To be published as HC 659- i




Home Affairs Committee

The work of the National Crime Agency

Tuesday 15 OCTOBER 2013

Keith Bristow QPM

Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 - 66



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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Home Affairs Committee

on Tuesday 15 October 2013

Members present:

Keith Vaz (Chair)

Mr James Clappison

Michael Ellis

Dr Julian Huppert

Steve McCabe

Mark Reckless

Mr David Winnick


Examination of Witness

Witness: Keith Bristow QPM, Head, National Crime Agency, gave evidence.

Q1 Chair: Could I ask everyone present to note the Register of Members’ Interests where the interests of members of this Committee are noted? Is there any other interest that any other member wishes to declare in respect of the witnesses today? Good.

This is a one-off session with the Head of the NCA. Could I welcome Keith Bristow? This is your third appearance before the Select Committee, Mr Bristow. You have now been vested. Every time you have been before us, on 17 January and exactly a year ago on 16 October 2012, you said you had been waiting for vesting day. So you have been vested.

Keith Bristow: We have, Chairman. I am very pleased that we are up and running.

Q2 Chair: Excellent. By way of how this Committee wishes to monitor and scrutinise your work and the work of the NCA-because obviously this is the relevant committee of Parliament-in August this year I wrote to you with a number of questions concerning the way in which the NCA operates and which are the missing parts of the old landscape of policing. You wrote back to me last week with a number of paragraphs with some of the information. I spoke to you at the end of last week to ask you to reformat your reply. In future, when the Committee writes to you with a list of questions, it would be very helpful if you would answer the questions that have been sent to you because we wish to monitor this organisation from the start. Do you understand that?

Keith Bristow: The intention was to be helpful, Chairman. If it was not helpful we have corrected our response and hopefully you will find that more helpful.

Q3 Chair: Excellent. When do you think I can expect the response?

Keith Bristow: My understanding is you have had that, Chairman.

Q4 Chair: As of today we have not. It would be very helpful if you could do that for the future. This is something we did not do with SOCA and it is a regret of the Committee that we did not follow things through. So that would be very helpful. Thank you very much for that response.

Let us turn to what you said to us on the last occasion. You told us that there were no benchmarks given to you by the Home Secretary and no targets as to how you were to do your job. When you came before us on 17 January you said, "The Home Secretary has not given me any benchmarks or targets at the moment, apart from to say, ‘You will absolutely protect the public’". That is probably the wish of every politician to every police officer, that they protect the public. Have you now had any more detail from the Home Secretary as to how you are to do your job or what the benchmarks are going to be?

Keith Bristow: The Home Secretary has now set out strategic priorities, as set out in the Crime and Courts Act. I have set some operational priorities in response to those, and I am now clear about the four key performance questions that will be used to test that performance.

Q5 Chair: Which are?

Keith Bristow: Key performance questions are about our understanding of threats from serious organised crime, the effect that the NCA is having on the threats, how well the partnership with police and law enforcement is working and how well we are using public resources.

Q6 Chair: All those are very useful but they are not specific targets, they are general aspirations. One of the reasons why SOCA was not as successful as people would have liked, is the fact that, when reporting back to Parliament and to the public, there was no recognition of meeting certain criteria. You told the public on 8 October that the estimated amount of social and economic crime is £24 billion a year, that there are 37,000 criminals linked to 5,500 gangs and that your job is to disrupt the way in which these gangs and criminals operate. That is right, is it?

Keith Bristow: Our job is to ensure that, with the whole of law enforcement, we understand the nature of the threat from individuals and groups and that they receive the right prioritised law enforcement response. Our response will be to continuously disrupt those people, including taking their assets off them and including bringing them to justice wherever that is possible.

Q7 Chair: In respect of the numbers of criminals, when we come back in a year’s time, because we are not going to see you every week, and we say to you, Mr Bristow, "Have you done better than SOCA who did not manage to ever seize as much assets as is their budget?"-I think they had £500,000 in their budget, you have about £428 million in yours-what are you going to say to us?

Keith Bristow: I think there are some dangers in starting to focus on the organised crime group map. I am not absolutely clear about whether having fewer criminals on the map equals success or more criminals on the map, because it is a function of our understanding of the threat. What I am clear about is I need to improve the alignment of the law enforcement response, so the most dangerous, the most capable, the most intent groups are the subject of the most comprehensive law enforcement response.

Q8 Chair: Surely every other chief officer, including Bernard Hogan-Howe, would say the same thing to a Select Committee of the House of Commons. These are wonderful aspirations, but what we are looking for is something more than aspirations. How will we judge the results? Of course the assessment of a threat is something that every professional can do, but at the end of the day how do we know? Is it the amount of assets you have seized? Is it the number of gangs in existence? Is it the number of people you have arrested? How are we to know what the NCA is going to be doing?

