Exclusive: ‘Britain’s FBI’ in crisis as officers face data charges

Crime agency rocked by prosecution of a man and a woman in connection with unlawfully obtaining documents

The National Crime Agency is embroiled in its first controversy after two of its officers were suspended and charged with data protection offences following an investigation into criminals in Essex, The Independent can disclose.

Sheila Roberts and Brian Adair – who both work for the agency dubbed Britain’s FBI – have been accused of unlawfully obtaining sensitive information, including intelligence reports and details of people inside NCA operations.

They were initially held on suspicion of misconduct in public office after their own agency investigated allegations of links between its staff and the criminal underworld.

Ms Roberts and Mr Adair worked on a drug-trafficking investigation by the NCA, which was set up by the Home Secretary, Theresa May, at the end of last year. All proceedings in relation to the allegations of misconduct in public office have been dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service.

Both officers have, however, been charged with data protection offences along with Glyn Evans, a former superintendent from Norfolk Police, who is listed as a co-director of a British private security firm that protects UK embassies across central America.

The two NCA officers remain suspended and are also subject to internal disciplinary proceedings. Details of the long-running case can only now be reported after The Independent overturned a court order banning any mention of the charges.

The prosecutions of Ms Roberts and Mr Adair are the first big blow for the NCA, which was handed a £450m budget to hunt down cyber criminals, drug barons, paedophile gangs and people traffickers. Last night, Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said: “I am astounded by these revelations given the fact that this organisation was set up to provide a fresh approach to policing serious and organised crime. It is vital that all those who enforce the law act with the utmost integrity.”

The two NCA officers and Mr Evans, who is alleged to have unlawfully obtained secret counter-terrorism documents, are being prosecuted by the Information Commissioner, who enforces the Data Protection Act.

According to his LinkedIn page, Mr Evans spent 23 years with Essex Police before moving to Norfolk where he rose to be a superintendent. He then became a director of Corporate Security Consultants (CSC), based in Harlow, Essex. On its website, CSC claims to have provided security for British, American and Canadian diplomats – and one “member of the British Royal Family”.

The company’s co-director, Andrew John Mullen, was present in Sonsonate, El Salvador, in 2010 when one of CSC’s then employees, David Koch Arana, was arrested in possession of an M-16 rifle.

Mr Arana is a retired colonel from the El Salvador military and is a controversial figure in the region. Following a local outcry after the arrest, the UK ambassador to Guatemala, Julie Chappell, publicly backed Mr Mullen and told a newspaper that he was a “charitable and respectable businessman”.

The following year, Mr Mullen was made an MBE for “services to the British community, charitable activities and British commercial interests in Guatemala”.

A CSC spokesman said: “We were totally unaware that Mr Evans was involved in any ongoing investigation, and as soon as we were made aware of this fact his employment with the company was terminated immediately. Group CSC has had no further dealings with Mr Evans.”

Mr Evans, who is still listed as a CSC director at Companies House, was charged with unlawfully obtaining sensitive information in the form of a counter-terrorism tasking assessment classed as secret.

Brian Adair was charged with unlawfully obtaining sensitive information in the form of intelligence reports from a Soca (Serious Organised Crime Agency) operation.

Sheila Roberts was charged with three counts of unlawfully obtaining and disclosing sensitive information, including intelligence reports and information about people in another Soca investigation.

An NCA spokesperson said: “The NCA expects the highest standards of professionalism from all of its officers, and has a zero-tolerance approach to corruption.”

A love of secrecy: National Crime Agency

The National Crime Agency was created by Theresa May in October last year in an attempt to tackle serious and organised crime.

The Home Secretary was said to be frustrated with Scotland Yard’s performance  following a series of scandals over ‘Plebgate’, Hillsborough, undercover police officers and the murder of Stephen Lawrence.

Led by former chief constable Keith Bristow, the NCA is staffed largely with officials from the troubled Serious Organised Crime Agency, which was wound up last year following a series of revelations in The Independent.

The NCA has inherited Soca’s love of secrecy, and obtained a court order banning any mention of the arrest of Roberts, Adair and Evans until The Independent successfully challenged it last week.

The lack of accountability echoes controversy over the NCA’s arrest of Downing Street aide Patrick Rock on suspicion of child pornography offences. The Daily Mail broke the story about David Cameron’s trusted adviser but the NCA refused to “confirm or deny” its involvement in any “ongoing investigation”.

It later emerged only a tiny proportion of the 350 NCA arrests since its inception have been publicised, leading to accusations of “secret justice”.

TOM HARPER