Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 400 - 409)


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

  Q400  Lord Mawson: Lots of us over the years have watched lots of television about serious crime and detectives, so we feel very informed about how it really works. Most of you have to deal with the reality at the moment. It seems to me that there are two different things in play here: one of them is the whole question about how we get secure data and information systems which actually work and are competent. In terms of a business thing, it seems to me that one bit of a business is to make that work like a bank, so that when you press the button, the stuff comes out and it actually works and is very useful at the time and it is accurate, and that has a particular culture necessary to it. However, there is another bit of the business which is absolutely critical because just to rely on systems and processes et cetera might not actually do the very thing you need to do. There is the front end which seems to me to be quite entrepreneurial, quite inventive: the ability to build relationships across all sorts of things very quickly to intervene; very different culture, very different way of working to do with instinct, a whole range of other things that might not sit easily with this other culture. Is that true? How do you encourage both those cultures—because it seems to me you do need both—and what are we doing to develop those sorts of entrepreneurial people who have instinct, gut reaction and all that stuff that is necessary to join the dots and make everything work?

  Assistant Chief Constable Gargan: I have some personal experience of that because I spent two years in France as our liaison officer in Paris and you are exactly right: there is not a database in the world that can persuade a French surveillance team to turn out for you at 11am on a Saturday when they have cutting the lawn and a barbecue planned for later that day. It is the real strength of the SOCA network and the precursor national criminal service network and customs networks that they were capable of doing exactly that. It is something that works very well in the UK. On the data side of your question and your point, it is not simply about effective data, it is also about mindset and about willingness to share and we talked about some of the constraints around security. I represent the Crime Business Area on the board that is developing the new Police National Database, the Impact Programme, which arose from one of the Bichard recommendations. If the programme director were with us this morning, one of the key points he would make about the police national database would be that it represents the need to move our collective thinking on from need-to-know towards need-to-share and indeed dare-to-share, as he would put it. The same mindset is very relevant here, but of course you would only dare to share if you were confident in the data that underpins it. Success lies in the blend of those two things: the personal relationships and the effective data supporting that mindset.

  Lord Mawson: My concern when I listened to the Commission last week and others was that they could cope a bit with the whole idea of the information and that sort of mechanism. When you get into the rather more daring stuff, which is absolutely necessary, I can imagine those sorts of cultures are all very difficult to get behind because they are absolutely critical to the front face of engaging with customers or whatever the phrase might be.

  Chairman: You were getting nods there.

  Q401  Lord Dear: I suppose that the $64,000 question is how to make Europol better both for the European Union as a whole and for us specifically. The question that you have already had notice of is a very short one: more broadly, how can Europol make a more positive impact on policing within the EU framework? This is your chance to write a chunk of our report.

  Chief Constable Johnston: Thank you very much. I will kick this off and I am sure colleagues will want to chip in and we have touched upon most of the things during our discussions here this morning. The first point to make is that the system does work at the moment, it is not falling apart and it is producing a very helpful product for us. My shopping list would begin with a more comprehensive adoption of the National Intelligence Model as defined in the UK and as agreed during our European presidency; that would be extremely helpful. Improvements around the analytical component of their work would be extremely welcome. We have already alluded to the IT issues in terms of the capacity to input bulk data. There is something about the whole organisation marketing its value, so becoming better known across the Police Service, better respected across the Police Service which will attract better people to it which will get this spiral of improvement in it. There is something about alignment of European priorities that is a fairly difficult challenge, but getting out priorities narrowed down. You have to remember that this is very much a low volume high value area and we are not going to be able to do everything and we are only going to be effective if we really do focus in on the things that are really important to us. There are things around continuity in terms of staff and the human relationship bit has been played out very strongly here and I would very much endorse that. It is good to see that there are going to be changes in the period of tenure of the chair of the Europol management board from six months to 18 months. It is that sort of thing, although 18 months is still pretty short really in terms of developing long and trusting relationships. On the whole thing of culture, a shared culture within the setup and the routine approach to where there has been a bilateral, we do get the feedback loop going into the centre so information is not missed out.

  Q402  Chairman: That is a comprehensive summary. Are there other contributions?

