In the latest warning by police to the intelligence services to be wary of treading on their territory, Neil Dickens, the national co-ordinator of Regional Crime Squads, said others 'would step in' if the police did not grapple effectively with international criminality.
Speaking at the spring conference of the Association of Chief Police Officers, Mr Dickens suggested that the Intelligence Services Bill - which puts MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service and GCHQ, the electronic monitoring agency, on a statutory footing - gave them opportunities to operate in police areas. The Bill allows them to gather intelligence abroad on serious crime.
Mr Dickens made a strong plea for all six regional crime squads, which investigate crimes that cross police force boundaries, to become one centrally organised body in order to increase efficiency.
Such a body, he said, was needed to deal with the fact that major criminals operated across force and national boundaries and that different forces and regional squads still operated in differing ways.
For example, RCS officers from one region travelled to the other end of the country to conduct surveillance when they could easily ask local RCS officers to conduct it on their behalf. 'There is no such thing as a regional criminal. These days they are either committing crime in their own neighbourhood or locality, alternatively they are prepared to travel wherever the criminal opportunity exists, which does not simply mean the UK.' The deployment of RCS officers abroad had increased dramatically in recent years to cope with this.
He added: 'Because of the escalation of international serious crime, something needs to be done. If Acpo does not grip this then others will step in - one only has to consider the new role and responsibilities for the Security Services as proposed by the Bill.'
Speaking afterwards, Mr Dickens said the Bill was the first time that the role of MI6 in intelligence gathering over drugs trafficking and organised crime outside the United Kingdom had been spelt out.
'I hope that their activities will be complementary rather than competitive to ours and I am anxious to be positive rather than negative.'
The Bill, which has reached its Committee Stage in the House of Commons, is likely to become law later this year. It allows both agencies to 'act in support of the prevention or detection of serious crimes' outside the UK.
Mr Dicken's comments follow concerns among some chief constables that MI5, the Security Service, might be seeking to expand its role into intelligence gathering on drugs and major crime inside the United Kingdom. However, this has been repeatedly denied by both MI5 and the Home Office and would require a change in the law.
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