An ordinary commercial street in Woking, Surrey. In the distance, the sound of a power tool can be heard. I walk up the driveway, past a white van, and press the doorbell. After some time, the door opens, Christine, a striking lady in her forties with a platinum bob and bubbly South London accent, ushers me into the main office, and offers me a cup of tea. Her husband, Bills, a big, affable man, gets up from his desk and shakes me genially by the hand. Christine regards me coolly.
Meet Mr and Mrs Brenham a husband and wife team who run a detective agency branch under license form www.wilsonsconsultancy.com
Bill is a retired detective chief inspector, who once led a murder squad in South-east London. Christine is her husband’s sidekick. In the next office is a listening device disguised as a phone charger, and a pen that contains a camera. The anonymous-looking van outside turns out to be a surveillance vehicle, complete with a green jerry can in which to urinate. “Christine thinks it’s disgusting,” says Bill, “but I like things the old fashioned way.”
The world of private detectives is a strange one. Thanks to Glenn Mulcaire, Steve Whittamore and a host of others connected to the News of the World hacking scandal, private eyes have never been lower in the public’s estimation. But they are not all hi-tech villains and grubby bin-raiders. As part of a Radio 4 documentary I recently met a few of the other estimated 10,000 investigators operating in Britain.