  Sir Ronnie Flanagan: I would just say, and I am not going to say that Europol is overly bureaucratic because I do not personally have the evidence to say that that is the case, but my experience of other bodies is such that there is a real risk that there can be too great a level of bureaucracy at play and certainly if Europol can examine itself and the management board and how it works and be satisfied that it takes a sufficiently strategic view rather than getting into the wheels of the work of the organisation, if it does by that self-inspection, if you like, come to a conclusion that there is too great a level of bureaucracy and if that is the case, acts to reduce that level of bureaucracy, that would bring about improvement. However, I stress that I do not have any personal evidence to say that it is too bureaucratic.

  Chief Constable Jones: I would just like to reinforce a couple of points. Where Europol goes next is very important so it is identification of common purpose and common causes which bind Member States together and they are the critical low volume but high impact areas around counter-terrorism and organised crime. There would be common agreement then and from that would flow common cause and more impact and effect. There have been occasions in the last ten years when it has lost some focus but that is not the case currently. The more we keep it focused, the more impact and the more effective it will be. The other point I would just reinforce is about visibility and while I was listening I did think about Eurojust, for example, whose profile is much higher and they make much more effort to communicate with criminal justice professionals across the EU. Maybe Eurojust could offer us something in terms of raising the value-added of Europol. They are the two points I would like to make.

  Q403  Lord Dear: Every now and again, we hear almost sotto voce the suggestion that there might be an operational role for Europol, and then immediately we back off because I can see enormous difficulties with that. I wondered whether you had a view on it. It has never been expressed to us as a firm recommendation; it has just been mentioned in passing by people so far.

  Chief Constable Jones: I will offer a view. Its key value-added is in facilitation of Member States' law enforcement activities and if it ever got into the position of initiating investigation, it would probably unravel. That is my view. I do not think the European Community is yet ready for a federal enforcement approach that is led in that way and it would cut across so many accountabilities, not least of which our cherished local accountabilities in the UK. However, I do think its future lies in facilitation not in investigation, but that is just my personal view.

  Sir Ronnie Flanagan: It is a view I would share, for what it is worth.

  Q404  Lord Teverson: During this inquiry the one group of people we have not been able to interview are the villains to a degree because they are your customers from the other side of the counter in a certain way. What do you think, not in the terrorism area but the organised crime area more, that community would fear most about Europol or changes in Europol or is it completely outside of Europol? Would Europol not affect them at all?

  Chief Constable Jones: If they were to band and brigade their focus around common purpose, that would be a strong signal to criminality and terrorism that Member States are determined to get their act together and actually focus on a few areas and actually do something with it. We have some positive experiences which are not well advertised where that is delivered. Currently, if you were to go out and ask organised criminality, or the man or woman in the street, it would not mean much to them. They would probably want to talk to you more about Interpol, because Interpol has a higher profile, but not Europol. There is an issue in that because we in law enforcement do know that if we project confidence and common purpose, it does deter the opposition and ultimately that is what we are here to do. If I am honest, as we sit here today, you would probably find that they are not aware of it or certainly not intimidated by it, which they should be.

  Q405  Lord Marlesford: When we had SOCA give us evidence, they talked a certain amount about the suspicious incident reports or something like that which are fed in to them and they claimed that every report is carefully filed and they have got over one million files. This strikes me as not very practical in terms of police work because one has heard an awful lot of press reports of very foolish reports being made. Do you feel that your use of such reports would be better if it were fined down to things which actually might matter?

  Chief Constable Johnston: If you are referring to the SARs report, which is a suspicious activity report, which is the banking role feeding information into us, SOCA do endeavour to prioritise the release of information to forces, so we are not deluged by it at the front end. I have to say the volume is enormous and, I am being brutally honest, to manage all of that effectively is a pretty tough old job and it is probably beyond us.

