Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 361 - 379)

WEDNESDAY 2 JULY 2008

Sir Ronnie Flanagan, Chief Constable Ken Jones, Chief Constable Ian Johnston and Assistant Chief Constable Nick Gargan

  Q361  Chairman: Good morning gentlemen; I hope you are all sitting very comfortably on the bench there. My name is Harrison and it is my pleasure to chair the meeting this morning in the absence of Michael Jopling, our normal Chairman. We are extremely grateful to the four of you and colleagues for coming in today and we are extremely grateful for the written evidence that you provided; we look forward to the further written evidence from ACPO. As you may hear from my raised voice, the acoustics here in this room, as elsewhere in the Houses of Parliament, are notorious so I would be grateful if you could speak up. In the 19th century of course, politicians used to declaim and that is why they built them in this way, but we would be most grateful if you could speak up. We are actually being broadcast now, we are on the webcam and some day someone is going to explain that to me but I understand the importance of it. When you have given your evidence to us, we will be sending you a transcript and we would be very pleased if you would look at that transcript and if any corrections are needed or if you feel that you may have in some way misled the Committee or that you want to correct a false impression, we would be very grateful if you would contact our Clerk, Michael Collon, and have that corrected. The essence of what we do is to end up with good clear evidence to help us in our thoughts. It would be very helpful if the four of you would perhaps introduce yourselves first of all, with the purpose of distinguishing your separate roles so that the Committee has a better idea of where the answers that you give come from, and then we go on to the first question. Perhaps I can ask Sir Ronnie first of all just to start and give a brief overview, but also say a little bit about his important role.

  Sir Ronnie Flanagan: I am Ronnie Flanagan, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary. That is a position that has been in existence for some 150 years and the legal responsibility of the inspectorate is to inspect police forces, at least originally to inspect police forces, to ensure and to satisfy Government that they are operating in an effective and an efficient manner. I said "initially" to inspect police forces because, for the purposes of what you are examining, we now inspect SOCA. I have to stress we have no remit whatsoever in inspecting Europol, but through inspection of SOCA we get at least a sense of what Europol is doing and the role that SOCA plays in respect of United Kingdom policing vis-a"-vis Europol. So I am here this morning in that capacity.

  Chief Constable Johnston: I am Ian Johnston. I am the Chief Constable of the British Transport Police but my main reason for being here today is that I am the Chairman of the ACPO Crime Business Area. ACPO divides its national responsibilities out into a number of different groupings—crime, criminal justice, force modernisation and a number of different areas, and I deal with the crime side. In that respect, I have responsibilities around serious and organised crime, and the Crime Business Area is the main interface with the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, which obviously then takes us into Europol and the issues that you are talking about here today.

  Chief Constable Jones: I am the President of ACPO and my job is to coordinate activities across the business areas, like the one that Ian runs, to give our best advice to the Government, but also to liaise and get the best out of our relationships with organisations like SOCA and, through SOCA, Europol. We like to think we are here in the public interest, we guard that very jealously and part of that responsibility I have is to give independent advice to Government on issues such as this.

  Assistant Chief Constable Gargan: I am Assistant Chief Constable Nick Gargan with Thames Valley Police where I am responsible for crime and criminal justice. This gives me the operational oversight of the interface with SOCA and Europol from a force perspective. I am also here as the intelligence portfolio holder on Mr Johnston's behalf within ACPO Crime Business Area so I have a link into various of the connections, both with the Serious and Organised Crime Agency but also the Schengen information system too.

  Q362  Chairman: That is very helpful. Before I ask the first question, it would be extremely helpful if you could identify those of you who you feel you would like to answer any particular question. The Committee does not want to hear the same answer four times, but obviously if any of you want to complement the answer of one of your colleagues, please do indicate and we can do it in that way.

  Chief Constable Jones: We have been discussing this and we have decided who would lead off to each particular question.

