Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1080
WEDNESDAY 25 APRIL 2007
Q1080 Baroness Sharp of Guildford:
I live in Surrey and if I went to the Surrey Police website would
I get directed towards this Metropolitan Police website?
Commander Wilkinson: I do not know but one of
the things that I would like to achieve through the new unit is
to ensure that all police forces are providing a decent quality
of service to everybody across the 43 police forces. That is exactly
the sort of thing that I would like to see standardised across
Q1081 Baroness Sharp of Guildford:
From your point of view that is precisely what you want. You want
a single website where everything is logged and then you can actually
tell if there is a particular trend emerging.
Commander Wilkinson: The ideal situation for
me would be if there were a single web portal that anybody could
go to in terms of fraud or e-crime and they could get in through
that central website, if you like, and then be guided within there
to Get Safe Online or to the Internet Watch Foundation or to the
Fraud Alert website, whichever is most appropriate. They may seek
prevention advice, they may want to report crime or whatever and
be led to the right place through that single portal. That is
certainly something that Sharon and I are going to work together
on. I understand there are some technical challenges around it
and it may cost quite a bit of money to do, but it is certainly
the direction in which we need to travel.
Q1082 Baroness Sharp of Guildford:
That sounds very sensible.
Commander Wilkinson: Yes.
Q1083 Lord O'Neill of Clackmannan:
We get the impression that this is a Metropolitan Police led thing;
you do not know what happens in Surrey, for example. How consistent
are skill levels across the police forces? Are there centres of
excellence in the investigation of Internet crime outside of London?
Commander Wilkinson: We have done a very provisional
capability assessment across the 43 police forces to provide part
of the business case for the National Unit. We now need, through
the National Unit, to go back and get a very good standard and
capability assessment done so that we can begin to standardise
the skill level across all police forces. Across the country there
are some very skilled investigators, whether it be into forensics
or whether it be covert Internet investigators or whatever and
we have a good idea now of where they are to be found. We also
deal with e-crime on a regionalised basisgiven that police
forces vary hugely in terms of size, for example, and resources
available to themand what we have done is publicised who
is where, who has got what capability so that police forces around
the country know where to go to get support and help. That is
what we have been working on up to now.
Q1084 Lord O'Neill of Clackmannan:
My colleagues were in the United States and they found that near
San Francisco there was an FBI laboratory which was funded both
centrally and from private sources. That provided very high level
expertise in computer forensics. I am not sure that every police
force within the US would be capable of benefiting from it, but
those that could were able to do so. Would you envisage something
of this nature happening in the UK where there would be a centrally
co-ordinating network of skills and equipment to support regional
Commander Wilkinson: That would be an ideal
scenario and would take some time to achieve I think. The important
thing is that I get all police forces to a position where everybody
knows where they can go to get the relevant expertise or support
or help or advice that they need in whatever context to do with
e-crime. That would be my first aim, to get to that position.
Mr Hughes: There are several issues at play
here and the point you are making is that there is e-crime and
there are also forces that have centres of excellence around the
investigation and analysis of equipment seized during an investigation
as well, people who are better placed to deal with access and
the way that e-crime has been perpetrated. What we are trying
to do is pull together all of that understanding of what is going
on in police forces around the country so that we are able to
deal with e-crime and trying to find a way of making sure we have
the best analysis. Sometimes the unit that you are talking about
at the FBI, the federal resources are there to support in different
types of scenario. The ones that we have dealt with are those
looking at crimes being perpetrated and then there will be other
labs, as such, which are good at exploiting the evidence and intelligence
that you gain from that equipment.
Q1085 Lord O'Neill of Clackmannan:
What you are talking about does seem incredibly fragmented. This
has been a form of crime that has been going on for quite a while.
Is there not a case for making the resources of a national character,
that you break down these 43 barriers?
Commander Wilkinson: That is entirely where
I am coming from in terms of the business case that I put forward
to the chief constables who all agree that a national unit is
needed, or a unit covering the 43 police forces is needed to get
standards, policy, training and skills levels standardised across
the country. That is the whole premise for the new unit. I should
just addI do have one copy here that I can leave with the
Committeethat ACPO does publish good practice guides and
this one I have here is for computer based electronic evidence
and evidence retrieval and actions that officers should take when
attending the scene of an e-crime and how to handle computers,
laptops, phones and that sort of thing. We do constantly keep
these good practice guides up to date and circulate them across
the country so there is also written support and policy guidance.
