I have been working full time as an investigator and process server for over 42 years; having joined the family business in May 1978 at the age of 16. I mean FULL time, having clocked up more than my fair share of 80+ hour weeks dealing with a wide variety of matters.
One of my favourite recollections is from the late 1970’s when I was either 17 or 18. I was still relatively inexperienced but made up for this with youthful fearlessness (fear often develops from bad experiences!) and sheer bloody-minded determination.
This was long before general use of computers, mobile phones, the internet or sat-nav, to name but a few of the modern conveniences we now take for granted. We still used phone boxes to call people and ‘research’ often involved knocking on doors and going to libraries. If you’d mentioned the word “Google” to me then I might have thought it was something from the Kama Sutra! My company car was a 1100cc Ford Fiesta which was neither equipped with power steering, electric windows, or a radio as standard. We had it hard back then!
In that era my company was regularly coming up against a character, who for the purpose of this recollection I will rename Barry Black. He was a serial debtor and fraudster with his thumbs in all sorts of pies, including timeshare (allegedly selling shares in non-existent properties) and a large garage. Black was devious, evasive, and frequently shielded by his minions (not to be confused with those funny, yellow animated creatures).
We had a High Court Writ for a substantial sum which needed to be personally served upon Black. No home address was known at that stage, just his garage business. You could never get anywhere near him there as he tended to stay in the background and was well shielded by employees.
Like many of his ilk, Black had a massive ego. He drove a top of the range Mercedes bearing a personalised number plate – his full initials and a couple of numbers. One afternoon I was driving past his garage and spotted the Mercedes prominently parked on the forecourt. It looked to be positioned for a quick departure. I parked up discreetly on the opposite side of the road and waited.
Black was a distinctive looking character who I knew by sight. After a few minutes I was rewarded by him exiting from the garage and entering the Mercedes alone. With some trepidation I decided to follow, knowing that my little 1100cc Fiesta would be no match for his Mercedes if he headed for the open road and decided to “open her up”!
As any experienced investigator will tell you, following using a single vehicle can be tricky at the best of times.
The gods were smiling upon me that day. He drove a couple of miles at most, all in a built-up area where he was confined by a 30MPH speed limit and other traffic. Black pulled up in a busy shopping street, alighted from the Mercedes and entered a barber shop.
I hesitated for a few minutes, lurking outside the barber shop, and peering through the window. I waited until I saw Black seated in the barber’s chair with the cover over and decided “it’s now or never”. He was at my mercy and not about to beat a hasty retreat.
This was the one and only occasion that I have been indiscreet when serving personal process. Normally when attempting service in a public place, I would politely ask to see the intended recipient in private and serve them discreetly. Mr Black, however had evaded me one time too often. I entered the barber shop, went straight to where he was seated and announced – “Barry Black – I have a High Court Writ for you. You’re served” and dropped it in his covered lap. It was a small shop, with possibly only 3 or 4 other people present. As I recall there was stunned silence. Black said nothing but gave me a knowing smirk which I interpreted as – “fair play – you’ve got me”. It was sweet!
The client was pleased as they knew how difficult Black would be to pin down. In the circumstances my indiscreet service was accepted.
Sometime later we learnt that Black had come to the attention of the Fraud Squad, who were said to have a ‘thick file’ on him. Apparently, this included reference to my “barber shop service” and induced the odd chuckle amongst the Police personnel who read it.