Volunteers top most wanted list for 'Britain's FBI' as National Crime Agency is launched

Britain's elite new police force launches today with appeal for private sector to fill its skills gap

Crime Correspondent

Britain’s new elite police agency is to sign up a force of unpaid bankers, accountants and computer experts to help tackle the country’s most serious criminals.

The private-sector recruitment drive is a central part of the National Crime Agency’s strategy to disrupt gangs involved in drug trafficking, gun smuggling, child abuse, corruption, fraud and cyber crime.

The agency begins its work today with a pledge to target 37,000 criminals linked to 5,500 gangs. It replaces the discredited Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) – often dubbed Britain’s FBI – which was criticised for its failure to put enough “Mr Bigs” behind bars and for not doing enough to claw back their criminal assets.

Critics questioned whether the new agency – which has few legal powers that were not granted to Soca – would be effective, with Labour saying yesterday that the NCA was merely a “rebranding” exercise. The plan to recruit industry experts to address a shortage of technical skills indicates the nature of emerging threats from organised crime and the sophisticated technology which allows them to be successful.

The agency has already recruited 10 volunteers, so-called “NCA Specials”, and is now looking for accountants, computer experts and lawyers to help it locate hidden criminal assets, the organisation’s director-general Keith Bristow said. The estimated cost of fraud from organised gangs has reached nearly £9bn a year.

Criminals with specific skills and who have served their sentences will not be allowed to volunteer and all those who are accepted will be vetted, Mr Bristow said. “We have people queuing up at the door… we are finding no shortage of people wanting to join us, but we have to be highly selective.”

Labour said on Sunday that it would be asking questions in Parliament about the basis for taking on the volunteers and the level of expertise within the NCA. “The Government is not yet prepared to tackle the challenges of the 21st century,” David Hanson, the shadow policing minister, said.

Steve Williams, chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said the push for volunteers was likely a reflection of the Government’s budget cuts. “This is symptomatic of what is happening across the service,” he said. “We have lost around 14,000 police officers; it’s a ‘more for less’ culture [and] you have to ask where it will stop.”

Mr Bristow said that the NCA would be an “open, transparent and accountable” organisation but would not comply with freedom-of-information requests, unlike police forces. Labour has called for private sector involvement in policing to be subject to such scrutiny. “We rely on relationships with overseas law enforcement to assist in what we do,” Mr Bristow said. “We’re also going to increasingly rely on the relationship with the private sector. There’s a very real danger that being required to operate in line with freedom of information could fracture some of those relationships.”

The NCA is the third major overhaul of organised-crime policing since 1997 and represents a change in approach to tackling the most serious criminals. Tony Blair vowed to “make life hell” for criminals when he set up Soca in 2006, which brought together police, intelligence agencies, customs and immigration. But the agency was riven with in-fighting, according to former members.

The new organisation will take on many Soca staff but the police-led service is designed to be more visible than its predecessor and has a wider remit to tackle organised crime with a £463m budget. It will keep staff in 120 countries including Pakistan.

Witness protection has UK-wide remit

The first UK-wide witness protection scheme is to be launched today to help secure convictions and care for vulnerable witnesses. More than 3,000 people whose lives are at risk will get protection under the UK Protected Persons Service, said Helen Grant, the victims minister.

“People who put their lives at risk to bring dangerous criminals to justice are the unsung heroes of society. They deserve our thanks and protection. That’s why the UK Protected Persons Service is so important,” Ms Grant said.

Last year, just over a quarter of prosecutions that collapsed, did so because a witness or victim was reluctant to give evidence.

In 2009/10, 18 per cent of court witnesses said they or their family felt intimidated, and 40 per cent said they were worried about coming into contact with the defendant and their supporters.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
News
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
people
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
News
i100
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot