Select Committee on European Communities Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 58 - 76)



(Lord Lester of Herne Hill took the Chair)


  58.  Mr Gallagher, I am sorry that you have been kept waiting and that our numbers are depleted but we are extremely grateful to you for coming. I wonder whether you would like to begin with an opening statement?
  (Mr Gallagher)  Thank you, my Lord Chairman. Perhaps I should introduce myself first, just to give you a little background as to who I am and actually where I come from. I am an ex-police officer. I served 30 years in the Kent Constabulary, retiring last December. For the last 15 years or so, in one form or another, I have been involved in what you might call cross-Channel liaison work, more of which I will explain as we go on. For the last six years I was the head of the Kent Police European Liaison Unit, which is the only unit of its type in the UK, and is obviously there because of the complex and particular problems we have in terms of cross-frontier co-operation. Having retired in December, I took leave (for two and a half months) and later returned to the force on a part-time basis as adviser to the force on strategic matters concerning contacts and development of the co-operation with our near continental neighbours. Would you like me to give a background as to the general approach which Kent has, bearing in mind that I am actually speaking from the perspective of having a local view as opposed to a national view. Therefore we are talking about the problems and solutions to any co-operation difficulties purely on a local basis. Would you like me to do that?

  59.  Yes. Perhaps you could tell us in broad terms, first of all, how the cross-Channel system operates in practice.

  A.   Perhaps if I can give you a little bit of history as well because that might be helpful to you. Historically, geographically, socially and economically Kent is linked to the mainland continent probably more than any other county in England, certainly as far as policing is concerned. At the moment I think we are dealing with something like 26 million people a year using Kent as a corridor on their way to and from the continent. Our involvement in cross-border relationships goes back to 1967-68 when the then Chief Constable, Sir Dawnay Lemon, identified an operational need for co-operation and, quite interestingly, the problems at that time were both immigration, the beginning of illegal immigration, and drug trafficking. He set out on what was quite a difficult path to make contact with our near neighbours in Northern France and Flanders. In a sense the problem was made more difficult in those days because of the centralist system within France. Until that point most of the co-operation and liaison had been achieved through Interpol London, so a localised programme of liaison and co-operation was something entirely new. With police services from Northern France and Flanders he was a founder member in setting up the Cross-Channel Intelligence Conference which still meets today and is an important feature where chief officers from the various services from Rotterdam through Flanders through to Northern France and on our side from Suffolk, Essex, Kent, Sussex and Hampshire, meet on a regular basis. In a sense for many years that was the way that cross-Channel liaison was built up. It was based purely on informality and the fact that people got to know each other and to trust each other that a lot of personal contacts were made. As I mentioned a few minutes ago, the European Liaison Unit, of which I was the head until December, was formed in 1991. That was part of a force review bearing in mind that by this time the Channel Tunnel had come along and there was an entirely different need to the one that perhaps we perceived in the 1980s. The Channel Tunnel acted as a tremendous catalyst, as the préfet said just a few minutes ago, for improving co-operation with our French colleagues. It has been a very useful framework on which to build up that co-operation. In that time also we have been very lucky to have developed a form of communication which you may be interested to know about called Linguanet which has further helped our co-operation with our near neighbours. It is a system of electronic e-mail and has a translation capability. That particular project has been financed in great part by European funding. Also, during this time we have built up and continue to work very well with the central services as well, with Interpol and with NCIS, and indeed I can expand on that later if you wish. Suffice to say our relationship is very much one of good co-operation. We actually exchange staff members in each other's camps so that we know exactly what is going on. Again, I suppose that success has resulted over those years due to personal trust and friendship and the tremendous daily contact that we have and, also, an understanding of the important balance between the informal and the formal approach and all the options in between that you can use to find a solution in terms of a particular enquiry, whether it is a general enquiry or a judicial enquiry. More recently, to bring you up to date, I have had the job of writing a European strategy for the force which is a medium, long-term view of how we can improve things even further. I think that may be enough for you at the moment, I can give you more details as we go.

  60.  Could you just explain one thing which is you have so far described very clearly a sort of regional police system of co-operation in the South East with our continental counterparts but I presume that there are similar arrangements covering the whole country, as it were, and covering our relations, for example, with our other near neighbour, Ireland? You have been describing one of a series of networks, is that right?

