28 officers go in crime squad corruption purge

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TWENTY EIGHT officers from the elite National Crime Squad have been removed from the force after allegations of corruption and malpractice, it was revealed yesterday.

Two retired senior detectives have been hired to provide internal security at the NCS in a technique copied from MI5 and MI6. A dedicated unit of "untouchables" is also being set up to liaise and "run" informants - an area notoriously vulnerable to bribery and corruption. The moves are part of an ongoing anti-corruption drive.

Roy Penrose, the director general of the NCS, said that members of the squad, who deal with the country's most sophisticated and powerful criminals, were vulnerable to corruption and there was evidence that officers were being deliberately targeted. A report out this week found that a third of Britain's top 200 criminals had attempted to corrupt the police.

Of the 28 detectives from the 1,450-strong squad who have been sent back to the police forces from where they were seconded, five were accused of serious corruption. One detective sergeant has been charged in connection with drug allegations, and another officer has been suspended over allegations involving an informant. Twelve other officers were returned because of allegations of fraudulent overtime claims. Others have been returned because of alleged offences included drink driving or procedural irregularities. The two newly appointed anti- corruption officers at the NCS, who took up their posts last week, will offer advice and test out internal security.

NCS detectives will also have to declare details about their finances and undergo covert "integrity testing", such as using undercover offers to test their honesty. Mr Penrose, speaking at the squad's first annual report since being set up in April last year, also disclosed that crime gangs are increasingly arming themselves with firearms smuggled from abroad or by activating supposedly harmless display guns. Gangsters are using the weapons to protect drugs or other illegal goods. Mr Penrose said it was becoming "commonplace" to discover stashes of illegal weapons at addresses used by organised gangs. He warned: "There are sufficient out there to be worrying, but they're not around in their thousands and thousands."

Some of the weapons were stolen inside the UK from inadequately secured but legally held stores. Others were being created from supposedly "deactivated" weapons. Most were smuggled in from abroad. In the past year, one operation against drug traffickers by the NCS led to the seizure of three Uzi sub- machine guns.