Page last updated at 14:31 GMT, Wednesday, 13 May 2009 15:31 UK

Agency targeting 5,000 criminals

Cocaine seized in the North Atlantic
Cocaine worth 40m was seized in the North Atlantic after a Soca operation

At least 5,000 criminals are now in the sights of the UK's organised crime fighting agency after a 75% rise in operations, its boss has said.

Bill Hughes, director general of the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca), also said £175m of assets were seized in the UK this year plus £88m overseas.

Of the 287 cases that reached court, 266 - or 93% - ended in a conviction, Soca's annual report showed.

The total number of UK arrests for 2008/9 were 781, with 775 abroad.

More than 85 tonnes of cocaine were seized, slightly up on last year, and seizures of heroin, opium and cannabis also rose, the report revealed.

Mr Hughes said criminals included drug smugglers, people traffickers and crime bosses working inside prisons.

'Real impact'

Soca would focus on the "lifetime management" of offenders by monitoring their activities, taking out civil actions and sharing intelligence with other agencies, he added.

"We've now got a list of about 5,000 people where we have the intelligence and information that we require in order to do effective operational work," Mr Hughes said.

"We've identified people who weren't on the radar before and we've also identified people who were but we didn't know exactly what it was they were doing.

Let me be clear that the Serious Organised Crime Agency is here to stay
Prime Minister Gordon Brown

"A lot of these people are entrepreneurs, they go where the money is and often have many fingers in different pies.

"If someone is a drug trafficker but we know where they are vulnerable elsewhere then we will take them out for whatever we can do elsewhere."

Mr Hughes also said keeping up with new technologies, such as the use of games consoles to pass messages in prison, was another key part of its work.

Soca, now in its third year, tackles drug trafficking, immigration crime, fraud, cyber crime, firearms trafficking, kidnap and extortion.

Concerns have been raised that the agency has not done enough in the past to justify its £400m budget, with the Conservatives hinting they might even abolish it.

But on Tuesday, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: "Let me be clear that the Serious Organised Crime Agency is here to stay.

"We need to go further, and we will shortly be publishing a new strategy that sets out how we will make Britain an even more hostile environment for all organised criminals."

Soca chairman Sir Stephen Lander said it was starting to make a "real impact", particularly in the areas of cocaine, fraud and people trafficking.

Sir Stephen, who retires in the summer, said he was "really proud" of his staff.

Home Office Minister Alan Campbell said: "Soca was set up to tackle organised crime in a different way, bringing an approach which involved a better understanding of the crimes and criminals involved.

"It needs to work very closely with a wide range of partners both in the UK and also abroad."

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