Keith Bristow: There is a very real risk that we focus on what is measurable, rather than measure what is important to try to identify whether we are having the effect that we have been set up to have. So I would have thought that I would want to respond to you in the four areas I have said, around the key performance questions. Some of the issues that you have just mentioned are absolutely a part of understanding whether we are delivering an effect or not. I do not believe there is one single metric that is automatically a binary judgment of whether we are being successful or not. I think our performance needs to be judged in the round, and that is the work that we are doing with the Home Office at the moment to develop a very rigorous framework. The Home Secretary has been very clear with me, this is about delivering results and results is about reducing the effect of serious and organised crime.

Q9 Chair: Again that sounds a little vague but we will put it to the Home Secretary as to what she wants. Our worry last time was, if you had a choice between Sir Humphrey or J Edgar Hoover, that you would become a civil servant rather than someone operational. You came back to us very firmly and you said you intended to be an operational crime fighter. You wanted to go out there and you wanted to apprehend criminals. That is right, is it not?

Keith Bristow: I am the leader of a crime fighting organisation. I am a law enforcement officer. I have done that all of my working life. That is the job that I have come to do. The organisation that I am going to build, develop and lead is a crime fighting organisation that will be feared by criminals.

Q10 Chair: You have had two very big raids. The day you opened there were a lot of NCA people in flak jackets, with "NCA" written on them, surrounding houses in Manchester. This morning 300 of your officers you have tasked from Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, have been out trying to arrest people. I think you have arrested nine people. On both occasions this was widely covered in the media. Is it your intention when you do these raids, as a matter of course, to show that you are visible and out there? One of the criticisms of SOCA was we did not know what they were up to. The media are going to be invited each time you have one of these massive raids, and all your officers are going to be walking around in flak jackets with "NCA" on them?

Mr Winnick: That reminds me of J Edgar Hoover, of course.

Chair: Yes, it does.

Keith Bristow: Our default position is that we want to be visible in the things that we do. There are very good operational reasons for that. I want the public to have confidence that there is a national agency that is leading the fight to cut serious and organised crime, and I want the public to see the difference we are making. I want our partners to be confident in this.

Q11 Chair: I understand that. Basically, the answer is you will be inviting the media when you do all these events?

Keith Bristow: Whenever possible we want to be open and transparent and demonstrate the difference we are making.

Q12 Chair: In terms of the nine arrests that you have made this morning, they were not your officers, they were officers that you tasked. Is that right?

Keith Bristow: No, it was a mixture of police officers from Cambridgeshire Police and Norfolk, officers from the NCA and officers from the Gangmasters Authority. We provided around 70 officers to deliver our particular contribution around human trafficking.

Q13 Chair: Finally, on budgets, you have a budget of, what, £428 million? Is that right?

Keith Bristow: £494 million.

Q14 Chair: £494 million. Do you know what has happened to the other £338.1 million that formed part of the past landscape of policing? Many of the organisations have come under your command but we do not seem to be able to account for £338 million of it.

Keith Bristow: A very substantial proportion of the NPIA went to the Home Office and elsewhere and not to the NCA. We have some quite discrete functions, 188 officers, and I can give you the size of the budget. I am clear in the response that I thought you had received-we certainly sent it-that we set out in some detail what had come to us. I think we have been in a conversation with your clerk that the request about where the other information has gone, he or she has agreed that that should come from the Home Office because it certainly has not come to the NCA.

Chair: Thank you. If colleagues do not have questions on the formation of the NCA let us move on. Yes, Dr Huppert has a question.

Q15 Dr Huppert: One brief question. SOCA had a fantastic international reputation, as we have seen on a number of occasions. What steps are you taking to make sure that there is no confusion for people who work for the NCA in other countries? Obviously "national" would mean something else. I think this Committee has previously suggested having something like a serious overseas crime arm to enable people out there to continue talking. How are you dealing with that?

Keith Bristow: The first thing I would say is I would agree with you that SOCA have a fantastic reputation abroad and very effective partnerships. In building something new and different it is quite easy to focus on what we are going to change. To be clear, we want to build on the international network and not fracture it in any way whatsoever. We have had to widen the remit of our international officers, because we have a wider remit as an agency. That means some new partnerships abroad. It will mean in due course we will need to consider some of the locations that we are going to deploy our officers in. I have spoken to law enforcement colleagues abroad. We spoke to the diplomatic community based in London. We have ensured through DipTels that we have communicated with stations abroad. All of the feedback I am getting is that colleagues are reassured that we are not going to fracture those arrangements and we are going to build on them and reinforce them.

