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National Crime Agency replaces the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA): real teeth or just another make-over?

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National Crime Agency replaces the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA): real teeth or just another make-over?

Today, 7th October 2013 is the official launch day for the newly rebranded National Crime Agency (NCA) also labelled the “British FBI” designed to tackle and pursue organised crime in the areas of drugs trafficking, human smuggling, child exploitation, cyber crime, money laundering and gun running. Is this just a cheap trick to hide its predecessor’s lack of overall success since its last rebranding or should the OCNs (organised crime networks) across the UK and globally be genuinely worried? In the last 13 years the current organisation has rebranded 3 times from the National Crime Squad (NCS) to the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) to today’s relaunch as the National Crime Agency (NCA).

Only time will tell but from its launch publicity today you would think that the NCA will have very similar powers to America’s FBI in jurisdictional matters in the UK utilising cross-agency expertise and going as far as reaching out to the private sector for “volunteer” experts in forensic accountancy, banking and science based forensics including IT experts. This in itself should send alarm bells ringing for Whitehall and could be seen as a serious weakness in the NCA’s armour by the OCNs. W

hat better advantage than for an OCN to place a “private sector” volunteer mole into this newly relaunched and re-packaged elite police agency? Inconceivable? Sadly not. One just has to look back into the annals of British Intelligence: the Cambridge 5 springs to mind. A ring of British spies recruited by the Soviets who were firmly embedded deep into MI5 and MI6 during the Cold War, the most celebrated of whom was undoubtedly Kim Philby. But more recently Oleg Gordievsky, the Russian spy who turned and then there was Alexander Litvinenko famously murdered by poisoning and then there was the infamous Edward Snowden, the American computer analyst contracted to the CIA and NSA who intentionally disclosed classified top secret surveillance programmes to the world’s media.

The NCA begins its work today to target 37,000 criminals linked to 5,500 gangs. Most importantly is the cost of fraud to the UK economy from organised criminal gangs which has reached £9 billion a year. The NCA’s focus will be on tackling this area of crime and the “NCA Specials”, the so-called volunteer recruits of which there are currently 10 appear to be the agency’s desperate attempt to reach out to the private sector and industry experts to address the agency’s lack of expertise in a highly technical era.

In contrast though, the agency has a budget of £463m per year and will keep staff in 120 countries making it truly global, at least on paper with a visible presence. But will this be enough to deter the 5,500 criminal networks?

According to the NCA’s website it will “hold a single authoritative intelligence picture of serious and organised crime affecting the UK” and will have the mandate to lead and co-ordinate the police and other law enforcement agencies.

The NCA will comprise of five commands:

  • Border Policing Command
  • Economic Crime Command
  • Organised Crime Command
  • National Cyber Crime Unit
  • Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command

The most significant additional powers that NCA officers will have over their now defunct SOCA counterparts are the power to arrest. All NCA officers are triple warranted meaning they have the powers and privileges of a police constable, powers of a customs officer and the powers of an immigration officer.  This appears to be one of the major significant shifts in empowering the new organisation but it had taken 7 years and a new government to implement this change. How many more years will it take to really give the NCA the teeth it needs to effectively tackle the onslaught of the 21st century OCNs?

The OCNs can breathe a sigh of relief for now as despite the new name, the new powers and the new annual budget of almost half a billion, the NCA only managed 8 arrests nationwide on the 1st day of its launch.

A clarion call to the “Specials”: the NCA needs you, apply now!

This article has been written by Seema Parikh Partner and Head of the Serious and Complex Crime Team at MPR Solicitors.