  A.   Yes, that is right. In fact, the concentrated cross-Channel area is merely a geographical situation and nothing more than that. Pro rata as you go down the south coast—I mentioned Linguanet, this communication system—the forces of Devon and Cornwall and Dorset are linked into that Linguanet system and they link down as far as Spain and whilst others link across to Normandy and their respective counterparts. Equally up on the North East there have been general liaison connections with Scandinavia, Humberside into Scandinavia, and maybe the Netherlands.

Baroness Turner of Camden

  61.  You have been describing a system which seems to have developed over a long period of time. Has the Schengen system made any difference to it at all or is it just a continuation of what you already had?

  A.   I think it is much of the latter. We have to work as though Schengen is not there. I do not think that our relationships have suffered so much at the moment from us not being members of Schengen although from a personal point of view I do pick up signs that at times it is frustrating to some of my colleagues abroad that we are not part of Schengen.


  62.  Could you give us some examples of, as it were, the disadvantages seen from a police service either on the continent or here of not being in Schengen?

  A.   I suppose one of the problems that we may have in the future which we did not formerly have is that a lot of the formal—when I say "formal" I mean formal with a small `f'—frameworks of co-operation that we have built up have been on a police to police basis only in the form of memorandums of understanding. That has been purely of our own volition. I have examples of an exchange of letters between my Chief Constable and the Préfet of the Pas- de-Calais. We have an exchange of an MOU between our Chief and the General of the Gendarmerie Nord-Pas-de-Calais for exchanges of personnel and training purposes. We have an operational MOU with the Chief Constable of Zeeland. The value of those exchanges is obviously very good. What is apparent to me however at the moment, particularly speaking to Belgian colleagues, is that they are basing all of their new initiatives relating to cross-border co-operation on the Schengen Convention. It has been made clear to me by Belgian colleagues recently that they can only see future co-operation with ourselves if it is on more of a legal basis. By that they mean either through an inter-governmental bilateral agreement, through Schengen, which would be the easiest method, or through Interpol. A great degree of our work goes through Interpol anyway but we just could not deal with everything that we have to handle going through a central service. We are down to either a bilateral agreement or a Schengen Agreement framework. I was at a conference about four weeks ago and it was quite strange to hear the Benelux members talking about facts that I thought were already in place such as strategies for linguistic difficulties which I thought had been overcome, cultural differences, operational and communications differences, but it looks as though this is not so, even for a country such as Belgium working with their neighbours in the Netherlands or the Belgians working with the French. They are clearly using the Schengen Agreement as a means of putting all of this right and to operate on a regional local basis whilst keeping an eye on national and pan-European policies. At the moment where we are sitting in Kent we are doing as much as we can because we recognise the difficulties and we have gone out of our way to make it as professional and efficient as possible. In a sense there is a limit to what the Chief Constable can do.


  63.  The Schengen Information System, do you have informal access to that at the moment even though you do not have formal access?

  A.   No, we do not. We know where they are situated. There is a terminal close to my old office in Folkestone. Five minutes from that office are the offices of the Police Nationale from the PAF, (as they used to be called)  or DICCILEC They have within their system an equivalent of the PNC, the police national computer, and this is integrated with the Schengen system as well; but I think it would be improper of us to go and knock on their door and ask for a Schengen check or whatever. Equally, the Belgian system is such that they have outlying sub-terminals nearest to the borders, or in our case nearest to the UK which is Bruges, and again there is an equivalent of the European liaison unit in Bruges with the Rijkswacht, and we know the Schengen information system is linked to there.

  64.  Can I try and summarise therefore and see whether I have got it right? Historically, there was an informal system of agreements made regionally and each worked pretty well. As the structures on the Continent become stronger and more formal through Schengen, with us being outside, the police service in Kent can only obtain comparable information to that under the Schengen information system through Europol or the making of new treaties between the UK Government and France, Belgium, whatever?

  A.  Yes, my Lord, but it is dependent on who we are working with. One of the difficulties we have is that our near neighbours only have to use a one-stop shop, if they have an inquiry in Kent, which is the European Liaison Unit. For us, when we enquire in France or Belgium we have to decide where the problem is, and who is best to deal with it, and they have—and I gather you have a background in France so I am sure you would know this—different police forces split up into many directions and it is sometimes quite difficult. The same happens in Belgium. Equally, when we are dealing with day-to-day co-operation, we do not in fact have any real difficulties at the moment. The French are very good to us and we exchange information well. To a great extent that is the situation in Belgium, although as I say I think it is changing, particularly with their political situation as it is and the likely reformation of their police forces into a national force of some shape or other in the near future. With the Netherlands, again it is quite easy to co-operate on a local basis. Whether that will always remain so, I do not know, and obviously we are not getting the best access to pan-European information that we would get within the SIS. If we had access to that, together with the PNC, together with the other systems in NCIS, together with the co-operation with our customs colleagues and our immigration colleagues, we would have very powerful tools to make sure we had a full picture of exactly what was available.