Q16 Mr Winnick: You said you want to be transparent as an organisation, highly commendable. I think you are quoted as saying the NCA should be open, transparent and accountable. We would all agree on that. Why are you opposed to freedom of information requests being made? Not only being made but apparently you are not going to respond.

Keith Bristow: Frankly, it is less about my view. Parliament have come to a view that we are exempt from FOI. I think it is quite a balanced argument. We do want to be open and transparent, and I will show that to yourself and the public. That is how we are going to operate within the bounds of what is sensible for an agency that is about law enforcement and sometimes needs to operate covertly. The difficulty with FOI is that it potentially removed some of our relationships with overseas law enforcement and some of the relationships we need to build and improve with the private sector. I do not think being exempt from the Freedom of Information Act automatically means we are a closed organisation. There is a very clear commitment in the framework agreement about the information that we will publish. As the Chair alluded to earlier, we are going to operate in an open and transparent way and demonstrate the difference we are going to make.

Q17 Mr Winnick: Surely the police could argue the same, and yet they are subject to freedom of information requests and respond accordingly. Obviously it depends on what is being asked and information of a certain kind will obviously not be given, but there is not a blank refusal. There does seem to be-and it is your intention there should be-with the organisation you are heading.

Keith Bristow: If what you mean by "blank refusal" that we will not respond to requests for information, no, that is not the case. My salary, gifts and hospitality, expenses claimed, will all be published. Our default position will be that we want to be as open and transparent as is proper for our particular role. There are some differences with the police. Yes, of course, it is a balanced argument across the whole of law enforcement in Government, but we do hold the responsibility for the international relationships and we need to develop our relationships with the private sector into a different place than they have been previously. Otherwise I think we will struggle to make an impact on threats such as cyber crime.

Q18 Mr Winnick: Mr Bristow, of course you realise, if there was an attitude that would seem to indicate a blank refusal-apart from what you have said, which is all in the public domain, how much you earn, and the rest of it-these are issues that are likely to be raised in the Commons.

Keith Bristow: I am sorry, I am not sure I understand the question, Mr Winnick.

Mr Winnick: Let me put it again. If there was anywhere near a blank refusal to answer questions-apart from what you have already indicated, your salary and so on is already in the public domain-then it is quite likely that such a policy would be raised at some stage in the Commons by this Committee.

Keith Bristow: Yes, I entirely expect that it if it judged that I am not acting in an appropriate way, and the agency is not doing so-and I am accountable for that-I expect that to be scrutinised and challenged. The reassurance I am giving you is I am coming at this wanting to run an open and transparent law enforcement agency, not an intelligence agency. We are intelligence-led but we are a law enforcement agency. I think the public need to know who we are, how we use our powers, what we are doing with our money and what difference we are making.

Mr Winnick: It could be argued that legitimate requests for information should be responded to unless there are compelling reasons why it should not be, but you may wish to reflect on that.

Q19 Chair: We have done a search. We cannot find this letter that I referred to, which was a letter you were supposed to give us answering the 11 questions. The way we want it answered is very similar to the way in which the Commissioner replies. We say questions 1 to 11 and under each of the question numbers we have an answer. We have not received that as yet. Do you have a copy? Do you recall speaking to me on Friday?

Keith Bristow: Yes, I do.

Chair: I said it would be better to have it, and I gave you a deadline of noon on Monday so we could read it before you got here.

Keith Bristow: My understanding was that we had passed that to you. I have just been given a note to say the clerk has told us not to reply and that the questions should be redirected to the Home Office, albeit a reply had been prepared.

Q20 Chair: That is very interesting because that is a very serious issue about accountability to this organisation, the Home Affairs Select Committee. You have just told Mr Winnick that you want to be open and accountable to the public. A Select Committee of this House has written to you. You told us your salary. You are on £214,772 a year. We have asked you 11 questions that we would like answered. We started asking you these questions on 17 January 2012, and you are now telling us that you are not able to answer those questions and that they are going to be answered by whom in the Home Office?

Keith Bristow: I did not say that, Chair. What I said was you wrote to me asking me the questions. I replied in a format that was unacceptable to the Committee. You did speak to me and say, "That is unacceptable. I would like you to answer the questions in the format required". That has been prepared but I understand there has been a conversation with the clerk where I could not answer the questions because the resources have not come to us, and the clerk had directed that we should not respond that it was being redirected to the Home Office.

Q21 Chair: Which clerk?

Keith Bristow: May I just find out the name of the clerk involved?

