Site of most wanted criminals crashes on launch day

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The Independent Online

Britain's first FBI-style "most-wanted" website to help catch fugitives crashed nine hours after its launch yesterday, overwhelmed by more than 350,000 hits.

The site lists Britain's top 10 most-wanted criminals, many other offenders and unidentified suspects caught on surveillance cameras.

Those suspected of murder, terrorism and sex attacks - particularly serial offences - will rank in the top 10. Anyone with information about any suspect can tell the police or Crimestoppers, the charity which set up the website, by telephone or anonymously via e-mail.

But the organisers of www.mostwanted-uk.org were taken by surprise by public interest in the site. Between 6am and 3pm it was accessed more than 350,000 times.

With the huge public interest, detectives are convinced the website will eventually be an effective way of catching criminals and will help track those who have fled to different parts of the country.

The seriousness of each suspect's alleged crime will be the main factor in choosing whether they make the top 10 list. Newer appeals will also be given a higher priority.

But the site will also list suspects in dozens of less serious crimes from around Britain. People will be able to check whether there are any fugitives or unsolved crimes from their local area. They can also put in personal descriptions if they have seen somebody that looks like a suspect.

As well as providing descriptions and photographs of the most serious types of alleged offenders, the site also has CCTV footage of unidentified suspects.

In one case, Humberside Police have posted a photograph of an unknown woman, aged between 15 and 20, who is wanted in connection with an assault by a gang in which the victim was left with a punctured lung and broken ribs. The suspect was caught on a store CCTV system in Victoria Dock in Hull, on 3 June this year.

So far, 12 police forces have signed up, but Crimestoppers is confident that it will soon be used by all 43 forces in England and Wales, as well as police in Scotland.

Although several forces already have their own most-wanted lists for their area, there has, until now, been no place where they could issue nationwide appeals for information online.

It will also be the first time people have been able to give anonymous tip-offs via e-mail. The website technology will strip out all address details on the message to ensure it cannot be traced.

A spokeswoman for Crimestoppers said the charity had been amazed by the public response and hoped to have the website operating today.

Mick Laurie, chief executive of the charity, said: "We are convinced this will be successful because whenever the police use a photograph [of a suspect] and that is well-publicised, the chances of [suspects] being caught are much higher."

Nick Ross, presenter of the BBC's Crimewatch, said the website was the biggest advance since the "Wanted" poster, and added: "It is astonishing this has never happened before."

Detective Superintendent Sean Cunningham of the Metropolitan Police, who co-ordinates material collected by Crimestoppers, said: "It will give us a national picture for the first time ."

Five fugitives on the website

* James Francis Hurley, 42, sentenced to life in prison in 1989 for murdering a policeman and armed robbery, escaped in a transfer between prisons in February 1994. He killed PC Frank Mason who intervened in the robbery of a security van outside a bank in Hemel Hempstead in April 1988. While being moved to Wandsworth Prison he and another prisoner pulled a knife on a prison officer and he managed to escape. Hurley is the only convicted murderer of a police officer in the UK who is on the run. He is white and about 6ft tall.

* Hayman Mustafa, 24, wanted in connection with the murder of Ahmed El-Hamid, 32, stabbed in Teddington, south-west London, in July 2003. The suspect is of Arabic appearance, about 5'6" to 5'8" tall and of stocky build.

* Yousef Ahmed Wahid, 37, wanted in connection with the murder of Fatima Kama, whose body was found in a suitcase in a car park at Heathrow Airport in July 1999. Mr Wahid, from Lebanon, was living in the Edgware Road area of London, having visited from the United States. He has family connections in the US, Kuwait and across the Arab world.

* Ayub Khan, wanted in connection with the murders of Amarjit Singh and his nephew Rajinder Singh, who owned a hotel in east London. In August 2003 they saw three Asian men damaging their van. One man produced a machine pistol and shot them both dead. A £10,000 reward is being offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction.

* Sukhdip Singh Chhina, wanted for questioning over the fatal stabbing of Falwinder Singh Badesha in September this yearin Belvedere. He has contacts in Gravesend, Kent, and Southall, west London, and comes from Amritsar in India.