Police probe into national crime unit

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The Independent Online
HEATHER MILLS

Home Affairs Correspondent

A top-level police inquiry has been launched into allegations of corruption involving the National Criminal Intelligence Service - Britain's fledgling FBI.

It is understood to focus on leaks of confidential information from the service to the criminal fraternity, including details of telephone taps and other material which it is suggested may have compromised investigations by both the NCIS and other police forces.

The seriousness of the investigation is underlined by the fact that it is being headed by John Stevens, Northumbria's Chief Constable - the man who headed the multi-force inquiry into allegations of collusion between terrorist groups and members of the security forces in Northern Ireland.

The Chief Constable, together with an eight-strong team of detectives, has moved into the south-London-based headquarters of the service, which also houses the UK bureau of Interpol, and which targets organised crime, big drug dealers and money launderers, as well as paedophiles and football hooligans.

Yesterday a spokesman for Northumbria police said: "It is not known how long the inquiry will take or where in the country the investigation might lead." An NCIS spokesman would only say that an inquiry into a "confidential matter" had been launched at the instigation of the service's Director General, Albert Pacey.

But the inquiry is a blow to NCIS, which is expected to lead the new national investigation force, including MI5, as it makes its controversial

expansion into traditional police territory.

Established in April 1992 with a mission to spearhead the gathering of information about the activities of major criminals, NCIS now has around 500 staff spread around the country and a pounds 25m annual budget.

Its officers do not make arrests themselves, but gather, analyse and process intelligence into "packages" which they pass on to other forces which pursue the investigation.

Under plans for a national police force it will be given an operational wing drawn from the country's existing six regional crime squads, which deal with serious offences. This will enable the force to target specific criminals, carry out undercover operations and make arrests.

The security services are expected to work alongside NCIS officers in carrying out surveillance and analysing data. In the 1980s, Mr Stevens headed the multi-force inquiry into allegations of collusion between terrorist groups and members of the security forces in Northern Ireland.

The investigation concluded only recently and, as a result of it, substantial changes were made to army recruiting policy and the handling of security documents. Subsequently 46 people were convicted of offences ranging from conspiracy to murder to breaches of the Official Secrets Act, and sentenced to a total of more than 800 years in prison.

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