Chair: Yes.

Keith Bristow: My colleague had a conversation with the second clerk.

Q22 Chair: No, let us get this right. This is the view of this Committee. I want the answers to the questions that I put to you with me at midday tomorrow. Under 1 you answer the question put at number 1. If you cannot answer it, and you do not have the information, then you could say under the relevant question, "It has been referred to the Home Office". At the start of the NCA we will not accept a situation where we write to the head of the NCA and we are told that they will not answer. The clerk has just told me he has not told you not to write back to this Committee. He has said you asked whether the Home Office could reply. That is not acceptable to this Committee. You must reply when I write to you. Do you understand that, Mr Bristow.

Keith Bristow: It was not my intention to be unhelpful. I was trying to be helpful with the information within my gift.

Q23 Chair: You are not being helpful. The most helpful thing to do when a Select Committee of the House writes to someone like you-we have the highest regard for you, we regard your job as being very important-if we give you a list of 11 questions we want a reply in the format that we send. We do not want the Home Office to reply, and no clerk of this Committee has told you that we are happy for the Home Office to reply.

Mr Winnick: No clerk would have the authority to do so.

Chair: We have our own relationship with the Home Secretary and the Home Office. If I wanted to write to her I would not write to you. Is that understood?

Keith Bristow: There is an issue of accuracy, which is I find it difficult to answer a question where resources are within the Home Office and where they have gone within the Home Office.

Q24 Chair: You are a very experienced man. You were a Chief Constable. I know this is not the Warwickshire Police Authority, but if they asked you questions and you did not have an answer, you would very politely say, "I don’t have this information." This is a Committee of the House of Commons. If you don’t have an answer under the relevant question say, "I refer this. I don’t know." That is all.

Keith Bristow: Thank you, Chairman.

Q25 Chair: Excellent. Let us move on to Europol. You have aligned yourself with the comments of Rob Wainwright, in which he said that coming out of Europol would be an unmitigated disaster. The Government has decided to opt out of seven measures. Do you agree with that opt out? Does that cause you any difficulties?

Keith Bristow: I don’t believe I have aligned myself with anyone’s comments. Whenever I have been asked I have been very consistent, which is, to do the job that we have been given to do we need to be able to operate internationally and effectively alongside our international partners. Three of the key capabilities that we need is the ability, for instance, to share intelligence, which Europol help us with, the ability to operate alongside our European law enforcement colleagues in a joint investigation team, and the ability to bring people to justice who may be fugitives abroad through an instrument such as the European Arrest Warrant. How we access those capabilities is a matter for Government. What I have been consistent about is we do need those capabilities to enable us to cut serious and organised crime.

Q26 Chair: Opting out of those seven would be a problem for you to do your job as the head of the NCA?

Keith Bristow: I think the Home Secretary has been very clear that she understands there is an operational need.

Chair: We will ask her. She is coming in after you, so tell us about you.

Keith Bristow: It is a matter for Government how we access those capabilities. If we use European Arrest Warrants as an example, it is a very efficient way of bringing people back to justice and people being extradited and brought back to justice elsewhere within the EU. In the absence of that provision in my view we would need something that was as efficient as possible.

Q27 Chair: You have looked at the proposals that have been put forward. We do not want you to talk about the politics or the policies, it is all operational from you today. We have the Home Secretary later on. You have looked at her proposals to make the European Arrest Warrant better? The Committee is very concerned about the number of Arrest Warrants that come, for example, from a country like Poland. A quarter of all the warrants that are executed here come from Poland, which is a huge number. Are you satisfied that the points that have been put forward by the Home Secretary, as a way of dealing with this practicality of these Arrest Warrant requests, are sufficient for your needs? It is not going to cause you any trouble?

Keith Bristow: It is very easy on occasions to focus on parts of a system or an approach that might not work as we would want. I think for every part of the process around European Arrest Warrants, where we have concerns, there are real success stories. I think the Home Secretary’s provisions and proposals about improving European Arrest Warrants, and seeking to opt back in in due course-

Q28 Chair: You don’t mind if, by the time we opt in to Europol 2 the framework and the landscape has already been decided?

Keith Bristow: I think that is a matter for Government, Chairman.

Q29 Mr Clappison: This Committee has heard evidence where the European Arrest Warrant has trampled over the civil liberties of individuals in this country. It comes down to this, doesn’t it, that we appreciate what you say about capabilities but we have our own system of justice in this country, which is determined by our Parliament and subject to the control of our judiciary? There is an important issue as to whether we retain that or whether we hand it over to the European Union, so that in effect we Europeanise our system of justice with the European judges and, in particular, the European Court of Justice having final jurisdiction.

