“It was terrible – as if it wasn’t bad enough having my husband horribly murdered, the police then told me that they wouldn’t be investigating his killing until the contract for the case had been put out to competitive tender,” a clearly distraught Emily Cackler, whose husband Frank died in a Guilford street robbery last month, has told The Sleaze. “It took over three weeks before they managed to do that – and to add insult to injury, it turned out that they’d given the contract to a bunch of amateur detectives! They’re all bloody retired, not one of them is under seventy! Even worse, none of them have any police experience! How are they ever going to solve a murder?” Mrs Cackler is one of a growing number of critics of new government legislation which obliges the police to open up their services to private providers, claiming that rather than making policing more efficient, it is actually driving down the detection rate for many serious crimes. However, Surrey’s police force has defended its letting of contracts to amateurs. “There’s a long tradition in the UK of amateur detection and the lack of police experience can be a positive advantage – just look at the number of times the likes of Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot beat plodding police detectives to the solutions of bizarre murders,” says Assistant Chief Constable Randolph Straincock. “As for the age issue, well, we can hardly discriminate against bidders on the basis of age, now can we? Besides, there’s much evidence that older amateur detectives, particularly elderly spinsters, have a very high success rate when it comes to solving murders. Haven’t you seen Miss Marple or Murder She Wrote?”

Cackler remains unconvinced, complaining that the letting of the contract to investigate her husband’s death to a group of amateurs reflects the low priority the police have placed upon the case. “It’s sending a clear message that they don’t think the murders of ordinary working class people worth allocating proper resources to,” she declares. “I can guarantee that if my husband had been a millionaire banker or a Tory MP, then the contract would have been let to a firm of professional investigators with access to proper scientific resources.” ACC Straincock, naturally, disagrees with such allegations. “It’s simply not true to say that we allocate resources on the basis of the victim’s social class. Contracts for investigations are let purely on the basis of whoever puts in the lowest bid,” he says. “That said, it is clear that those cases which appear to have a higher chance of being solved, and which have larger amounts of reward money offered, will naturally attract more bids from a wider range of agencies. The truth is that Mr Cackler’s case attracted only the two bids – the winning tender from the neighbourhood amateur detective group and a slightly higher one from a local greengrocer and part-time psychic – which, I’m afraid, simply reflects the relative importance placed upon it by our contractors following their professional assessment of the case.”

Indeed, the top cop believes that Mrs Cackler should think herself lucky that her husband’s murder even attracted these two bids. “Quite frankly, she’s lucky that her husband was at least a UK national, otherwise it might not even have attracted any serious bids,” Straincock opines. “Just last week the only bidders we had for the murder of a Polish cleaner were the local cub scout pack and the Girl Guides. It was very embarrassing.” Nonetheless, Straincock believes the system adopted by his force is fundamentally sound, increasing efficiency and delivering significant budget savings to the taxpayer. “Whilst it was initially assumed that it would just be support services, like call centres and administration, put out to tender, the truth is that the real savings are to be made in privatising crime detection and investigation,” he explains. “You wouldn’t believe the level of resources in terms of man hours, over time, lab bills, specialist scientific equipment and the like, that even a simple mugging takes up! But by putting these investigations out to tender on a case-by-case basis, we’ve found that we can make incredible savings.”

Straincock also denies that the new system has resulted in a system of crime prioritisation dictated by the media, with the top bidders – private security firms, high class private detective agencies and professional international outfits like the FBI – only interested in the high profile glamourous cases, which would get them headlines and prestige if solved, leaving lower profile crimes to be investigated by bidders of dubious quality. “The reality is that most of these lower profile crimes represent a waste of resources anyway,” he claims. “The fact is that the odds of solving any of them, even under the old system of investigation, were extremely small. It is common knowledge that no arrests are ever made, nor goods recovered, in a large proportion of burglaries, thefts and muggings. It’s the same for more serious crimes, like sex offences and even murder – so why waste time and resources on them? Isn’t it right that valuable resources should be targeted where they have the best chance of achieving results? And , who is better placed to make such decisions than the professionals investigating them?”

Appalled by Straincock’s attitude, Mrs Cackler has taken her complaints to the Home Office, where they have met with an even less enthusiastic reception. “Mrs Cackler has to understand that this policy is central to the fundamental change to the whole culture of policing that we are implementing,” says junior Home Office Minister Toby Fumble. “Our aim is to sweep away the tired old socialist notions which have crept into policing in the UK since the end of the Second World War. No longer will police forces have to treat all crimes equally. It’s quite clear that, outside of Marxist doctrine, they aren’t. For one thing, some crimes don’t even require a high level of investigative resources. Everyone knows, for example, that most murders are the result of domestic disputes, so it shouldn’t need a whole team of detectives and forensic experts to secure an arrest, should it?” Warming to his theme, Fumble happily expanded on just how the relative importance of crimes could be measured. “It’s obvious that the bigger the crime, the more important it is – who could argue that the theft of millions of pounds worth of antiques from a stately home is worse than a break-in at some terraced hovel in a run down working class district where some old tat is taken, for instance?” he mused. “Murders are no different – the killing of a millionaire, for example, is likely to have far wider repercussions than that of a sweet shop owner, isn’t it? It is only by exposing crime investigation to market forces that we can reflect these priorities and thereby allocate resources efficiently.”