pounds 20 note changes to beat forgers

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THE BANK of England is to issue new pounds 20 notes because counterfeiters are flooding the market with fake currency.

The new notes - on which the figure of Michael Faraday will be replaced by Edward Elgar - are due to be available from May. A range of extra security features will be included in the huge operation, which will result in the replacement of notes worth pounds 10bn. They will also bear a special security motif for people to check whether they have a forgery.

The extent of the counterfeiting problem was illustrated by a recent police operation against a gang of forgers who were caught preparing to print high-quality pounds 20 notes with a face value of more than pounds 2m on an industrial estate in Kent. The counterfeiters, who are understood to have been bankrolled by the notorious London criminal outfit, the Adams family, had successfully carried out a test run and distributed pounds 100,000 of notes throughout the country. Detectives say that the pounds 20 note is most frequently forged because the smaller denominations are not worth enough, while the pounds 50 note attracts too much scrutiny. Forgers can use computer technology and advanced printing techniques to produce increasingly good copies of banknotes. Of the 1,361 million notes printed last year, 349 million were pounds 20. They now make up nearly half of the pounds 24bn of notes in circulation. The Bank of England estimates that the total value of forged notes is less than pounds 240m. Police seized pounds 6.1m of counterfeit notes last year.

The new pounds 20 will be the most counterfeit-proof note the Bank has produced. The face of Elgar will be on the back, alongside an illustration of Worcester Cathedral, the city where the composer was born. The new note is expected to replace the old one completely by the end of 2002. The police have carried out a series of operations against major counterfeiting gangs in the past year. One of the top-level outfits is due to be sentenced on Monday.

In a joint operation by the National Crime Squad and the National Criminal Intelligence Service, five men were caught running an illegal money printing factory in Kent.

During Operation Rotary police recovered printing and computer equipment, and enough ink and paper to make counterfeit pounds 20 notes worth pounds 2.1m. The gang had already produced and distributed pounds 100,000 worth, while a further pounds 40,000 was waiting for collection. Police described the counterfeit notes as being very high quality and the forgers as "top of the line".

Each member of the team was chosen for his special skills. Simon Williams, 40, was a printer and was jailed for three years yesterday. Frederick Churchill, 61, who was jailed for 30 months, helped Williams and provided some of the forgery equipment. Mark Field, 37, who has yet to be sentenced, was a computer expert who helped to design and copy the notes. Robert St John, 37, supplied the paper used for the notes and was jailed for 18 months, and Jeffrey Sullivan, 59, who received a three-year prison sentence, was the contact with the underworld.