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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 March 2005, 11:33 GMT
Latest coup for hi-tech crime unit
Police in London say they have foiled a plot to steal 220m from the London offices of the Japanese bank Sumitomo Mitsui. It is the biggest and most high-profile coup yet for the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit.

The National Hi-Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU) was set up, as part of the National Crime Squad, in April 2001.

It was given the task of tackling the rising number of crimes involving computers, the internet and other hi-tech devices.


Staffed by officers from the police, the National Criminal Investigation Service (NCIS), the armed forces and HM Customs & Excise, it targets everything from child pornography to identity fraudsters and DVD pirates.

Only this week it saw the successful conclusion to one of its biggest initiatives, Operation Blossom, which targeted a network of computer software pirates called Drink Or Die.

Operation Blossom, which was launched following information passed on by US Customs, led to the arrests of eight people in Britain.

Two of these were convicted of conspiracy to defraud at the Old Bailey on Wednesday and will be sentenced in May, along with several co-defendants who have already pleaded guilty.

State-of-the-art equipment

The NHTCU was set up with 25m of government funding - money which was used to recruit staff, buy state-of-the-art equipment and train people on how they could best combat the world's techno rogues.

Since its launch four years ago the NHTCU has been involved in more than 100 investigations which have led to more than 200 people being arrested in relation to serious and organised computer-related crime.

It also provides day-to-day assistance and support to local, national and international law enforcement agencies.

Among its successes have been:

  • In July 2004, several members of a Russian gang involved in extortion and money-laundering were arrested in a joint operation with police in St Petersburg. The gang had threatened online bookmakers with denial-of-service attacks on their websites.

  • In February 2005, John Harrison from Denton, Greater Manchester, was jailed for two-and-a-half years for distributing thousands of child abuse images. He was arrested in October 2003 as part of Operation Twins, a global investigation of a paedophile group called The Shadowz Brotherhood.

  • In May 2004, computers, passports, chequebooks, bank cards and crack cocaine were seized during raids on "phishing" gangs in London. Phishers pose as a bank and then e-mail customers asking for personal details.

  • In November 2004 Ian Baldock, a 35-year-old computer consultant from St Leonards, East Sussex, was jailed for four years for downloading more than 96,000 child porn images and movies.

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