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Last Updated: Monday, 9 February, 2004, 15:23 GMT
New 'FBI' unit to tackle UK crime
Drugs haul found in a suitcase by Customs
Drug trafficking is now international big business
Plans for an elite new agency to tackle organised crime have been unveiled by the government.

It will merge the National Crime Squad, the National Criminal Intelligence Service and investigative branches of Customs and the Immigration Service.

The UK-wide Serious Organised Crime Agency will combat crimes like people smuggling and drug trafficking.

Although already dubbed Britain's FBI, the crime-fighting force will not deal with terrorism or murder cases.

'Long overdue'

Announcing the creation of the agency, Home Secretary David Blunkett said more new measures to combat organised crime would be unveiled shortly.

"Organised criminals make their millions from human misery - trafficking in drugs and people, engaging in fraud and extortion.

"They control criminal empires that reach from the other side of the world to the dealer on the street corner," he said.

HAVE YOUR SAY
The police are simply overwhelmed by the level of crime.
Sean, Burnley, UK

"We must become better organised, more sophisticated and more technologically capable than the criminals."

The agency, which marks the biggest shake-up of policing structure since 1964 when the 43 force areas were drawn up, is not expected to operate until 2006.

It will employ as many as 5,000 agents to fight the big business end of organised crime, which individual forces find difficult to tackle on their own.

Home Office Minister Caroline Flint said the agency's role was to "complement policing on the ground" by providing support on intelligence and that it "would not go into forces and take over operations".

Referring to the death of 19 cockle pickers in Morecambe Bay last week, she told BBC Radio Five Live the agency would try and shut down organised gangs before it got "to a Morecambe situation".

The Metropolitan Police welcomed the new agency.

Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur said: "London's communities are blighted by organised criminal networks, which have a national and international dimension.

"We will work with the agency to ensure there is a faster and more flexible approach to dealing with this menace".

Organised criminals move very quickly
Professor Gloria Laycock
Jill Dando Crime Institute

Professor Gloria Laycock, of the Jill Dando Crime Institute, said that working as a single body will alleviate "rivalries between the various different agencies fighting Britain's crime".

"Criminals take opportunities as they arise," she told BBC News.

"Organised criminals move very quickly.

"We need to get much quicker in our reactions."

Civilian staff

The Association of Chief Police Officers wants the government to ensure the agency avoids US-style arguments between "feds" and local police.

The agency will have the power to make its own arrests, but will also provide intelligence to a local force and leave the prosecution to them.

AGENCIES
NCIS: 1,200 staff, 93m budget
NCS: 1,750 staff, 130m budget
Customs and Excise: 1,500 staff
Home Office: 60 staff
There has been increasing concern a single national body would find it easier to deal with gangs who might operate in Europe as well as the UK.

The authorities are also having to change the way they operate to tackle people smuggling, with gangs often involved in crimes such as trafficking sex slaves or child pornography.

The new agency is likely to have civilian investigators such as accountants, financial experts and computer experts.

A team will now be set up to appoint a chairman and director-general for the agency.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Daniel Sandford
"The new organised crime agency won't deal with terrorism and murder"



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