Superforce may see Specials return to NI: MP
LONDONDERRY MP Mark Durkan has expressed concern that a proposed new police superforce to tackle organised crime, strengthen borders, fight fraud and protect children will lead to the appointment of special constables in Northern Ireland for the first time since the B Specials.
Mr Durkan also worried that the proposed National Crime Agency (NCA) will operate as another force alongside the PSNI and that officers will be able to hold positions in both.
The Londonderry MP made the comments during a debate on the Crime and Courts Bill which seeks to establish the NCA and abolish the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) and the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA).
He warned that the NCA will effectively be able to tell he PSNI what to do by issuing ‘compulsion orders’ through the Northern Ireland Policing Board (NIPB).
He also raised the issue of accountability and said he did not wish to see a situation where - like national security policing in NI under MI5 - the activities of the NCA are put beyond the scope of the Policing Board.
“The previous Government did some injury to that (accountability) as a result of moves to put national security policing in Northern Ireland in the hands of MI5,” said Mr Durkan.
“Those activities were moved beyond the purview of the accountable policing structures in Northern Ireland, such as the scrutiny undertaken by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland for the Northern Ireland Policing Board, which is where the ombudsman had been sensibly and deliberately placed,” he added.
Mr Durkan said the establishment of the NCA will add a further complication by creating an additional police force and constables.
“Indeed, special constables will be created again in Northern Ireland,” he told MPs. “Having many years ago, courtesy of the civil rights movement, seen off the B Specials, we now face the potential appointment of NCA specials by the director general of the NCA.”
The Londonderry SDLP representative also raised questions about the powers of the proposed superforce - claiming NCA officials will be able to hold PSNI posts.
“We will see that some people can be both NCA specials and Police Service of Northern Ireland officers, but that anything they do in one capacity cannot be cited in relation to anything they do in the other,” he said.
“The Bill provides that they can hold, coterminously, those two sets of constable powers, which will have serious implications for the Policing Board with regard to its key oversight role on policing.
“It will also create potential difficulties down the road for the police ombudsman in dealing with any complaints, and it means, presumably, that officers who are both NCA specials and PSNI officers will be subject to two separate complaint authorities,” he added.
Labour MP Paul Goggins shared some of Mr Durkan’s concerns and said it was important that SOCA officers now, and NCA officers in future, if acting with the authority of a PSNI officer in NI are made fully accountable to the Policing Ombudsman.
Mr Durkan said this needed to be tested and clarified by the Public Bill Committee.
He also warned that the director of the NCA may be able to tell the PSNI what to do using compulsions issued through the Policing Board.
The Bill provides for a compulsion to be issued to the Northern Ireland Policing Board,” said Mr Durkan. “There is obviously provision for there to be co-operation and engagement between the NCA and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, but there is also provision for directed assistance, which allows the Department of Justice to direct the Policing Board to provide particular assistance, whether or not the Policing Board wants to make that provision.
“It seems to me that the director of the NCA will be in a position almost to require the Department of Justice to, in turn, impose a requirement on the PSNI via the Policing Board.”
The Sentinel reported last year Secretary of State Theresa Villiers’ claim that the 4,000 strong NCA will be headed up by its first Director General Keith Bristow, who was formerly Chief Constable of the Warwickshire police and a former director of the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS).
She said the new force would also be driven by an “intelligence hub.”
She stated: “The NCA will be an agency of operational crime fighters, comprising four commands (Organised Crime, Border Policing, Economic Crime and Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP)) and a National Cyber Crime Unit.
“It will be driven by an ‘intelligence hub’ and an effective set of tasking and co-ordination arrangements.
Subject to the passage of legislation, the NCA will be established by the end of 2013.
The Home Office says it is necessary as organised crime costs the UK between £20 billion and £40 billion a year and organised crime groups often operate across boundaries - both in terms of crime type and geography.
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Monday 20 May 2013
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