  Q363  Chairman: I am most grateful; thank you very much indeed. Could you give the Committee a brief overview of the UK arrangements for connecting ACPO to SOCA, to the UK Europol National Unit and to Europol, all of whom we visited last week? How would you assess these arrangements in terms of effective flow of information?

  Chief Constable Johnston: SOCA is the gateway for ACPO into Europe and all ACPO forces connect to SOCA in terms of all of their international work at a variety of different levels through programmes of activity, through our international liaison officers who are attached to each force, through joint working with SOCA and others on projects and operations, and through the international gateway which is provided by SOCA in their multi-lateral department. The SOCA multilateral provides access to all of the international channels, not just for Europe; it obviously includes Europol and also provides a link to the large number of the UK's overseas liaison officers' network. They also provide the route through to Interpol and to policing cooperation under the Schengen Agreement. SOCA also provides for us a central bureau for the European arrest warrant. So broadly speaking the arrangement is that our link to Europe is in through SOCA. In terms of their general effectiveness, I guess the questions later on will take us into a more detailed response to that, but I would say that the arrangements are widely known but at varying levels across the Police Service. Those who are involved in drugs and human trafficking have a pretty good and sharp understanding of the relationship and the route ways and how to get the best out of the system. Others, who are perhaps investigating serious crimes with international connotations of a one-off nature around a murder inquiry, for example, will have less knowledge and therefore are less effective in their use of the system. However, in each force they do have their own international liaison officer and we can seek advice from SOCA multilateral on the best way to get help from Europe generally. I would describe the general arrangements as effective, but there are opportunities within them for improvement and no doubt we will get the opportunity to suggest a few of those improvements during the course of our discussion here.

  Chairman: We would be very grateful if you could be sure to do that; it would be very helpful.

  Q364  Lord Young of Norwood Green: I find myself educated just reading your evidence. I had a totally false perspective of ACPO. I had you down more as a trade union, but that is probably because of my background. I found the evidence very helpful. Could you tell us more about the different tools of information management, some of which you have described in your evidence: the organised crime threat assessment, the way that the UK one seems to interact with the European threat assessment, according to your evidence; situation reports; the criminal intelligence model? How far have they developed and what do you think they mean from the perspective of police governance?

  Sir Ronnie Flanagan: What I want to do first is draw upon experience within the United Kingdom because one of the major tools is what we in the United Kingdom describe as the "National Intelligence Model" and which Europol has adopted as a European Intelligence Model. What I wanted to do was give the experience within the UK and then extrapolate that to where we see Europol and, having adopted the tools, how far they have developed, as you have asked, and perhaps what more might yet be done. The story starts in terms of adoption of the National Intelligence Model in around 2001 and very quickly and very encouragingly it was adopted as a model by all 43 forces in England and Wales, by all eight forces in Scotland and indeed by the Police Service in Northern Ireland; so that was a very encouraging development. The model itself starts with what we call strategic assessments, including assessments of all the threats to be faced, all the operational activity in which we are to engage and then, building upon those strategic assessments, the development of what we call a control strategy. Then, through intelligence assessments and through what we describe as tasking and coordinating arrangements, how do we allocate all of the resources that are available in the most effective and efficient way to deal with those threats that have been identified in the original strategic assessment? In the United Kingdom experience I said that it was very encouraging that all 52 forces throughout the United Kingdom adopted the model. That is not to say that it was not without teething problems and certainly so far as the inspectorate were concerned, what we had to create at the centre was an assisted implementation team. Quite apart from adoption of the model, we wanted to ensure through inspection and offering assistance that each of those forces knew exactly what the model was, were operating it to comparable standards and we in the Inspectorate continue to inspect today and make judgments on how far individual forces within the United Kingdom are actually applying and putting to use the National Intelligence Model. It is fair to say that, if we do not keep that continuing spotlight that we have identified a real risk, impetus is lost and there is a risk of dropping back. Why do I spend so much time outlining the UK experience? It is true to say that during the previous UK presidency, our representatives were critical in having basically exactly the same model that I have described adopted by Europol. Of course, when you are talking about 43 forces operating to a national standard in England and Wales and similarly our colleagues in Scotland and Northern Ireland and you realise there are difficulties in that structure, you can imagine there are many, many more challenges in dealing with 27 Member States with different forms of criminal justice. In terms of how they have developed, we are very conscious of previous evidence given by our colleagues from the Serious and Organised Crime Agency. There are very encouraging examples and you were given an example relating to Croatia, where adoption of the model worked very well. It is true to say that we would have concerns, if we did not keep up that unrelenting focus to ensure that 27 different Member States adopt the model and apply it and through that, indeed engaging in the organised crime threat assessment and the other tools that they engage in, the analytical work files that Europol so effectively provides. In answering that element of the question that asks how mature these tools are, very encouraging but very much still a work in progress. I suggested at the outset that we, the inspectorate for policing in the United Kingdom, have no remit in inspecting Europol, but we would be encouraging them to place a very intense focus upon the development of the tools and the application of the tools through their own inspection procedures.

