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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 March 2008, 16:27 GMT
Low cost flights 'help criminals'
Benidorm, Spain
Spain has been a traditional destination for British fugitives
Too many organised criminals are using low-cost air fares and relaxed border controls in Europe to evade justice, the head of Merseyside police has said.

Chief Constable Bernard Hogan Howe told the BBC it was unacceptable that someone could just travel to another European country and be "safe".

At present, European Arrest Warrants can only be used once police have enough evidence to charge a suspect.

The Home Office said new European Evidence Warrants were planned.

Safe haven

European Arrest Warrants, introduced in 2004, have reduced the time it takes for criminals to be extradited - but they can only be used once the police have enough evidence for the suspect to be charged.

Mr Hogan Howe called for greater powers to extradite suspects for questioning.

Mr Hogan Howe said he was concerned that a significant amount of crime was being committed by "second division" criminals who were benefiting from low-cost travel and relaxed border controls in Europe.

Chief Constable Bernard Hogan Howe
Mr Hogan Howe was speaking at a conference on organised crime

"Quite often now criminals are not that organised - but they can spend a small amount on a low-cost airline and they are away and out of our grasp, and they may be arranging drug supplies.

"We need to be able to be as flexible as they are," he said.

Speaking recently at a conference on organised crime, the chief constable said he wanted "extradition warrants for interview" - the power to interview a suspect abroad by going to court for a warrant.

'Step too far'

It would also allow suspects to rule themselves out of an inquiry, he said.

He added that covert officers should have greater ability to conduct surveillance and pursue suspects across borders.

"Too many people are getting away with too much crime", said Mr Hogan Howe.

But speaking on BBC Radio Four's Today programme, the Liberal Democrat spokesman on European justice, Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP, said Mr Hogan Howe's proposals risked being a "step too far".

She said more safeguards would be needed to protect civil liberties and human rights, adding that police should be using existing methods of legal assistance and co-operation across borders between police forces.

She said extending the European arrest warrant too far could "risk becoming a lazy option" for police forces.

'Police-like powers'

A Home Office spokesperson said: "Criminals cannot evade justice simply by crossing an international border. The European Arrest Warrant is a success, enabling extradition to take place between the UK and all states of the EU.

"We recognise improvements can be made to the current system for gathering evidence across borders. The new European Evidence Warrant is geared towards speeding up the process of obtaining evidence and is expected to be implemented in 2010.

"The UK's border is secure. Our border controls stop criminals who want to bring in drugs and illegal migrants to the UK. With police-like powers for frontline staff, we are ramping-up protection against illegal immigration, terrorism and crime."

In January, police named 10 suspected British criminals thought to be living in Spain.

A joint operation between Crimestoppers, the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) and Spanish police, known as Operation Captura, has already resulted in the capture of eight criminals since October 2006.

The Chief Constable of Merseyside's extradition call

List of Spanish fugitives
23 Jan 08 |  UK
Life on the 'Costa del Crime'
11 Jul 02 |  Europe

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