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News

IPSA Questions Viability of SIA Prosecutions

International Professional Security Association (IPSA) : 25 February, 2010  (Company News)
Justin Bentley of the International Professional Security Association provides his views on the recent prosecution of Sabrewatch by the SIA for supplying unlicensed security guards
When the Security Industry Authority (SIA) first arrived on the scene, they expressed the view that the cost of licensing would be recouped by security companies, with customers happy to pay for a more professional service.

However, security companies soon discovered a reluctance on the part of the majority of customers to pay any increase, even before the current recession started. Rather, they hoped that the SIA would continue to promote the industry and encourage customers to meet the cost. Certainly the least that security companies should have been able to expect from the licensing authority was support in ensuring that their clients would at least have to ensure that contract companies they engage would be supplying licensed staff. The recent SIA press release (22 February 2010) shows that the SIA is not in fact supporting that position.

There appears to have been a total turnaround by the SIA on the culpability of the customers or clients. Last year, in response to a question raised at the SIA May 2009 conference, whether the SIA would be willing to investigate the possibility of a specific offence for clients knowingly using unlicensed persons, the SIA stated that criminal liability already existed under present legislation. The spokeman went on to say "When tackling security contractors providing unlicensed staff, one of our standard approaches is to engage with their customers and where necessary point out the customer's liability for being a party to an offence of the supply of unlicensed operatives or operating without a licence. We have not yet found it necessary to prosecute a customer but it remains an option."

The SIA statement following the outcome of the Sabrewatch prosecution declares "The retailers (who had no part in the offences as the staff were hired under contract) were supportive of the case and a number gave evidence against Sabrewatch in court."

The Authority re-confirm this in the 'Notes to editors' stating "A customer hiring security staff under contract is not responsible for ensuring those staff are licensed - rather it is the duty of the contractor to ensure its staff are licensed before they are deployed."

Was this a quid pro quo offered by the SIA to Sabrewatch clients to secure a prosecution that they might otherwise lose? The cynic in me envisages a deal whereby "we can offer you immunity from prosecution if you help us by giving evidence against the contractor".

I have not yet seen sufficient details to understand why Sabrewatch was singled out for prosecution, but I feel that security companies' customers would be taking more care in future when selecting a security company, if Sabrewatch's customers or clients had also been prosecuted and presumably also found guilty. By focusing only on the contractor, I think this was a missed opportunity for the SIA to demonstrate its declared policy of enforcing the legislation fairly and proportionately against all those involved.

Customers always have the right to shop around for the best price, and to change supplier if they feel that a provider is supplying a poor service or is charging over the odds; this is the principal of open competition. However customers must be seen to be responsible under the law for ensuring that their contractors are meeting legislative requirements. Only then are we likely to see the remaining criminal elements expelled from the industry.

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