Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by the Association of Chief Police Officers


1.  ACPO Terrorism and Allied Matters Committee (ACPO TAM) has the principal responsibility for overseeing the work of Police Port Units. The officers who staff the Police Port Units come under the umbrella of the Special Branch of the Force in whose area a Port Unit is situated. Special Branch Officers have been posted to ports since 1884. Those officers were from the Metropolitan Police Special Branch although, in 1969, with the creation of the National Ports Scheme, some 30 sea and airports around the country were staffed by Special Branch Units from 17 Police Forces. Following the expansion of the National Ports Scheme in the 1970s and 1980s, Forces recruited generalist uniform and CID officers, as well as Special Branch staff, to work as Port Control Officers although the Port Units were still under the supervision of the various Force Special Branches.

  2.  There are currently 60 ports in the United Kingdom designated under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. They comprise 23 seaports and 37 airports. There are numerous other smaller airports (landing strips) and seaports (quays/harbours) which, from time to time, are visited (monitored) by staff from the various Police Port Units. Of the 60 designated ports, some are staffed full-time by Police Port Officers; others are part-time or as the need arises, according to vessel/aircraft movements.

  3.  The 60 designated ports principally cover the main air/sea passenger routes between the UK and international destinations and the common travel area routes. Police Port Units vary significantly in size and work—from the major international air and sea ports like Heathrow and Dover to the smaller part-time Port Units like Cambridge Airport and Troon.

  4.  Passenger throughput monitored by police also varies enormously. During 1999-2000 over 220 million passengers passed through the various Port Units in the United Kingdom, either entering or leaving the country. Some of the Police Port Units deal with both international and common travel area traffic whilst others deal only with one category of traveller (eg CTA or International). Those are usually the sea ports, depending on their location (west coast or east/south coast).

  5.  ACPO TAM oversees the work of Police Port Units and the principal focus of that Committee is counter-terrorism, subversion, espionage and other forms of extremism, including public order issues. A significant amount of the work of Police Port Units, however, spans the interest of other ACPO Committees, eg Crime and Road Policing Committees.

  6.  The presence of Special Branch Officers (police officers) at ports is an integral aspect of their counter-terrorist role. Their task is to seek and gather information, identify persons of interest, and generally offer support for counter-terrorism operations. In so doing, they work closely with other agencies at the ports and exercise the powers of examining officers under the Prevention of Terrorism Legislation. Police officers at ports also contribute to more general policing work in a number of ways, including the interception of children being removed from the country in breach of the Child Abduction Act or in defiance of civil court orders, the detection of offences, the arrest of wanted criminals and the recovery of stolen property.

  7.  Ports are our first and last line of defence against terrorism and other criminality. ACPO acknowledges the need to balance the interest of the citizen against the right of the State to protect itself and its citizens. In ACPO's view, that encompasses the right to "police" its frontiers to combat crime, safeguard its revenue, implement its immigration policy and protect its public health, whilst acknowledging the requirements of ECHR and our membership of the European Union.

  8.  Effective physical controls at UK ports of entry can assist in combating each of the potential threats. However, such controls are only likely to be effective, bearing in mind the vast numbers of passengers passing through UK ports, if proper procedures are in place and there are sufficient trained staff having adequate powers to implement them.

  9.  The police experience in recent years has been that in spite of the combined efforts of the three Border Agencies in their respective roles, the effectiveness of our port controls and, therefore, the deterrent effect of them, has diminished.

  10.  The statutory powers of police officers staffing Police Port Units are principally contained in Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. However, those powers are limited to countering terrorism. Other general police powers, principally contained in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE), the various local Port Authority Regulations, etc, and, of course, the powers at common law are also available to Police Officers at ports.

  11.  The status of "examining officers" contained in Schedule 7 to the Terrorism Act is also conferred upon an Immigration Officer and a Custom's Officer, who is designated for the purpose of Schedule 7 by the Secretary of State and the Commissioners of Customs and Excise. It is interesting to note that Police Officers do not have similar reciprocal status/powers conferred on them by the Immigration and Asylum Act and the Customs Management Act.