Keith Bristow: I think I was very clear in how I responded to the question. The capability we need-and we are focused on serious and organised crime-is the ability to bring people to justice here, and for people who ought to be brought to justice elsewhere to ensure that is the case.

Q30 Mr Clappison: Yes, but that we have the priority of saving our system of justice in this country? At least to some of us a priority anyway.

Keith Bristow: That is a matter for Government and for Parliament.

Q31 Mr Clappison: Have you studied the extent to which the European Court of Justice could interfere with the police in this country under the provisions of the Treaty of Lisbon if we were to sign up to it fully?

Keith Bristow: As a law enforcement officer it is for me to operate within the rules that Government and Parliament have decided upon, and that is what I am going to do. What I have been very clear about is the capabilities that we need to cut serious and organised crime. How those are delivered are for Parliament and Government.

Q32 Mr Winnick: On the European Arrest Warrant, it may well be that the changes proposed will not make any difference to the sort of case that I am going to mention. Hussain Osman, one of the failed bombers from 21 July 2005, was extradited from Italy in a matter of eight weeks. Had it not been for the European Arrest Warrant, presumably, Mr Bristow, it would have taken much longer. Would that be your view?

Keith Bristow: I have to say I do not know the particulars of the case, but the European Arrest Warrant does speed up the process of bringing people back to justice.

Q33 Mr Winnick: I understand quite a number of criminals, British nationals who were living in Spain, have been brought back to Britain to face justice. Otherwise it would have taken that much longer?

Keith Bristow: Only last week on our second day of operation, we arrested, alongside South Yorkshire police officers and international colleagues in the Netherlands, somebody who has been wanted since 2010 for drug trafficking. They are now facing extradition and they will come back here and face justice. That is a good thing.

Q34 Chair: Basically you are telling the Committee you want to keep the European Arrest Warrant and you want to be part of Europol?

Keith Bristow: The very nature of serious and organised crime is that criminals will see refuge abroad, as well as operating abroad. We need to have the capability to bring them to justice, to disrupt what they do and, if appropriate, send them to prison.

Q35 Michael Ellis: Mr Bristow, good afternoon. On the subject of disrupting criminals and what they are doing, one of the ways that you no doubt can do that is by trying to locate any hidden criminal assets. Can I ask you about that? I understand that at the NCA you plan to have some mechanism whereby you can recruit volunteers to help locate hidden criminal assets. Could you expand on that a little bit, please? Do you see any mechanism whereby rewards can be offered, things of that sort?

Keith Bristow: Asset confiscation is a hugely important tool in the law enforcement box. It is easy sometimes for us to think about the size of the asset-I think that is important-but we also ought to focus on the disruptive effect of taking the asset off a particular criminal group. We need to pursue those assets in a very assertive and creative way. The one policy that you have just alluded to is around NCA specials. The idea of NCA specials is that there are people who might not want to or be able to work for us full-time who are willing to give their expertise, their time, and their particular knowledge to help law enforcement be more effective. We have recently recruited our first 10 NCA specials. I think some of those people might be able to inform how we operate on matters of confiscation.

Q36 Michael Ellis: Are these civilians?

Keith Bristow: Yes.

Michael Ellis: The ones you have recruited so far are civilians in the same way that Special Police Constables might be sworn?

Keith Bristow: Yes. We have borrowed from the idea but instead of being about capacity, these are about people who have particular niche expertise that can help us.

Q37 Michael Ellis: I see. These are particular sills set individuals, so there might be a computer expert, there might be a language specialist, some type of expertise that they will bring to bear that will help you and the NCA in their task. Is that what you are saying?

Keith Bristow: Those are two examples of exactly the sort of people we have recruited.

Michael Ellis: Already?

Keith Bristow: Yes.

Q38 Michael Ellis: Are they remunerated for that?

Keith Bristow: No.

Q39 Michael Ellis: This is on a voluntary basis?

Keith Bristow: These are people who are civic minded, have something they want to give. There is also an opportunity to receive training and develop their own personal capabilities, but they give their time free of charge.

Q40 Michael Ellis: What about the seizing of criminal assets or the confiscation of them, including property, for example, would it be something that the NCA would consider utilising criminal property that has been seized for official use, like motor vehicles, as happens in other jurisdictions, or is it simply selling assets that are confiscated with a view to investing the proceeds?

Keith Bristow: If there is a reason why we would want to use the assets, for public service, whether it is for the NCA or anywhere else, and that made sense, then that is something we should do provided it was within the rules.

