Serious Organised Crime Agency paralysed by bureaucracy


Now this is depressing. Perhaps someone was afraid they might start filling up the jails too quickly?

Soca is 'paralysed by bureaucracy'
By Laura Clout
Last Updated: 7:57am GMT 24/01/2007

Britain’s answer to the FBI, the Serious Organised Crime Agency, is beset by “major problems” just ten months after it was created, it was claimed last night.

Soca, set up to combat high-level drug and people-traffickers, was said to be failing to take up the majority of the drugs cases referred to it by Customs.

Some officers are already seeking to leave to return to conventional police work, it was said, due to low morale and a perception that the organisation is “paralysed by bureaucracy”.

Since Soca’s inception last April, customs officers refer most cases of class A drug smuggling to the agency to ask if it wants to investigate further.

Peter Lockhart, of the Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents around half of Soca’s officers, said of 300 drugs cases offered to the organisation so far, “only a the region of about ten cases” had been taken up.

An unnamed senior investigatiing officer from HM Customs told the programme: “The people at the ports and airports phone and offer the job to Soca. They wait for Soca to phone back. Sometimes this takes a very long time.

“We have had instances where a phone call on a Friday to Soca is not responded to until Monday, and the client - for want of a better terminology - is already back on the streets.

“Certainly, jobs which would have been taken on by Customs are not being taken on by Soca.”

One Soca officer, speaking anonymously to Channel 4 News, summed up the organisation’s performance as disastrous.

He said: “I am achieving next to nothing in my job... Since Soca started, I haven’t taken on any new investigations and haven’t been asked to develop any intelligence to move into an investigation. I am just purely performing email, admin tasks.

“I think it is bureaucratic. Its management is top-centred, so people in the senior positions can’t make decisions without referring them back up to the executive directors.”

He added: “In my section of the organisation, morale is probably the lowest I have ever known it, and it is low because people are under-utilised.”

A second officer said: “I find it hard to find anything I could hang my hat on to say they were doing well. It is lacking in most areas.”

Jan Berry, the chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said there was a vacuum between county forces tackling local crime and the new agency dealing only with the biggest cases. Every job advert being placed by forces in England and Wales was attracting applications from Soca officers who want to go back to the police service, she said.

“There’s a whole raft of crime that’s now not even being looked at. To a certain extent, the criminals are benefiting from the lines drawn on maps,” she added.

A Home Office spokesman said: “Soca is using innovative methods to crack down on a wide range of organised crime and has been set strategic priorities by the Home Secretary which are reflected in its annual plan for 2006-07.

“An annual report on the exercise of Soca’s functions over this period will be published at the end of the financial year.”

Soca, which views itself as a quasi-secret service, was set up in April to combat organised criminal gangs, using what Tony Blair called “21st century methods”.

Employing about 4,000, it is effectively a combination of four existing bodies, the National Crime Squad, the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the investigative sections of HM Revenue and Customs and the Immigration Service.

The market for illegal drugs in Britain, particularly heroin and cocaine, is worth an estimated £4.5 billion. Up to 35 tonnes of heroin and 45 tonnes of cocaine are thought to be trafficked into the UK every year.

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