  Q365  Lord Young of Norwood Green: You mention in your evidence that the UK's threat assessment is informed by the Europol organised crime threat assessment.

  Sir Ronnie Flanagan: We will address that specifically in relation to a question that is still to be asked, but it is fair to say at this stage that our threat assessment is very much informed by the organised crime threat assessment provided by Europol. In terms of overall policing governance, which is the last element of your question, we collectively and certainly I individually would say that there are very positive signs that the application of these tools, while still to be developed and worked upon, as I indicated, do very much provide a positive element to police governance and do very much feed in to what we do in the UK and the conclusions that we come to in terms of our threat assessment.

  Q366  Lord Young of Norwood Green: Just one final point, as you mentioned the analytical work files, you seemed to mention them in a positive way. Do you think they are developing well as a useful means of exchanging information?

  Sir Ronnie Flanagan: Yes indeed and you can see that in the structure: there is a different analytical work file for extremist Islamist terrorism, the drugs problem, human trafficking. There are different files for those different areas of work and we would pronounce positively on those.

  Q367  Chairman: Sir Ronnie, just for interest, do you have a continental equivalent to you as Chief HMI and are they too limited to just looking at their own police forces and the equivalent of SOCA?

  Sir Ronnie Flanagan: I cannot speak for every one of the 27 Member States and indeed some other European countries that are not yet within the EU, but I have not yet discovered one. In fact we have been in communication with colleagues in France and colleagues in many countries and in Europe and indeed far beyond Europe in terms of their development of what might be described generally as civilian oversight of policing. I say "civilian oversight" because I would very strongly stress the independence of the inspectorate, independent of both Government and indeed independent of the Police Service.

  Q368  Lord Mawson: I was interested to hear you describe your organisations as "businesses" and I am interested in who the customers are and what the market is that you are actually operating in, but also how that actually relates to this whole question of Europol. My experience of quite experienced business people is that sometimes you can have all the structure and all the speak in place in the middle, but to really know what is going on in your business, you have to go right to the front edge in one place and spend some time there and really understand in one place what is actually happening, what is actually getting delivered for customers. I would just be interested to hear a bit about what your experience has been when you have gone to that front edge of Europol and looked at what is actually happening and just a brief description of what you saw.

  Chief Constable Jones: Nick is here from Thames Valley Police as well, he has two hats on today, and he has some statistics and experience of using these services directly and also in a bilateral sense. I could make a broader point about the Association of Chief Police Officers' description of its work as divided into business areas, if that is where you wanted some elaboration.

  Q369  Chairman: Yes; please do continue.