Q41 Michael Ellis: Finally from me, there have been some suggestions from one or two quarters that this might simply be a rebranding exercise, the NCA. Do you agree with that assessment? Do you think that critics are accurate when they say it is a rebranding exercise, or are you coming at this completely afresh and attacking these issues head on?

Keith Bristow: I absolutely do not agree. Apart from going back to the point that Dr Huppert made earlier, there are some parts of the agencies that we are inheriting that are very effective, and I would not want to change them unnecessarily. Let us be clear about some of the changes. This is the first time there will be a single law enforcement agency with a mandate, the relationships, and the powers to lead the whole law enforcement response. One agency; a single intelligence picture that we can task the response against; new capabilities; the National Cyber Crime Unit; law enforcement officers at the border. This is a wholly different agency, and the way in which we will conduct ourselves will be markedly different from what has gone before. That is not just to demonstrate difference. That is because what is required now is different, and that is what I am going to deliver.

Q42 Michael Ellis: This is Britain’s equivalent of the FBI, is it?

Keith Bristow: It is a unique UK response to tackling serious and organised crime. It is what we need in the UK.

Q43 Chair: Mr Bristow has said he is not J Edgar Hoover, so we can now drop that as a possible brand.

You mentioned on assets and crimes, figures that we have seen-I think were originally in the Evening Standard-show that "Mr Bigs" owe £675 million through 178 organised gangs and criminals. Are you worried that you cannot get this money. You get a confiscation order, they go to prison, they serve their sentence, they then leave prison but they still owe as much as £675 million. Is that a worry and what can we do about it?

Keith Bristow: It is not us that enforce the orders, but am I concerned? Yes, because we are not delivering the disruptive effect that we could on serious and organised criminals. The giving of the order is but the beginning of the process. It is the taking of the asset that is the most important part. What can we do? Through our intelligence hub we can understand which criminals have managed to hang on to the most asset and where we should put the most effort, working alongside those that can collect it, to take that asset from them.

Q44 Chair: Bernard Hogan-Howe has suggested that we should make it a criminal offence. If you leave prison and you still have not paid up the compensation that you are supposed to pay, that should be turned into a criminal offence. Would you agree with that?

Keith Bristow: It seems to me that people who choose to ignore the sanction that has been put in place by any legitimate judicial process, that is offensive to the whole process in the first place and there should be a further sanction.

Q45 Dr Huppert: Can I turn now to what has become known as the SOCA list? The list of client employed private investigators who have been known or alleged to break the law. SOCA were phenomenally slow at doing anything about it and failed to look into this properly. We have now finally seen it passed on to the Information Commissioner. What sort of support are you providing to the Information Commissioner in his investigation?

Keith Bristow: I think we have legitimacy as an agency around private investigators, if they are a proxy or an enabler of serious and organised crime. We have a crime reduction and a crime intelligence role. So I think we have some legitimacy where that is the case. As you say, the list has gone to the ICO. I have spoken to the Information Commissioner and-as we would, as an agency that has duties to support the law enforcement effort-I have indicated to him that if he required our support we would, if we could, deliver the support that he required under his direction and control. We are still talking about what that might look like.

Q46 Dr Huppert: I am glad to hear that you think your agency has legitimacy. I think that is a good step. Presumably the people who would help might well be the same people who failed to provide the list to him in the first place. Do you see any problems around that?

Keith Bristow: Whether it is a matter of substance or perception, if the Information Commissioner wanted some of our officers to assist I would ensure those officers had not previously been involved in these investigations because I do not think that would appear right, or not be right, one or the other. I would want to make sure they had the right officers.

Q47 Michael Ellis: In general I think one of the suggestions you made about SOCA was that it did not take computer based things seriously. It did not take issues around data security very seriously, as we have seen with this list, data protection, Computer Misuse Act, but also I think it did not take cyber crime issues sufficiently seriously. What are you going to do to change the profile on all of that because these are growing problems that matter more and more to people?

Keith Bristow: Can I be clear? I am not here to justify what SOCA have done, neither to complain about what SOCA have done. The National Cyber Crime Unit will lift the whole of law enforcement’s response to cyber crime to a different level from what has gone before. I think it is fair to say, in policing and law enforcement, we are learning more and more about the threat and we are learning more and more about the capability that we need. Part of the difficulty we face is to break out of the idea that internet-based criminality, cyber crime, is niche. The reality is there is part of it that is niche, perhaps around malware development and deployment, but the people that we target mostly are involved in some sort of digital online activity. It is absolutely core business for investigators.

Q48 Michael Ellis: Have you seen this Committee’s report on e-crime?

Keith Bristow: Yes, I have.

Q49 Michael Ellis: Will you be trying to take forward the recommendations from it?

