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Last Updated: Saturday, 1 April 2006, 08:38 GMT 09:38 UK
New 'FBI-style' agency launched
Seized cash
The agency will seek to recover criminal assets
A national agency which will target major criminals such as drug-smugglers, people-traffickers and fraudsters comes into force on Saturday.

The Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca), dubbed Britain's FBI, will unite experts from the police, customs and immigration services.

It will have more than 4,000 officers and will use existing and new legal powers to fight crime.

Soca is Britain's first non-police law-enforcement body.

Ex-MI5 boss

Chairman Sir Stephen Lander once led MI5, the UK's internal security agency.

However, Soca is employing hundreds of former police officers.

It amalgmates the National Crime Squad, the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS), and investigators from Customs and the Home Office's Immigration Service.

It's not an easy thing to take out the top people who are top of the criminal pile
Peter Blekesley, former detective

The new body will use international agencies to identify links between illegal gangs in the UK and abroad.

Former National Crime Squad detective Peter Blekesley told the BBC: "This organisation needs to be elite. It needs to be secretive to a certain degree.

"To catch people in the highest echelon of organised crime needs a lot of dedication, a lot of expertise a lot of officers who are multi-skilled, and devotion to the task.

"It's not an easy thing to take out the top people who are top of the criminal pile."

Spotting trends

Soca's success will not be measured in numbers of arrests, quantities of drugs seized or money confiscated as the result of fraud.

Instead it will try to educate the public and use intelligence to spot trends.

The agency begins its work as the government is attempting to merge many of England and Wales's 43 police forces.

Alan Gordon, vice-chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said: "We find it rather bizarre that the 700 or so police officers that have transferred across to Soca have lost their police officer status and are now not regarded as police officers."

He added that he thought the government had a "plan" to move functions of policing to "other agencies".

But Ken Jones, chairman of the Association of Police Officers, said forces had to restructure to "support Soca and tackle criminality at that gap between the national and international (levels), and that which happens in localities".

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