Baroness Turner of Camden

  65.  What sort of major crimes do you confront? What are the major areas where you require this amount of co-operation? Is it drugs?

  A.   Yes, drugs is always to the fore in that area. The frontier zones of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Kent and Flanders form a dynamic active area. Drugs is always, and always will be, a problem. Also, as you have mentioned this afternoon, there is illegal immigration. We have another problem, mainly dealt with by our customs colleagues, of bootlegging but that brings local problems to the Police in Kent because the people operating it are now domiciled in the Dover district, for instance, and causing us some operational headaches there. In addition there is always the constant problem of theft of high value vehicles, caravans, lorries, loads and things like this. The use of stolen credit cards is also a problem.


  66.  If someone is suspected of a serious crime and comes from elsewhere in the European Union than the Channel countries of the Continent, let us take Greece as an example, is the problem that it is easy to get information about the crime and the criminality from Belgium, France and the Netherlands, but if someone comes from further afield in the Schengen area the information about that person would be on the Schengen information system which you do not have direct access to, or indirect access to? Therefore there is a barrier to the free flow of information to the Kent Constabulary, unless you can get it in some other way, say, through the police national computer system or Europol? Have I understood this correctly?

  A.   Yes, you are right. If somebody was being checked on entry by the police, let us say at Dover port or Coquelle, we would have to make an enquiry and if they were from that far afield it would have to be through Interpol or some other means.

  67.  Is that less efficient than the Schengen system?

  A.   There may be a time factor.

  68.  That sounds quite important. Time can be very important in detecting crime.

  A.   Absolutely.

  69.  So is there a real gap, a real area of concern here that by being outside Schengen our policing is less effective or likely to become less and less effective?

  A.   I think there is an emerging gap. With the freeing up of the borders post-single European market, it is quite obvious. The figures which have arisen over the last few years in terms of people moving across into our area show quite clearly that we need all the help we can get in terms of making sure the people coming in are the people we want to be here. I think to that extent, I would agree with you, that we would obviously fare better by having access to their SIS. If not, we are going to have to start to use the emerging Europol lines, although of course the Schengen information system is a very quick system in terms of the fact it is hard information, it is not intelligence-based, it merely tells you the first steps in respect of who you are dealing with and where you might go from there. From our point of view in Kent, it must not be seen to be the cure for all ills, we are only really interested in what is happening in our own back garden, but equally because of the movement of people from all over Europe and beyond, we do need to be in the best position we can to serve our public.

  70.  Presumably in your mutual co-operation with other police forces throughout England and Wales, and for that matter the whole of the UK, you are on the front line and need to be in a position to pass on information quickly and accurately, which you derive from whatever computer base you can?

  A.   Yes. That is particularly important, of course, for our colleagues who have to work in Coquelle on the juxtaposed controls, because there is always the business of having to get offenders back or other information back into the UK from our offices on the French side.

  71.  Are there any ways other than by joining Schengen in which you consider the present arrangements for cross-Channel co-operation could be improved?

  A.  As I say, a lot of it is to do with locally based things, but I have been very lucky to be part of the design team for these memorandums of understanding, and I have seen their value. But I do not think that is enough. I have now retired from the force and I would have liked to have left leaving on the shelf a set of guidelines underpinned by some sort of bilateral agreement structure.

  72.  What in broad terms would be the content of that?

  A.  We would be merely underpinning what we do informally in terms of the way we co-operate, the accountability, the responsibility. Rather than relying on informality and people working very hard to build up this trust and continued working relationship, I would like to see some sort of redress if things went wrong, where you could actually go back and argue the point. At the moment we are very lucky, as the préfet mentioned, in respect of the relationships between ourselves and France. Recently a green light from Paris has been given to the Regional Préfet who has, subsequently, come to us offering initiatives on specific areas of co-operation between Kent and the Nord-Pas-de-Calais, which they have never done before. I do not know if this is a precursor to something else later on, ie some sort of bilateral agreement between Paris and London. The Regional Préfet seems confident that we are going to make real progress. I see that as a half-way house between our previous MOU and a full bilateral agreement. The two areas they are looking at are firstly on the exchange of information and, secondly, the exchange of best practice. In fact, today an application has gone into the Interreg Programme, which is the European Union regional local fund, to see if there will be some financial support for those initiatives. Even if that does not come along I am sure the hope is that we will go forward with that initiative anyway.

