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True tales from a lady detective
7:00am Saturday 26th January 2013 in Books
Real-life lady detective Rebecca Jane's job involves catching out cheating husbands - and wives. But, she tells Hannah Stephenson, it hasn't tainted her view of the world.
By Hannah Stephenson
Does your husband hide his mobile phone from you, delete all his text messages or go AWOL when he said he'd be home for dinner?
Beware all cheating husbands - and wives - because Rebecca Jane may be watching you. The 28-year-old former property developer started the Lady Detective Agency in 2009 at the tender age of 24, after being cheated on by her husband when she was pregnant with their child, Paris.
"He would go to work and not return home for three days," she recalls. "These weren't just any random trips; he would go to Italy, Spain and often Ireland. I'd come home from work and check if his passport was still there, just to get some indication whether he would be returning any time soon."
Then rumours started to circulate around her home town of Barrowford in Lancashire that he was playing around, so she rang some private investigators, but received cold, unemotional responses.
"They were only interested in calculating how much cash they could get out of me. They didn't care about anything I was telling them. It made me feel ridiculously stupid."
So she roped in several female friends to help her find what he was up to, spending hours sitting in cars outside pubs, binoculars at the ready, to see if he was there, and eventually found him entwined with another woman. They did get back together briefly, but then Jane began an affair with a married man. She eventually drew a line under both relationships.
That was all a long time ago, but the experience has been extremely useful in her new career. These days she charges £40 an hour and has a team of around 20 women, dealing with between 10-20 clients a week. She investigates fraudsters and child maintenance dodgers, but clients who suspect their partners are cheating prompt the biggest demand.
Some of her cases are detailed in her book, The Real Lady Detective Agency: A True Story (with names and venues changed), but the abundance of adultery has not changed her attitude to relationships, she says, despite her initial cynicism.
"It did at the beginning but not now, because I'm very happily married," she reveals.
Her second husband, Ben, is a police officer and they have just had their first daughter, Peaches. He was a childhood sweetheart with whom she reconnected on Facebook.
"When I first met him again I didn't believe in relationships. He pretty much taught me that there are good people out there. Now, I have a much more rounded perspective of the world. If I hadn't met him, I might have ended up some bitter, twisted person."
Over the years, she's lost count of the number of hours she's spent sitting in cars or at pubs or hotels waiting for 'targets' to emerge. Jane and a fellow female detective pal once sat in the reception of a swanky hotel for around 13 hours to see the comings and goings of their subject and ended up being upgraded by suspicious staff who thought they were journalists.
On other occasions she's followed targets to stag events to see if they're up to no good, or risked life and limb following subjects in cars in her quest for the truth.
She also offers 'honey-trapping' services whereby women are planted to check out a target's potential for adultery.
Some might consider that an immoral way of earning a living, but Jane is unrepentant.
"I don't agree with the traditional methods of honey-trapping and there are a lot of women out there who trap in a very traditional way. There was an article recently about a honey-trapper who ran off with the the man she trapped. That just disturbs me.
"We have a very different approach. We call it the 'faithful' test because we don't entrap anybody. We manufacture a natural situation and then see if a person is unfaithful, but there's no physical contact. We'll have a conversation with the person and the aim is to get their mobile number or Facebook details or email address and will build up a rapport with them, finding information about their lives and see if they have the potential to be unfaithful.
"After a long period, we'll arrange a date and if they turn up with the intention to be unfaithful, it proves a lot more than somebody who has a kiss in a bar in a one-off incident."
Many of the subjects on whom she spies are completely innocent, she points out.
"It can be depressing, but you've got to remember that not everybody's the same."
She and her female colleagues have never been rumbled on a job, although they have been mistaken for prostitutes - and neighbours can be a problem.
"We've had one job we've done more than 10 times, watching somebody, and the neighbours keep seeing our car. I live in fear of the police being called. We have business cards and flyers in the car just in case."
The people who hire her offer mixed reactions to the results, even if it's clear that a partner is cheating.
"They are generally either relieved that they are not going insane and that they had justification in hiring me, or relieved that the partner is faithful. But ask them in a couple of weeks and it may be a different story."
Her exploits have the potential to put her in danger from angry spouses or absent fathers and she never gives out her real surname or allows her clients to gain information as to how she is going to do the job, for fear the target will be tipped off when she's nearby.
"We had one client who told their partner they'd hired a private investigator and the partner then left them because of that reason.
"I've had a handful of nasty emails from people we've rumbled. It makes you question what you're doing for a little while, but I believe we are providing a service that people need. We don't find them, they find us."
The agency has a central office in Manchester and a base in London, but Jane rarely meets clients face-to-face because she prefers to remain covert.
She concedes that the publicity she's giving to her book may damage her cover, although she stresses she changes her hair colour frequently and, while she is identifiable, the rest of her staff are not.
Although she's caught out many adulterers during her career, she doesn't believe infidelity has to end a relationship.
"There's much worse things that can happen in a relationship than adultery," she insists. "Look at domestic violence, torture and mental abuse, although a lot of mental torture comes when someone is unfaithful. Often it's the mental torture that breaks the person."
Some 75% of her clients whose partner has been unfaithful end up resuming the relationship, she says.
"We're sometimes re-hired by the same person," she reveals. "I whole-heartedly believe that you can get over affairs. However, there are some cases that just can't be helped. If the individuals in question really want to try and get through it, they will. But very few people really want to try and move forward."