Keith Bristow: There is a lot of sense in the report that we want to build into how we take this forward, but I have to say we have a real challenge. I think that is pretty widely known and understood, and it was shown in your report. We have a very real challenge about ramping up the law enforcement response, but I am very confident that the National Cyber Crime Unit, and the work that police forces and law enforcement are doing, is starting to strengthen the response in the way that we would all like to see.

Michael Ellis: I think we should have a look at this when you have had some time to get into the area, so thank you.

Q50 Chair: Mr Bristow, I am sure you have been following our inquiry into SOCA and private investigators. Trevor Pearce is now working with you. One of the points made by the Information Commissioner is that he lacks the space to conduct the investigation that he has decided to commence into a number of private companies and individuals that have come to the attention of the Information Commissioner this year, brought to his attention by this Committee. Is he in negotiations with you for you to give him office space or additional staff to deal with that?

Keith Bristow: We are at an early stage in understanding the support the Information Commissioner will want, but we are certainly at the moment talking about investigators.

Q51 Chair: Yes, but are you going to be absolutely sure that the people who you lend him, because they will still be your staff, are not former SOCA people who were involved in the original investigations, and how will you make sure that there is no conflict of interest? I know you have not made the decision, but if you decide to give him some investigators how will you be certain that they are not part of the original investigation? The Committee is very concerned that this has taken so long.

Keith Bristow: There will be a proper due diligence process, both around self-disclosure but also around scrutinising any previous investigations to make sure that officers have not been involved. What I would say is our officers do operate with integrity. They do understand the importance of impartial, proper objective investigation, and they also understand the importance of being seen to operate in that way.

Q52 Chair: In terms of your staff, you now have eight directors whose total salaries are £1,123,244. Two of your directors are still interim. I think one had to be stood down because of a conflict of interest. Is that right?

Keith Bristow: If you are referring to Mr Outen-

Chair: Yes.

Keith Bristow: -who had been offered the post in economic crime, Mr Outen stepped back for personal reasons.

Q53 Chair: But you are vetting all these people because, clearly, if you are dealing with economic crime you need to be very careful who is going to be directors. I am not casting any aspersions on him, but the vetting process obviously you are happy with it, are you?

Keith Bristow: The vetting process is extremely rigorous and there will be no compromise around personal standards.

Q54 Chair: When do you think you will fill these two jobs because obviously we have been waiting for two years for your arrival? Now you have been vested. There are two that are still interim, Mr Webb and Mr Pearce seems to be interim. Is Mr Pearce interim? He seems to be doing two jobs. He is not only the Director of Operations with a staff of 2,274 but he is also the Director of Economic Crime with a staff of 200. He is a pretty remarkable man.

Keith Bristow: That is true. Mr Pearce’s substantive role is as Director of Operations. We have just had a discussion had about Mr Outen not joining us. Mr Pearce is covering that post and Mr Chatfield is on a temporary basis acting as a director.

Q55 Chair: So there is a new person in?

Keith Bristow: Yes, he is-

Q56 Chair: What has happened to Mr Webb?

Keith Bristow: Mr Webb is interim. He is on loan to us from the Home Office and the post for Corporate Services will be competed shortly.

Q57 Chair: Of these people-and excuse me if I just give their surnames, Bristow, Gormley, Armond, Davies, Meldrum, Symington, Webb and Pearce-how many are police officers, or former Chief Constables or know about law enforcement? How many have come in from outside?

Keith Bristow: Do you want me to go through them one by one?

Chair: No, just of your eight directors.

Keith Bristow: I could not give you a number off the top of my head unless I can go through all of them. What I would say is-

Chair: We know you are the former Chief Constable of Warwickshire.

Keith Bristow: I am no longer a police officer. I am an NCA officer.

Chair: Your last job was a Chief Constable so you are a police officer in your blood if not in your job description.

Keith Bristow: Yes. Phil Gormley was a Chief Constable, and remains so on secondment from Norfolk Police at the moment, and there are a number of other directors that come from that background and some that do not.

Q58 Chair: There seem to be a lot of people who are seconded, after a year and a half of waiting for this.

Keith Bristow: I was seconded until 6 October because we did not exist as an agency and, therefore, a Director General could not be appointed on a permanent basis. What we will now do is go through the process of where we have colleagues who shall be joining us permanently, converting those into permanent contracts.

Q59 Chair: Are you still dealing with Sacristy and Pallial, or have you stopped doing other things apart from your job as head of the NCA because obviously it is a very demanding job.

Keith Bristow: I am still dealing with both. Pallial is now a proper NCA investigation and resourced as such alongside police colleagues, and Sacristy I am still leading.