  73.  Your dream of a fully developed, more formal system before you retired, was that something that you had developed in a paper or in any other way which was not pursued for some reason by governments in the past?

  A.   No, not really. If you look at the history of the development of our co-operation with France—let us take France as an example—we have actually done very well in the 30 years. I know it seems a long time. On a day to day basis things have been fine. There are hiccoughs but the fact that people like myself have to go back and work with the counterparts the following week means that you make sure you stick to simple philosophies, such as the fact that the French do not do things wrongly they do things differently and if you always expect the unexpected then you will not be disappointed. By keeping those sorts of things in our minds we have been able to pursue those co-operation agreements thus far. It has been the case that we in Kent have been able to progress these things fairly successfully. The longer that I have been in this area of work the more I have been able to identify that you need to go further than that. In a sense a good example of best practice is with the Channel Tunnel because the Channel Tunnel is underpinned by an Act of Parliament in this country and one on the other side. Associated with that are protocols that tell you and tell the officers, whether customs, immigration or police, exactly how to behave and what they can or cannot do. Step one metre outside of the Channel Tunnel site and you are in the same position that we were 30 years ago, you are back mainly into informality. There are a few very useful conventions, such as the conventions on mutual legal assistance and extradition, but short of that there are not a lot of legal frameworks for us on which to build our co-operation and some may say but all the time that it is successful leave it alone.

  74.  What about your information technology and linguistic systems? You have mentioned that you are all on-line regionally, as it were. Is all that working well? Do you have common information technology systems, the same software? Are you able to cope with linguistic differences?

  A.   From the linguistic point of view we are very lucky in Kent because a lot of our officers are linguistically skilled. In my old team a basic criterion to be on the team was that you had to speak a minimum of French but within the team we also have, Dutch, Spanish, Russian and German speakers. In terms of trying to reach a much wider sphere of understanding linguistically and with the help of colleagues from Wolfson College, Cambridge, we developed a system originally called Police Speak, which was perhaps not the best of names. That moved on with European funding to the Linguanet Project. This is a system based on very straight forward user friendly software which is able to translate into five languages a lot of pre-formatted messages that we use on our day to day enquiries, such as stolen vehicles, missing persons, etc., etc. That has had the advantage of progressing co-operation further. It has stimulated more communication, clearer communication, and more accountability. How far that system is going to go pan-European wide we do not know but at the moment it is a very robust system. I can leave a brochure about it if it is of any help to you.

  75.  We would be very grateful.

  A.   It gives you a bit more detail. It has been used in all sorts of ways. For instance, it can be used on a mobile basis. During the World Cup the préfet of the Pas-de-Calais asked us to assist in Lens and we took a mobile Linguanet across with us and that helped very much in the very quick flow of information.

Baroness Turner of Camden

  76.  I suppose you have had problems with this new system of trying to prevent football hooligans from going abroad. Is that the sort of problem you have had to have contact with the French police about?

  A.   It is an interesting point you make because it is typical of the work that we deal with. We have spoken about crime so far but when 26 million people move through the county you end up with all sorts of other policing problems. We must be careful not to associate Schengen necessarily or cross-border co-operation only with crime matters. We do have to deal with a lot of public disorder enquiries from France. The people in Calais have a lot of problems at times, as do the Belgians. Because of our close proximity and relationships the Kent Police are often asked to go as observers or as liaison officers. It helps in other times, such as the terrible disaster in 1987 of the Herald of Free Enterprise. We could not have coped with that had we not had a basis of good co-operation. And recently working for the French with the Channel Tunnel fire enquiry. All of these things come together when there is a real major incident problem and even when there are problems such as people going missing or accidents. We do work a lot on behalf of the coroners, for instance. These types of enquiry are often as important as any detection of crime at the borders.

Chairman:  Mr Gallagher, you have given us information that I have never thought about before and it has been very interesting indeed and you have done it without using police-speak. I think we have now covered all of the questions we can reasonably ask you. We are very grateful to you. May I also say that we are grateful to the staff who stayed late this evening in order that we could have a record, and to the shorthand writers who have had to write it all down. We are very grateful to all of you. Thank you very much for coming. We will circulate your evidence to the other Members of the Committee who could not be here. Thank you.

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