Criminals warned as ‘British FBI’ hits streets

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The head of “Britain’s FBI” has warned the Mr Bigs of the underworld there will be “no one beyond the reach” of the new crime-fighting agency on the day it goes live.

With a budget of nearly half-a-billion pounds a year, the National Crime Agency (NCA) will lead the fight against the estimated 37,000 criminals involved in serious and organised crime.

More than 4,000 NCA officers will tackle crime under four commands: organised crime, economic crime, border policing and child exploitation and online protection, alongside a National Cyber Crime Unit.

Asked if the new law-enforcement arm would be able to bring the fight to the “higher echelons” of organised crime, NCA director general Keith Bristow said: “To be clear, there will be no one beyond the reach of law enforcement or beyond the reach of the NCA.

“Those people involved in the most horrible activities can expect the most comprehensive and robust response.”

Opposition MPs have, however, warned that without extra funding for policing the agency will not match the Government’s “hype”.

Today’s launch of the NCA spells the end of the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca), which is to be absorbed into the new organisation alongside the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre.

Proposals for the new agency were first unveiled by Home Secretary Theresa May in July 2010 as part of a broader shake-up of the policing landscape.

Announcing the new US-style agency, Mrs May said it would have a sweeping new power to step in to directly task and co-ordinate police forces in a bid to tackle organised crime and secure the UK’s borders.

The NCA has an annual budget of £463m for resources and £31m for capital, Mr Bristow confirmed.

It will run the country’s first national intelligence hub, place investigators at UK ports to tackle border crime such as human trafficking and will track down child-sex abusers online. It will also place around 120 officers overseas in 40 different countries.

Mr Bristow, a former chief constable of Warwickshire Police, said unlike Soca, the NCA would not operate as a covert organisation and wants to be recognised by the public. Some officers will wear jackets and caps emblazoned with NCA when on operations.

“We’re going to be visible,” he said. “We want the public to know who we are, what we do, what we’re delivering, to understand the serious and organised crime threat that effects every neighbourhood and every citizen throughout the UK.”

He added: “Frankly, we want the criminals to know who we are, because we want them to fear our attention.”

The NCA will also be recruiting “special” officers – volunteers like special constables in police forces. NCA specials with expert backgrounds such as in cyber or the financial sector are set to join the agency.

Mrs May said: “I want to make Britain a hostile environment for serious and organised criminals, with the new National Crime Agency leading that fight.”

But Shadow Policing Minister David Hanson said: “The National Crime Agency doesn’t match the Government’s hype.

“It is welcome that the NCA has finally arrived after three years of delay and we support strengthening work on organised crime and the hard work of Keith Bristow and his team.

“But most of the NCA is just the rebranding of existing organisations such as the Serious Organised Crime Agency, but with a substantial 20 per cent cut imposed by the Home Office in their overall budget.”

Today’s launch of the NCA comes alongside the start of the nation’s first witness protection scheme to help secure convictions and care for vulnerable witnesses.

More than 3,000 individuals with a real and immediate risk to their lives will get expert protection under the UK Protected Persons Service, victims’ minister Helen Grant said.

The national service will apply to the likes of victims and witnesses of tragedies like the Morecambe Bay cockling disaster and the murder of Rhys Jones in Liverpool.