The dangers of buying a fake alibi on the net

The Times, Law, 14 February 2006

Alibis can be a crucial part of a lawyer’s work.  They can provide a defence to crime or an accusation of unfaithfulness.  And testing their validity is part of a lawyer’s work.  But now lawyers face a new problem – the emergence of the professional fake alibi.

Billing itself as ‘the world’s only legitimate alibi service,’ claims to have over 21,000 satisfied customers, who use its operatives to provide cover for extra-marital liaisons.  “We provide white lies for a variety of reasons, but easily the most common is because someone is having an affair,” says Rob Goulding, fakealibi’s marketing spokesman.  He cites the example of the solicitor anxious to spend a weekend with his mistress:  “We set up an alibi for him, using an invite to a fake law conference.  If he had been contacted on the number on the invite the caller would have gone through to one of our agents, who would have confirmed that he was at the conference.”

Goulding gives another example.  “We were contacted by an Asian woman who had been forced into an arranged marriage in London.  She wanted to see her ex-boyfriend in France.”  The alibi in question was impressively orchestrated.  “We set things up so that the client would tell her husband she was going to Belgium for a couple of days with a friend.  We faxed a hotel booking confirmation from Belgium that included a number of the fictional hotel that the husband could ring.  This was a pay-as-you-go mobile number obtained by a French agent, who nipped across the border to purchase the sim card in Belgium.  As it turned out the husband didn’t ring, but the back-up was there just in case.”

The provision of alibis such as this does not come free.  “That one would have cost around £350,” says Goulding.  “We charge either on a per-job basis, or, for some clients, agree a monthly retainer.”  He adds that while originally membership of fakealibi cost £29.99, now joining is free:  “We are very competitive and affordable.  That’s why we get a lot of work in.”

Hailing originally from the United States, began operating in the UK in autumn 2004.  It deploys a range of devices in the creation of alibis, including mock-ups of invitations to conferences, the provision of bogus accommodation addresses and the making of telephone calls to a client’s partner to confirm a fictional meeting.  There are four full-time staff, and some 600 agents on hand to substantiate alibis.  The agents are from a number of walks of life.  “Some are unemployed, while others are teachers and journalists.  We have one agent who is a radio presenter in Ireland,” says Goulding.

The commercial provision of ‘white lies’ in order that people can conduct affairs would raise an ethical question or two in the majority of people, but Goulding defends the service in pragmatic terms: “The people who come to us are already having affairs.  In some cases we are helping to save marriages.  People having affairs are often not doing so because they want to destroy everything but because of any number of other reasons.  They might be frustrated because of the long-term illness of their spouse, or lonely because their partner is always away.  They want to preserve their marriages and there might well be children involved.  People could get hurt if everything came out, and by helping to conceal the affair or fling we are actually assisting the stability of family life.” 
Goulding also rejects the suggestion that fakealibi is sailing in legally fraught waters.  “We have a solicitor who advises us and if we have a job that we feel is a bit too edgy, we consult him,” he says.  Goulding is adamant, too, that the police would be alerted if a client asked for anything suspicious or if, for example, a client was connected with a crime. 

Some lawyers take a less sanguine view.  Nigel Winter, a matrimonial solicitor with Rawlison Butler, cautions that fakealibi’s informal tone “disguises the seriousness of its users actions, whether in their personal life or in the context of legal proceedings,” while Louis Charalambous of Simons Muirhead & Burton warns that “if they happened to provide a fake alibi to a criminal offender, the police would be furious.”  And Nigel Hanson, a solicitor with Foot Anstey, sums up the need for prudence:  “The website makes startling reading.  There must be a concern that some customers could, unbeknown to fakealibi, try and use the services for criminal purposes rather than those which are merely morally suspect.  The danger is that fakealibi may unwittingly facilitate a crime.”
Which may, or may not, have been in the errant solicitor’s mind as he attended his weekend conference.