Q1086 Lord O'Neill of Clackmannan:
With respect, this seems to be a rather top-up approach. Is there
not a case for some kind of top-down approach? How do you get
these 43 ferrets in the bag behaving themselves? It is akin to
a bit of a shambles, is not really? You are doing your best but
somebody needs to grab a hold of it and nobody seems to be doing
that. I am not saying that you are not trying but ministers hiding
behind business case excuses, that really is the most feeble excuse
for a minister to utilise. They will always nitpick; they will
always employ good accountants (or even bad ones, which is probably
even better) to nitpick at the detail and you will get nowhere.
Commander Wilkinson: I would refute that to
a certain extent because the 43 chief constables are now signed
up to the National Unit and I think that is an enormous step forward.
We are now entering the implementation phase of putting it together.
I think everybody has recognised the fact that the 43 forces need
to work together to be more effective in terms of the service
that we provide to the public on e-crime. I cannot tell the 43
chief constables what to do, but what I do find when I speak to
the 43 chief constables is that they actually see the logic and
the sense in what I am saying and they acknowledge the service
that the police service provides at the moment could be improved.
That is what the National Unit is all about.
Q1087 Lord O'Neill of Clackmannan:
Without the national centre or the network that you are working
towards, how long do you think business will stand by and say,
"We have this money ready"? Will they be on stand-by
forever or will they say, "Look, if you don't come across
with something sensible before long we'll just go away and do
what we can as best we can" and you will lose the opportunity
of private funding?
Commander Wilkinson: I may be living on a pink
cloud here, but certainly the feedback I have had from industry
is that they are extremely pleased with the speed with which we
have got the principle of the unit agreed; they are ready with
the money now and we have now entered the phase of actually going
back to them and saying, "Show us the colour of your money;
show us how you are prepared to support us". Over the next
few weeks I intend to pull all that together into the business
case that I have been talking about and take it back first of
all into the Met because the Met is going to house the unit (the
Metropolitan Police Authority) and then back out onto a national
basis with ACPO and back to the Home Office.
Q1088 Lord O'Neill of Clackmannan:
Good luck with that. Regardless of what might happen next week
with the elections there are still six million people north of
the River Tweed and unfortunately there are criminals there as
well. There are nine police forces in Scotland. Do you talk to
Commander Wilkinson: Yes.
Q1089 Lord O'Neill of Clackmannan:
I know ACPO is a UK organisation but there is a Scottish bit as
Commander Wilkinson: Yes, there is an ACPOS
and actually Scotland are ahead of us. They do already have an
amalgamated unit and there will be a protocol in place with them
in exactly the same way as there will be one in place in SOCA
to ensure that we are all working together effectively.
Ms Lemon: ACPOS are on the National e-Crime
How many units are there? You say there is one in Scotland, is
that of the same size and capability as the Met unit?
Commander Wilkinson: No, nothing like. I think
it is more of a coordination unit but they do have a unit of sorts
that coordinates the service that Scottish forces provide. The
Welsh Assembly is also beginning to put a unit together to coordinate
the Welsh forces. One of my key aims in putting the ACPO unit
together is that I do not just duplicate what they are already
doing. We must take advantage of where they have got to so I can
concentrate resources perhaps more on areas that are not covered
I would have thought there is a volume question and there is also
a turn-around type question. If every bit of equipment you go
in and grab you need to look at it fairly quickly and this is
a time consuming business. When we looked at this in the States
I think the FBI has 12 units or something like that around the
country. We are five times smaller but I would have thought you
would need two or three units of the quality that the Met has
but probably larger than the Met has. We were very impressed with
what we saw at the Met but it was barely sufficient for London
in my opinion, let alone having to take stuff from all over the
country. I would have thought you would need three units in the
Commander Wilkinson: Every force has access
to a forensic lab and every force has access to digital retrieval
facilities. I think the biggest problem at the moment is the backlog
because more and more phones and computers et cetera are being
seized as part of routine investigations. Another aim of the unit
will be to get some proper criteria into place whereby cases are
prioritised so that it is not seen as a massive backlog but we
are actually bringing the more critical cases to the front of
Q1092 Lord Harris of Haringey:
Both in the US and here we have heard about the loss of support
staff to private sector companies. Is staff retention a major
issue for you and what are going to do to overcome it?
Mr Hughes: I think that is probably an area
for us to talk about because the advantage that Sue has is that
she has police officers as well doing some of this work but actually
there are people that the Metropolitan Police and other forces
have who are locked into a police service background. The answer
to that is yes, we do have a problem about recruitment and retention.
We are competing with the wages that are paid in the private sector.
That will always be a problem. It is the same with financial investigators;
it is the same with a lot of other areas where we are looking
at changing the face of the work force for the police service
and in the way in which SOCA operates. There are tactics and strategies
that we are adopting in order to try to recruit and retain people.
