The National Crime Agency (NCA) is billed as a powerful new body, which is being created to tackle organised crime, strengthen UK borders, fight fraud and cyber crime and protect children and young people.
The Home Office says it is necessary as organised crime costs the UK between £20 billion and £40 billion a year and organised crime groups often operate across boundaries – both in terms of crime type and geography.
It hopes the NCA will help pull together “a single national intelligence picture on organised criminals and their activities having the authority to coordinate and task the national response, prioritising resources according to threat.”
But Foyle MP Mark Durkan has sought reassurances from the Northern Ireland Secretary of State over the potential implications for this part of the world, where policing has historically been a particularly thorny issue.
He quizzed Mrs Villiers on the Crime and Courts Bill, which was introduced into the House of Lords on May 10, 2012, and includes provisions on the NCA.
The Londonderry MP asked if it was compatible with the “principles and arrangements for accountable policing in Northern Ireland resulting from the Belfast Agreement, the Patten Report and other agreements.”
Mrs Villiers replied: “My Department has worked closely with the Home Office and Northern Ireland Department of Justice to ensure that the principles of the Belfast Agreement and other agreements are reflected in the Crime and Courts Bill.
“The proposed arrangements achieve this by maintaining the primacy of the Chief Constable for policing in Northern Ireland. They also provide for local accountability, through the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland and a relationship with the Northern Ireland Policing Board.”
However, she revealed officers of the NCA would take part in operations in Northern Ireland in a number of areas, in partnership with the PSNI.
These include child exploitation, organised crime and cyber crime.
“The NCA will also work on reserved matters, for example money laundering, and other matters, such as human trafficking, some elements of which are excepted,” she explained.
She revealed that the 4,000 strong NCA will be headed up by its first Director General Keith Bristow, who was formerly Chief Constable of the Warwickshire police and a former director of the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS).
The new force will also be driven by an “intelligence hub.”
The Minister stated: “The NCA will be an agency of operational crime fighters, comprising four commands (Organised Crime, Border Policing, Economic Crime and Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP)) and a National Cyber Crime Unit.
“It will be driven by an ‘intelligence hub’ and an effective set of tasking and co-ordination arrangements.
“Subject to the passage of legislation, the NCA will be established by the end of 2013. As set out in the NCA plan, the intention is that the NCA will be UK-wide, in recognition of the reach and threat of serious and organised crime, and it will respect devolution of policing in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
“The majority of the NCA’s work force, which will number approximately 4,000, will be made up of staff from existing precursor bodies, for example: the Serious Organised Crime Agency including CEOP; and transferred capabilities from the National Police Improvement Agency and the Metropolitan Police Central e-Crime Unit.”