THEY work with the richest companies in the world, have clients within the highest echelons of Government and train elite forces in counter surveillance techniques…meet the North-East company leading the fight against corporate espionage.

Verrimus may only be five years old, but it has already built a reputation for ethics and excellence in an industry where reputation is everything.

From the outside, Verrimus meets all the preconceptions of what a firm operating in this particular field must achieve to make it into the pages of a Jack Higgins or Robert Ludlum novel:

• Team of ex-forces professionals – check!

• Skilled in locating and preventing corporate espionage – check!

• Plush offices in a beautiful historic building – check!

• Stocked with futuristic, state of the art equipment – check!

But once inside the Newcastle Quayside base that overlooks the Sage and Baltic, company MD Sarah Hopkins makes it clear that the facts of technical surveillance counter measures are far removed from the fiction.

“The idea of a listening device secreted under the boardroom table with a piece of chewing gum by a super spy is all very James Bond, but in reality that’s just not how it happens,” she said.

“Stealing a company’s information can be achieved in a multitude of ways, but rarely is it done like we see in the movies, which is a shame as it would make detection a whole lot more straightforward.

“When we deploy a team, they are operating a multi-layered approach to locate and eliminate corporate espionage. We carry out only defensive work – we don’t do offensive work and would never do so.”

The nature of this work is complex and, for the most part, kept secret, but by providing Government-approved standards of operation, Verrimus “operatives” work constantly across many sectors, including Government, law enforcement, military and commercial.

Using cutting-edge technology, the firm’s teams detect, locate and deny the theft of critical information from clients, thwarting even the most sophisticated attacks.

Sarah said: “We must maintain a high level of privacy and secrecy. Our clients quite rightly expect the highest levels of both and it would make no sense to boast about our kit and what it can do because as soon as that is in the public domain, criminals begin formulating ways of working around them.”

That presents something of a challenge for anyone writing a feature on Verrimus, but fortunately what they do and who they are is just as interesting as how they do it.

Verrimus’s highly-trained staff of six operatives are all ex-armed forces with the one exception being a former police officer. They use high specification technology and unique tactics to carry out “bug sweeping” (technical surveillance counter measures – TSCM) mainly for large corporate clients.

They also provide information security and privacy protection services, putting an emphasis on prevention as well as cure.

Sarah laughs off suggestions that Verrimus is a team of ex-servicemen “Spooks”, but admits there are practical reasons for employing former soldiers.

“One of the main reasons we employ ex-forces is because they are used to working outside normal hours,” she adds. “This is not a 9-to-5 job and there is no clocking off if the job has not been done…or even when it has been done.

“We work long hours, in many locations across the world for a wide-range of clients with their own individual needs. Our guys carry hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of kit and this equipment may contain information that is worth fortunes to our clients. It can’t be left sitting around in hotel rooms unattended.

“We have used non-forces personnel in the past and it just hasn’t worked out – they haven’t understood the work and haven’t understood the ethics involved. Our operatives work together to guard the equipment at all times.

“We are not providing an add-on, second rate service offered by most private investigators or security companies,” she added. “We are international experts in our field and have invested a huge amount of money in recruiting and training our operatives and each suite of counter surveillance equipment we deploy for our clients.

“We are among the best in the world and regularly called upon to advise and operate at the very highest levels.”

One of the driving forces behind the business is former British Army battlefield medic, Technical & Government Services Director, Gavin Saul. The former Staff Sergeant is a veteran of many campaigns across the world.

Gavin left the Army after 14 years only to be confronted with a labour market not quite ready to utilise his unique skills set. He decided to hone some of the skills he picked up in service of his country.

“I began doing some work around corporate espionage, working with companies that had problems with information, asset or data theft and helping them locate the source of their problem and ultimately eliminate it,” he said. “This developed and grew into a business and I found myself doing a fair amount of professional witness work too.

“Following a particularly lengthy and involved project, I decided to take a year to concentrate only on freelancing work – it was after this year and the work it brought in that we decided to set up Verrimus.”

Verrimus, Latin for “we sweep” has gone from strength to strength. Word of mouth and client recommendations has seen company teams work in every continent bar Australia over the past four years, most recently returning from South Korea.

Holding up a small, inconspicuous looking black plastic box, Gavin adds: “This is a passive network tap and one of things we’re looking for. This device can capture every bit of data that flows through that cable. It’s a relatively simple bit of kit, but can be incredibly difficult to locate…and unfortunately, very easy to install.

“Corporate espionage can be carried out in many ways, but the by far the most common and simple is by people. We have worked in businesses where they have retina and fingerprint scanners, coded entry systems, the best security money can buy, but when we’ve asked them if they have vetted their cleaning firm, the guy who comes in to tend the hired plants or window cleaners the answer has been “no”.

“Criminals will bribe, threaten or blackmail employees into installing devices. There have been cases of families being threatened – it is relatively simple.”

One thing Sarah is proud of is the fact that Verrimus remains a North-East company.

“We have an office in London, but we are very much a Newcastle business,” she said. “We have had offers to buy the company from investors who wanted to move Verrimus to London and we rejected them outright and we have had clients who think the UK is basically London, but once we get them up here they’re amazed at our region, history and culture. They all love it and quite often tend to come back for visits.”

These visits often include a spell at the Verrimus Training Centre, a uniquely designed school where Gavin and his teams train up clients, forces personnel and police forces in counter-espionage and detection measures and methods.

“We have hotel rooms rigged with devices, boardrooms and businesses that work with us, we teach people not only about the equipment and how to use it, but how to work covertly and go unnoticed while carrying out work,” said Gavin. “We don’t work with any accredited training provider because what we do is constantly changing and being updated, we move with the technology and new techniques and operate on the Army principles of explanation, demonstration, imitation, practice.”

Verrimus has also established links with Newcastle College, working with students to develop cyber and physical security skills. The College was the first in the UK to be awarded funds to support the Government’s National Cyber Security Strategy and works with Verrimus to boost cyber-security skills and help future-proof the UK IT sector.

Gavin himself oversaw counter-espionage measures throughout the construction of the Olympic Stadium in London and the games themselves. “We did the Olympics for years and with relentless train journeys to London, carrying out survey after survey, sweep after sweep, turning up at different times of the day – it was huge undertaking.

“We conducted various planning and security offices for two years leading up to the games to ensure that security plans and couldn't get into the wrong hands through any kind of technical surveillance prior to the games.

“We regularly swept the secure planning areas, royal family areas and the whole of the VIP areas.”

So, the obvious question is, did they find anything. Gavin smiles and replied: “I can’t possibly tell you that.”

North East Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive, James Ramsbotham, said: “The work being carried out by Verrimus is spectacular. They are innovators, they are dedicated, but most of all they are incredibly good at what they do.

“I am a staunch supporter of businesses recruiting ex-servicemen and women for the skills, dedication and incredible work ethic they have. It is great to see Verrimus not only utilising the suite of unique skills these ex-forces professionals have, but developing them further and helping businesses protect themselves from theft.”