Law to curb `cowboy' security companies

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New laws to stop people with criminal records becoming security guards, and to penalise companies employing them, are to be recommended by a Common's committee of MPs. The Government is expected to accept the proposals and legislate against "cowboy" outfits.

The all-party Home Affairs Select Committee will publish the findings of its nine-month investigation into the security industry by June, but the Independent has learnt MPs have already decided to call for statutory regulation. They want compulsory licensing and minimum training standards. The police, opposition parties, trade associations, and most large security firms have long called for government regulation. The inquiry was set up after growing evidence that criminals, including murdererss, were regularly working in the industry.

The committee, which will fine-tune its report in the next few weeks, will recommend the setting up of an independent agency to vet applications from private security guards. It will have access to police records. Guards and security companies will need a licence from the new authority and operating without one will mean criminal charges, it will be proposed. Security companies will also have to fulfil a "minimum standard of quality" before starting business.

The vetting agency will be independent, but the Home Secretary will retain overall control, MPs will suggest. It should be self-financing, with applicants or employees paying for a licence.

The committee will conclude that licensing would "substantially" reduce the number ofguards with records. Police believe about 2,600 crimes are committed a year by private guards. A survey by the Association of Chief Police Officers found one was a killer on the run. In another firm, employing 26 people, 11 had a total of 74 convictions including rape, firearms offences, house breaking and assault.

The private security industry employs an estimated 162,000 people in 8,000 companies - more than the uniformed police service. Anyone can set up a security company and there is no official way of vetting would- be guards. Britain is the only European country without legislation governing the industry.

The report is also expected to note that the Home Office is employing guards that are not members of either of the two voluntary trade associations - contradicting the government position that the existing system of self- regulation is working.

Companies fitting security devices will not need licences, but that should be reviewed, the committee will say. On bouncers, MPs believe the Government should help to issue national guidelines rather than legislate against them.

Andrew Mace, of the British Security Industry Association, said: "Regulation is badly needed. We now have all sorts of unsavoury operators setting up firms to offer quasi policing services without any forms of checks or controls."

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