There are development strategies that we are using and ways that
we bring people in and use them in projects. Many people in law
enforcement do not do the job for the money because if they do
then they have made a fundamental mistake. The point is that they
do the job because they want to do it. Yes, we have a core of
people who will stay with us but recruitment and retention is
difficult. That is one reason why what we are doing is working
with our private sector colleagues to see if they can supply us
with people on secondment or by use of them assisting us with
some of the expertise that they have. That is what we have to
do in that type of environment.
Ms Lemon: We are looking at alternative methods
as well. Previously if some evidence were seized it would be a
digital evidence recovery officer who would have that kit and
join a queue but now we have a triage system and we are looking
at some good practice by some of our partners overseas who then
make that available without any interference from the evidential
trails to the operational officer remotely. They can then examine
that disc for what they want and then we can back it up with the
evidence trail. You do not need the expertise around that, just
the initial expertise around the triage and then the operation
officers get immediately what they need. That is some good practice
from one of our partners.
Q1093 Lord Harris of Haringey:
Is there a problem so far as experienced police officers are concerned?
Commander Wilkinson: There have been instances
where that has happened. We also have a threat almost from people
being promoted and therefore being posted into a different role
which is rather infuriating. In my view it is a mixed economy
and we can look more flexibly at how we pay our police staff to
supplement the police officers that are in post and also my perspective
is that we use industry. Most of our partners are very, very keen
to help second people into us. If we are losing staff to them,
at least we are getting very competent and experienced staff back
on secondment. I think we just need to remain flexible. There
is always going to be a situation where police wages and police
staff wages are less than the going rate in the private sector;
we just to be clever around it.
Q1094 Lord Harris of Haringey:
Does that meant you are satisfied with the number of police officers
and police staff you have available to work in this area?
Commander Wilkinson: I want to mainstream it
remember, so I think the more I can do that the better value I
can get out of every single member of the police force and the
police staff who support that police force. We need to raise everybody's
capability across the board. In terms of setting up specialist
units I am not aware of any acute recruitment problems. People
will come into it for a while at least. Of course it costs a lot
of money to train them and we would like to retain them as much
as we can, even on promotion.
Q1095 Lord Harris of Haringey:
Are there serious backlogs of work in any of the specialist units
that you are aware of?
Commander Wilkinson: There are backlogs of work
in terms of forensic retrieval which I have already mentioned.
The demand is endless on these units and it is a question of prioritisation,
working out the crimes that are causing the most threat and harm
and investing those. We are never going to be able to investigate
Q1096 Lord Harris of Haringey:
The Home Office at one stage provided central funding for two
computer crime officers in each force. What has happened to those
posts since the loss of the National High Tech Crime Unit?
Commander Wilkinson: I think you are referring
to the Home Office funding that was divided between each force.
It represented about £38,000 per force and it was withdrawn
earlier this year as part of Home Office savings. That money is
probably, if I dare say this, a drop in the ocean to most police
forces. It clearly had more impact on the very small police forces
who may have funded a post in computer crime investigation or
whatever with that money. I certainly hope, through the National
Unit, by other means to restore capability across every police
force in the country.
Q1097 Lord Harris of Haringey:
In principle the Home Office has £38,000 times 43 which it
took out of its budget which it could put it back into the National
Unit if it wanted to.
Commander Wilkinson: I would love it if that
were to be the case; it would help me enormously.
Q1098 Earl of Errol:
Recent guidance requires the police to refer victims of phishing
fraud to the banks in the first instance, rather than the police
logging them as crimes. What do you think of this?
Commander Wilkinson: I think it is a very helpful
development because, as we have said several times during this
session, individual reports to individual police forces about
such phishing offences really do not give us a good picture of
what is going on and it is impossible to get a proper crime pattern
analysis as things stand at the moment. However, if all these
reports are collated by the banks, who have very good support
in terms of intelligence analysis, they are able to refer to us
particular trends and patterns by collating right the way across
the board and we get a much better overall picture. In general
we are very supportive of this development.
Q1099 Earl of Errol:
In the US the Federal Trade Commission has gone the other way.
They are requiring offences to be reported in the first instance
to law enforcement. That then triggers a crime number and everything,
then it gets reported to the bank and the bank then triggers an
investigation. Does that not make more sense because then you
actually know what is going on?
Commander Wilkinson: We are getting a very good
picture of what is going on through the banks. By reporting each
individual one to a police force, given the scale of what we are
talking about, it would increase the bureaucracy enormously.