  Chief Constable Jones: I will ask Nick to pick up the Europol issue, but in terms of the way we divide our policy development work, we call them business areas precisely for the reason that we want people to have a sense of what we do on behalf of the public. If it is not influencing delivery to the public, our standards, our ethos, influencing Government, then we should not be doing it. It is our attempt to move away from a purist policy development machine, which we are not, and to be one which actually puts the public first. Ian leads the biggest area that we have and the Crime Business Area covers things like homicide investigation, has a direct impact on communities in the neighbourhood and we work back from there. We have used the language of business for that reason, we have a view of who our customers and clients are and it is definitely the public.

  Assistant Chief Constable Gargan: In terms of going to the front line, I would make three points. The first is that I have not actually visited Europol itself for several years but I had a sense, on visiting repeatedly, that it felt like quite a bureaucratic organisation and an organisation that was finding its feet and an organisation of staff who were nervous of the constraints on their ability to grow in terms of operational delivery. In terms of the UK front line, I have had several contacts with detectives from my own force and colleagues from SOCA in the last couple of weeks with an eye on this session and have had some very mixed reviews. There are clearly some excellent examples of Europol adding value to operations, making links, particularly where those operations relate to three or more states; that is where the value of Europol comes in, rather than in terms of bilateral inquiries where we already have a very generous and high quality set of arrangements in terms of SOCA liaison officers.

  Q370  Lord Mawson: What are they telling you about what is not working?

  Assistant Chief Constable Gargan: The difficulty of getting work adopted because, of necessity, Europol must be quite discriminating in terms of the amount of work it will take on, with a database with a relatively small number of entries and a relatively small staff for a huge population in the EU. At Thames Valley Police our experience is that if you add together both incoming and outgoing inquiries to Interpol, Europol and the UK central authority for mutual legal assistance, combined, in both directions, that amounts to fewer than 500 inquiries per year which, for a population of 2.1 million people, feels rather low. Now that might change when the Schengen information system comes on-line and when every police national computer check then becomes an international check those volumes may go up but our experience is that when colleagues do ask for an international service, they invariably get a good and appropriate service and, on occasions, that really is excellent.

  Q371  Lord Mawson: Is Europol sufficiently included in the implementation of the UK's strategy to combat organised crime and terrorism?

  Chief Constable Jones: That is a difficult one. Building on some of the points which have been made, it is critical that Europol continues to focus on those areas presenting the most serious threat and risk to communities, so there is a danger of mission creep and as they expand they are spreading their jam far too thin. We have to keep them focused on the critical areas, so in that respect we support the 18 areas they concentrate on through the analytical work files. The other issue that is critical is the issue around intelligence. We will get the maximum benefit from the European Criminal Intelligence Model, ECIM, provided that continues to align with our intelligence model, and we think that is the best way for them to work. Obviously we were very influential during our presidency in landing that, but there are signs that that perhaps is perhaps losing some momentum and impetus. Provided the ECIM continues to develop, then we will continue to feed off it. That then directly informs our organised crime threat assessment, which in turn influences our control strategy—sorry for all this jargon—and that does feed through ultimately to things like the national community safety plan and to police authorities and chiefs' local force plan. However, there needs to be this alignment around a common purpose and approach so we do need to continue to keep pushing very hard on that and we do through SOCA and through other partners and players. Is it sufficient? I would say at the moment, probably not. I could not say "Yes it is sufficient" because I would never satisfied. Could it be sufficient? Yes, provided we continue to resource, provided we continue to focus on the more serious issues and provided we all operate to a common script; that is pretty critical.

  Q372  Lord Mawson: Are the EU Justice and Home Affairs Council conclusions on organised crime routinely entered into the national policing strategies of the UK?

  Chief Constable Johnston: The short answer is: yes. The conclusions from the Council are fed into the Serious and Organised Crime Agency and they do feature in the UK threat assessment which is the bit of machinery within the National Intelligence Model that SOCA use to disseminate their assessment of threat more broadly from serious and organised crime across the UK and into the UK; they do feature as part of that. That clearly is an annual publication but they also feature in their more routine month-by-month assessments of priority, so they are embraced, they are included in our assessments.