Q60 Chair: Do you have the time to do all this stuff as well as being head of this new organisation and bringing it all together? It sounds like a very big job.

Keith Bristow: Yes. You would expect me to work hard and that is exactly what I am doing.

Chair: I will come to counterterrorism in a minute, but Mr McCabe is bursting to begin to ask a question.

Q61 Steve McCabe: Good afternoon, Mr Bristow. I appreciate it is very early days, but I want to try to clarify something about the work in relation to child protection. CEOP falls within the NCA. You are accountable to the Home Secretary and if she determines you are inspected by the HMIC. General child protection services in this country fall within the Department for Education. They are inspected by OFSTED and they are accountable to the Education Secretary. What steps are you taking to make sure that the next inquiry or review into a child abuse scandal does not say it fell between two agencies and nobody was clear about who was responsible for what?

Keith Bristow: You describe the landscape correctly, in the sense that there are a lot of agencies, some national, some voluntary, some local. It is a complex set of agencies that have a legitimate role. Part of what we are doing for the CEOP command, as we are for the other commands, is forming a group that oversees the work, which will include voluntary sector wider law enforcement to work through the strategic approach to tackling child exploitation. We have quite a different role. This is about bringing a national capability to tackle child exploitation, and over the coming weeks and months you will see the sort of operations that we can do as NCA focused on child exploitation that CEOP could not have done.

We are working very hard to make sure that we are integrated. I think CEOP have a very strong history and a proven track record around effective partnerships. We are building on that, and in fact we are replicating it in some of what we do on the other threats where we have a leadership responsibility.

Q62 Mr Winnick: Among the worst criminals and potential criminals, as we know at the moment, are those who want to murder as many as possible, including fellow Muslims. Do you take the view, Mr Bristow, that before there is any question of your organisation taking the lead in counterterrorism, the organisation that you now head should be bedded down for a number of years?

Keith Bristow: That is the Home Secretary’s view and that is the most important aspect of this. My view is the system that we have at the moment is effective and has a proven track record. NCA can bring something to that, in terms of how we share capability across counterterrorism and serious and organised crime threats. In due course there will be a review on how we do all of that, and how we deliver the best results for the public possible. However that review decides these capabilities should be delivered is what we will do.

Q63 Mr Winnick: For the moment you accept that the lead should continue to be the Metropolitan Police?

Keith Bristow: I believe that if there was going to be a change there would be a review. It would be evidenced based, and we would all support doing what was going to be the right thing to keep the public safe.

Q64 Chair: Just in respect of the SOCA files, you have obviously inherited a lot of files from SOCA. You are not responsible for what has happened in the past, that is absolutely clear and you are right to say that. But is there going to be a review of those files to make sure that there is nothing left in there that ought to be acted upon because, of course, it is this Committee that found out there was a lot of stuff that came out of Millipede that was not acted upon, which has led to the Information Commissioner’s investigation. Is someone going to conduct the review or are there just too many to look through?

Keith Bristow: The reality is we are inheriting 7½ years’ worth of casework, and the casework that went from the precursor agencies before that, the Crime Squad, INCIS, Customs and others. If I was going to initiate a review of all of that I would not be doing much crime fighting. We would mostly be looking through historic investigations. That being said, all of the information that we hold is held in line with all of the guidance around management of police information and all of the approved professional practice, and is scrutinised throughout the investigative process. If there was a reason to review a particular investigation or intelligence report or a file of evidence, then it would be rigorously reviewed, but no we are not going from top to bottom on everything that we have been handed.

Q65 Chair: So somebody will need to write in and say, "Oh by the way, this has been discovered" or "could you look into this" or "there is specific evidence that you might want to look into", but you want to spend your time out there disrupting the gangs and the criminal organisations rather than look at the past. Is that right?

Keith Bristow: Yes, but if there are issues in the past that we can learn from or could be done differently in the future, or there are issues that need to be picked up and taken forward we will do that. What I do not want to do is to dedicate the whole of our crime fighting workforce to reviewing older investigations. I want us to focus on bringing people to justice now.

Q66 Chair: Sure. Mr Bristow, this Committee wishes you the best of luck. We are very interested in the NCA because it has come up under our watch during our time on this Committee. We will be writing to you on a regular basis for updates but we will not disturb you too much because you want to be out there arresting people, but it would be very helpful to have timely responses to our letters and I look forward to receiving the reply to the letter I sent you.

Keith Bristow: Thank you, Chairman.

Chair: The best of luck.

Keith Bristow: Thank you.

Chair: Thank you.

Prepared 17th October 2013