Protection of staff: our Second
Report and the Government's Response
189. One of the most urgent messages we received
from staff of the CAB during our visit to Dublin was the advisability
of protecting staff of the Agency and their families from the
threat of intimidation. We were told that the types of individual
who would come to the attention of financial investigators were
likely to be sophisticated and potentially very dangerous criminals;
extreme violence had been threatened and even used against officials
working in this area in the Republic of Ireland prior to the establishment
of the CAB.
For this reason, the founding statute for the Criminal Assets
Bureau included measures to protect individual officers of the
Bureau in the conduct of their work, and to make the disclosure
of the identity of members, or former members of Bureau staff
and of their families a serious criminal offence.
190. We asked our witnesses whether they would
have similar concerns for staff operating in assets recovery in
the UK, and specifically in Northern Ireland. We were assured
that all of the organisations which gave evidence to us recognised
the difficulties of the political situation in Northern Ireland,
and the possibility of paramilitary links to their cases.
191. A variety of special measures were taken
to protect staff when working in Northern Ireland, depending upon
the specific nature of the case under consideration. Nonetheless,
Mr Byrne of Customs & Excise told us that in the course of
normal operations in Northern Ireland there had been six instances
in the last nine months in which officials had been attacked,
by means including stoning, the ramming of vehicles and "serious
The Inland Revenue related instances of telephone and postal threats
to staff, and the bombing of eight offices over a thirty year
period, both in Northern Ireland and on the mainland. While there
had been no bombings in recent years, it was noted that there
had been an increase in attempts at intimidation at a time when
there was press speculation about the Inland Revenue's involvement
with the NIO's Anti-Racketeering Unit.
From such evidence it is clear that there must be the possibility
of similar attempts being made against the new Agency and its
192. We published an interim report on the Proceeds
of Crime Bill on 14 February 2002 in which we recommended that
the Government protect the new Agency's staff by statutory anonymity,
in the way that staff of the Republic of Ireland's Criminal Assets
Bureau were protected.
We then tabled amendments to the Proceeds of Crime Bill to implement
our recommendation, which were debated during consideration of
the Bill on 27 February 2002.
193. During that debate the Minister, Bob Ainsworth
MP, welcomed our report and recommendation. He explained that
although our proposal was potentially a "big step",
given the current very limited anonymity provisions in UK law,
the Government was seriously considering whether such provisions
might be possible. Having referred to the particular situation
in Northern Ireland, he concluded the debate by saying:
"...I recognise the issues and ...I shall
do my level best to ensure that we can do something that is effective
if that is in any way possible ... If we can find ways and means
of giving such useful protections, we should seek to do so."
When he replied formally to our Second Report, and
other concerns which we raised privately in correspondence, he
indicated that the Government was continuing to look into the
matter and would "bring forward any necessary amendment during
the Bill's passage in the House of Lords". This response
is reprinted in the appendices to this Report.
194. We were pleased with the sympathetic response
which the Government had made to our suggestion; nonetheless,
we believed that the issue was too important to let rest. We are
very grateful to Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, the Chairman
of our Committee in the previous Parliament, who enabled us to
pursue the development of the Government's thoughts on this matter
by tabling our amendments again during consideration of the Bill
in the House of Lords.
195. Our amendments were debated in the House
of Lords on 22nd April 2002. On that occasion the Minister, Lord
Rooker confirmed that an amendment would be brought forward to
Part 12 of the Bill. He said:
"...the amendment that we intend to table
will empower the director of the agency, and only the director,
to direct that members of agency staff may operate using pseudonyms
in circumstances where they would otherwise need to identify themselves
by name. That will, we believe, provide an important protection
in appropriate cases."
196. The amendment was subsequently made in
the House of Lords on 27th May. The new clause (Agency staff:
pseudonyms), provides the director of the Agency with the power
described by Lord Rooker in the paragraph above. It also states:
"In any proceedings or application under
this Act a member of the staff of the Agency in respect of whom
a direction [for the use of a pseudonym] is in force must not
be asked (and if asked is not required to answer) any question
which is likely to reveal his true identity."
The amendment must also be agreed to by the House
of Commons before it can pass into law.
197. We appreciate the very positive response
from the Government towards our suggestion that staff of the Assets
Recovery Agency should receive some form of statutory protection
of their identities. We believe that staff of the Agency will
be able to work far more effectively and safely because of it.
198. The Government has taken some significant
steps in developing its strategy against terrorism, and against
organised crime. The importance of cutting paramilitaries off
from their sources of income has been recognised, and joint working
against organised crime looks set to contribute significantly
to the reduction of that threat.
199. What is important now is that these
advances in strategy are followed through. Those who are actively
engaged in the difficult and dangerous work of tackling paramilitaries
and serious criminals have a right to expect not only a formal
commitment to their work but properly resourced support by Government
for the long term.
200. It is also imperative that the Government
continue to take direct action to compel those connected with
paramilitary organisations - within both traditions - to cease
all paramilitary activity. Reports that some weapons have been
put beyond use are, of course, welcome. But when acts of decommissioning
are swiftly followed by further evidence of continued gun-running,
intimidation and brutal physical assaults, including on children,
by paramilitary organisations which have declared themselves to
be on ceasefire, it is difficult not to feel a sense of hypocrisy.
Until such fundamentally destructive acts cease, Northern Ireland
cannot truly know a peaceful future.