  Assistant Chief Constable Gargan: It bears on the previous question about what a criminal fears as well and what we need to move towards with SARs is to take the suspicious activity reports and to take our own organised crime mapping and to take the various other databases and sources of information that are available to us and, to use the words of colleagues in SOCA, to develop almost industrialised processes for working that information so that investigative leads arise from it because it is vast. If we can develop those industrialised processes, we can actually create the means of providing a sustained attack. It is the sustained attack that the criminal fears and if they cannot see the joins between Europol, SOCA and police forces so that they are conscious that they are being attacked on many fronts and their assets are being taken from them and their financial movements are being noted and their vehicle movements are being noted, then that could put us on the front foot. The suspicious activity reports in bulk provide us with a substantial investigative opportunity but we need to continue to refine the way that we take advantage of that opportunity.

  Sir Ronnie Flanagan: I should like to say that we must not in any sense ever discourage adherence to the legislation because I remember, not that long ago, being involved in a chase of a money trail right across the world when a Metropolitan officer had lost his life in the course of an operation and, because we in the United Kingdom had no such mechanisms, there were opportunities for laundering of money within our jurisdiction which did not then exist even in the United States, so it is a very positive development. Yes, there is such a volume that there are difficulties in managing it, but the solution does not lie anywhere in trying to reduce the volume.

  Q406  Chairman: May I just ask a domestic question about the role of SOCA? Given the importance of SOCA as that conduit, how important do you think the two-way relationship is between SOCA and the 52 police forces in the United Kingdom? Do we also forward information, data, do we load data into the Europol Information System in an automatic way? Is that what we do?

  Chief Constable Jones: There are some real difficulties around the relationship between SOCA and the 52 forces. They largely flow from the fact that SOCA is not the national crime squad with a different label on it. We created an organisation to do a fundamentally different task. That left a gap between force activities and their activities which was once filled by the crime squad. There was a commitment back then by Government that they were going to resource that gap, so we were going to create more operational capability to take on organised crime. In a sense SOCA have become the sort of whipping post for that and that is quite unfair. I should like to make that point this morning. What are we doing about that? We looked, through HMI, around merging forces; we thought we could create new capability that way. That did not happen. Now Government are supporting and assisting the Service to build new capability to fill the gap. The gap is the issue really. SOCA is not the crime squad and it is a fundamentally different organisation. We currently have a number of pilots running around the country where forces are collaborating to fill the gap. We have a superb, probably one of the best in the world, counter-terror network now which is across England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland so the gap between forces and supranational agencies has been filled in that way. We are starting to create one around organised crime. We now have a network of intelligence nodes around the UK which sit above forces and fit the gap. Bit by bit we are shoring it up, but the real issue is this capability gap which was left with the creation of SOCA. It has affected relationships, sometimes unfairly.

  Q407  Chairman: That is very helpful. What about loading the data into the Europol system?

  Chief Constable Johnston: We are not one of the five countries which have the mass download capability and therefore we do have difficulties loading all the information onto the system in a timely way.

  Q408  Chairman: We come to the very last question, to which I think I partly know the answer. You have given us a wonderful opportunity to understand the system better but you may have thought, coming into the room, that there were things you wanted to impart to us which were important to the story you wanted to tell in the report. So when I ask you whether you think it is value for money for the €9.6 million, could you also just add if there is anything you feel we should know about which our forensic questions have somehow overlooked?

  Sir Ronnie Flanagan: I think I speak for all of us in saying that we have concluded that at the level of expenditure at €9.6 million it definitely does represent value for money so far as the United Kingdom is concerned. From my point of view, nothing to add, except I would like to say, in relation to the inspection of SOCA, that it is very important that we in the Inspectorate do inspect SOCA. They have to be given tremendous credit for doing a remarkable job in a relatively short time in bringing together a number of precursor organisations with very different cultures and blending them into the organisation which is now SOCA. If anyone thought they were going to produce very publicly demonstrable startling results overnight, that was never going to be the case. They are certainly fit for purpose and there will be a pattern of increasingly very public successful results to be produced.

  Q409  Chairman: Any other additional contributions?

  Chief Constable Johnston: No, I had my opportunity earlier when answering Lord Dear's question thank you very much.

  Chairman: May I say to you gentlemen that this has been an excellent witness session. The Committee are extremely grateful to you for organising yourselves before you came in the room. The quality and clarity of the answers really will form a very important part of our final report. We are most grateful to you for finding time this morning to come to see us. Many thanks indeed.

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