  Q373  Lord Teverson: Outside the Council obviously the Commission gets involved in certain matters, and I know about the difference between First Pillar and Third Pillar, but do police forces ever deal directly with the Commission or lobbying or consultation? Is there a communication at that level without going through the UKRep or purely government political connections?

  Chief Constable Johnston: Not that I am aware of. Our route in to all those negotiations is through SOCA, which has its value because a single route gives a very clear and common, shared sense of direction; I am not aware of any other route in.

  Chief Constable Jones: We do get approached by various EU bodies for advice or for a view on and we tend to channel that through the regular channels that go through SOCA. Regular approaches are made but we try, by and large, to discipline that so that we present a united front.

  Q374  Baroness Garden of Frognal: Are the UK's chief police officers satisfied that the mechanisms for improving law enforcement information exchange within the EU are coordinated and adequate for their purpose for the years to come?

  Assistant Chief Constable Gargan: There are four elements to that question. Overwhelmingly we talk here about operational information exchange and that is a multi-stranded activity. We have the SOCA liaison officers, we have Interpol, we have Europol, we have the Schengen information system on the horizon and then specific initiatives, the Prüm initiative around finger prints, DNA and vehicle driver details, the Swedish initiative, indeed we also have our own ACPO Criminals Records Office. We have this very complex multi-stranded set of arrangements. On occasion, it looks from our perspective that they are driven by individual Member States' initiatives but our stance over the years has been, rather like making a mobile telephone call, we do not really mind whether it is routed bounced off a satellite, sent down a fibre-optic cable or sent through a telegraph wire provided we get what we need from the other end. That tends to be the ACPO approach and we rely on SOCA to provide that coordination on our behalf and we believe it is largely effective. The second area of information exchange is that there is some rogue bilateral contact, either unit-to-unit or the guy you met in a camp site in Spain two years ago and you ring with an enquiry of your French police colleague, but that is very low. The number of inquiries that take place of that sort are very low; they used to be higher and they are reducing as people become aware of data protection legislation. The third and incredibly valuable level of information exchange is for a very specific operation and this is where you cannot actually beat getting detectives from the British Police Force together with their overseas counterparts. Whether that is pursuing a murder, a missing person investigation, an abduction or an offence of drug trafficking, that face-to-face contact between the investigators themselves is incredibly valuable, but of course we rely on SOCA to broker that and to make sure there is a central oversight. Then the final tier of exchange relates to the exchange of know-how and support from one force to another. There is a proposal for an international police assistance board to ensure that there is some kind of central oversight and coordination of that which has traditionally been something that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has had sight of. So across those four elements, given that the second element, the sort of rogue contact, is one that is low and diminishing in its level, we can be broadly satisfied.

  Q375  Baroness Garden of Frognal: Chief Constable Jones mentioned a common script and in fact in your answers about communication I wonder whether you find any hurdles in a mutual understanding of terminology or indeed language within EU members.

  Assistant Chief Constable Gargan: There are clearly issues around language, although the UK is fortunate in that people from third party states are as likely to speak English as a second language as any other. There are equally difficulties around respecting judicial systems; the role of police, the role of magistrates and state prosecutors can create confusion and difficulties in progressing cases. I have personal experience of working with the French and when British investigators make a request the language of the British investigator is not understood by the French examining magistrate, not because of an Anglo-French linguistic difficulty, but rather because of very different operating systems in the two countries.

  Q376  Lord Dear: The thing about terminology, and this cropped up when we were in The Hague and Brussels last week, and pretty well everyone was saying there was a difficulty, not in understanding the language, because by and large English is the lingua franca but in the way in which a word or a phrase can have totally different connotations depending on the accusatorial or inquisitorial system. The easy answer is that we should have a common dictionary, a common lexicon and that is a long way off I guess. I wonder if you saw it as a real problem, which they perceived to be a problem across in The Hague and in Brussels, or whether it is something we just wait to resolve itself?

