Examination of Witnesses (Questions 400
WEDNESDAY 2 JULY 2008
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 culturesbecause it seems
to me you do need bothand 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
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.
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
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.
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.
That is very helpful. What about loading the data into the Europol
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.
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.
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.