their sensitive nature. In addition, offences can be wiped from the offender's record due to the Rehabilitation Act of 1974 - spent convictions are typically wiped from the records with some exceptions.

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