  Assistant Chief Constable Gargan: My personal view is that the only pragmatic way around that is through goodwill and better understanding of one another's systems. That is where the SOCA liaison officer network really comes into its own, when you are operating with a country and you actually have people embedded there who have worked with the police and judiciary there, worked with examining magistrates and have developed fixes to work round specific problems that exist and commonly crop up in operations.

  Q377  Lord Dear: To explain the correct terminology. One of the things we could consider doing is to put a helpful recommendation into the report. I cannot speak for my colleagues here but it is one of the things clearly that we could consider. Since they are in a perceived area, would it help you to have some sort of extra clarity injected into that issue? I am not sure, sitting here, how you would do it.

  Chief Constable Jones: Absolutely, particularly words like "intelligence" and "information" and there are significant misunderstandings there which inhibit the momentum which Sir Ronnie and I have already talked about. At the risk of being controversial, the recent discussion around pre-charge detention amplified quite well the differences of appreciation of each other's processes and systems from very learned judges and lawyers on either side of the debate. It is a big issue and for the public it is a big issue.

  Q378  Lord Mawson: A lot of my life has been spent in trying to bring together quite complex partnerships to make things work out of silo, but it seems to me a lot of this area is about human relationships, not only in this country but in 27 countries. Do you think enough is being invested in the whole of that, in people and relationships? When you actually start to get those things in place, all sorts of things get dealt with quite quickly, whereas the systems and the processes are not actually dealing with them. Do you think the investment is right for the whole of that area?

  Chief Constable Jones: It is not sufficient, and one of the issues for Europol is that their visibility is not high enough in the human sense at a senior professional level in the way that some other European bodies are, and we do need to invest in development on either side; I am not pointing a finger at Europol. It is absolutely critical, but once you have the key players, you overcome issues around threats of compromising information and what have you. In my opinion it is not routinely invested in sufficiently and it is the word "routine", it is looking at cross-training or at regular fora for people at the right level in different organisations. There is a risk that SOCA, although it does not want to be a choke point, could become a choke point. You have hit on a very important issue there.

  Q379  Chairman: Whilst it is clearly desirable to use SOCA as a filter, it could be that what get obscured are Europol's relations with the UK forces, and perhaps they do not know and understand that.

  Chief Constable Jones: That is absolutely right, and in some of the reforms to our training and development, as we are revisiting this now through green papers and what have you, we ought to look to create the space for more of internationalism to come back in to our agenda because clearly we are up against a global ideological terrorism threat but we are also seeing the emergence of new forms of organised criminality as well which are global in their reach and not just one country or even two or three countries and we need to take those on.

  Sir Ronnie Flanagan: Mr Gargan referred to the establishment of an international police assistance board. This deals with all sorts of international police assistance that we in the UK would offer in areas outside Europol's remit. The reason it is important to mention it is as I was leading on this to advise in a cross-departmental Whitehall way, involving of course the Home Office but also the Foreign Office, DfID, the Ministry of Defence, Secretary of State for Scotland and Northern Ireland. What we identified as absolutely critical was this concept of having a one-stop shop. Relating that back to Europol, it is absolutely crucial that we in the UK have a one-stop shop. I cannot think of a better body or a more appropriate body than SOCA in that national sense. Undoubtedly, it does have shortcomings. SOCA, for example, has no remit in relation to counter-terrorism, so suddenly you find our Met colleagues, who have very much an international remit in that regard, deploy representatives to Europol quite outside SOCA. So there are shortcomings with SOCA but the advantages, in my view, very much outweigh the shortcomings. The trick is, and we will be dealing with this in subsequent questions, how to allow fully effective bilateral communication, force to force, but in a way that is complementary and feeds into the central mechanism. From my point of view, I would like to stress the absolutely crucial nature of having this one-stop shop.

  Chairman: You have posed the question very well; it is the answers which are perhaps more difficult.


 
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