New 'FBI' to fight serious crime

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Indy Politics

Legislation creating the British equivalent of the American FBI was confirmed in today's Queen's Speech.

Legislation creating the British equivalent of the American FBI was confirmed in today's Queen's Speech.

The elite new squad boasting 5,000 investigators taken from a number of existing law enforcement agencies will be set up under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill.

The Bill will also contain "radical" reform of police powers - a move which could bring the Government into conflict with civil liberties groups.

The new crime-fighting force, entitled the Serious Organised Crime Agency, or Soca, will attempt to crack down on drug gangs, people traffickers, major fraudsters and internet paedophiles.

It may see analysts trained by the security services - MI5, MI6 and GCHQ - working alongside police to target criminal "Mr Bigs" and their henchmen.

The former head of MI5, Sir Stephen Lander, has already been appointed to the key job of Soca chairman - the first ex-spymaster to play such a crucial role in British policing.

The Queen said: "Legislation will be introduced to establish the Serious Organised Crime Agency, and the powers the police and others have to fight crime will be strengthened."

A Home Office spokesman said the Bill would include a "radical overhaul" of police officers' powers under the 1984 Police and Criminal Evidence Act.

It will also extend the powers of community support officers and police civilian staff.

"These changes would better equip both police officers and police staff with the necessary powers to fight crime and anti-social behaviour in communities and free up officers for frontline duties," said the spokesman.

It will also create a new offence of incitement to religious hatred to protect faith groups - particularly Muslims - from hate attacks.

Today's speech contained little detail, but a consultation paper published in August suggested making every offence arrestable and allowing CSOs to direct traffic, tackle begging, search people for weapons and enforce by-laws.

The paper also asked whether police should be able to fingerprint and photograph suspects at any time rather than having to take them back to a police station, and reform of search warrants so they apply to any premises occupied or accessed by a named person.

Soca will replace the National Crime Squad, the National Criminal Intelligence Service and investigation teams at HM Customs and Excise and the Immigration Service.

When he was appointed in August, Sir Stephen said he favoured allowing phone tap evidence to be used in British courts for the first time.

He said there would have to be "robust arrangements" to protect sources and techniques.

The security services are known to oppose such a move because they fear it will expose their electronic surveillance techniques to scrutiny.

Sir Stephen had a 25-year career in the security service and served as director general from 1996 to 2002.

The current head of the National Crime Squad, Bill Hughes, has been named director general of Soca and will be in operational control of its investigations and its 5,000 agents.

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