  12.  Police Port Unit Officers liaise closely with colleagues in the HMIS and HMCE, as well as with the representatives of the various Port Authorities and Carrying Companies. Without such liaison, effective police coverage at the various Port Units would be seriously curtailed.

  13.  In the past, Police Port Officers adopted work practices which involved police officers shadowing Immigration Officers at both the embarkation and arrival controls at ports. A more roving liaison was maintained with HMCE colleagues at Customs controls. However, as the volume of passenger traffic grew and HMIS/HMCE tactics at controls changed, such working practices became untenable, at least at the larger ports and, invariably, now much of the police work at ports is intelligence-driven. That presumes the availability of as much intelligence/information on travellers as possible, using profiling techniques on both likely suspects, either individually or as a type, together with the closer monitoring of air/sea routes assessed to be in a higher risk category than others, either from terrorist suspects or other criminals.

  14.  Great emphasis is placed upon the rapid exchange of accurate information between the various Police Forces and the National Police Agencies, National Criminal Intelligence Service/National Crime Squad (NCIS/NCS) and their port counterparts. Also the ready and expeditious exchange of information between the various Border Agencies and Police, as well as between police and the Port Authorities/Carrying Companies, is vital to successful police operations at ports.

  15.  Physical controls at UK ports of entry and exit rely on the effective inter-relationships between police, HMIS and HMCE. The overlap between certain forms of criminality, illegal immigration, smuggling, etc. is sometimes significant, particularly when similar "players" become involved in those activities. For example, the Dover experience, as related in the response from Chief Constable of Kent, is that persons involved in organised crime are now moving into the realm of illegal immigration, contraband/smuggling etc. Sometimes the distinctions may become so blurred that it is crucial that the Border Agencies, although having a clearly defined role in such activities, liaise closely to pool intelligence, information, ideas, strategies, tactics, and resources (both human and otherwise) to combat a common evil. That is the principal rationale for the tri-service MoU (see later).

  16.  Over the years, effective liaison arrangements have developed between the three Border Agencies at both local and national levels. They are broadly effective in "ironing out" local problems and dealing with matters of mutual interest between the three Border Agencies, as well as the Port Authorities and Carrying Companies, whilst having some impact on more strategic issues at a national level. However, it would be wrong to assume that all problems have been resolved. Queries about the legality of the unfettered and continuous access to and exchange of data and information on passengers between the Border Agencies have arisen in recent years, principally as a result of data protection legislation. More recently ECHR issues have been raised concerning those matters. Although recent immigration and asylum legislation and provisions within the new Terrorism Act and the Customs Management Acts all give powers to each agency to seek information from passengers in the furtherance of their specific duties, the ready exchange of such information between agencies, in practice, does not appear to be working well. Much of the day to day work of Police Port Units, as far as exchange of information with the other Border Agencies is concerned, still relies on the "old pals act" and there are real concerns about the legality of the exchange of information in such a way.

  17.  Unless this issue is met head on, whether or not by primary legislation, then, in ACPO's view, the effective and efficient work of Police Port Units, as well as we suspect the work of HMIS and HMCE, will be affected. It is important that this issue receives high priority in any consideration of the work of Port Controls/Agencies at UK ports of entry. Effective gateway provisions for the exchange of such data are essential.

  18.  The importance of effective liaison between Police Port Units and the other Border Agencies was recognised 15 years ago during a comprehensive inspection of Police Port Units in the UK by Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary (J.H. Brownlow, CBE, QPM) following recommendations made by Earl Jellicoe in his review of the then Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1976. The HMI's report recommended the creation of the post of "National Co-ordinator of Police Port Units". A principal function of the NCPP, which was introduced in 1987, was to advise Chief Constables, the HMI and Home Office, on both operational and support functions of Police Port Units, with a view to enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of such work both locally and nationally. The NCPP, an ACPO officer (currently ACC Fred Newton) is a member of the ACPO Terrorism and Allied Matters Committee. As well as his police contacts, he liaises closely with senior officials in HMIS, HMCE, the Home Office and other Government Departments involved in port work. He also works closely with the various Port Authorities and a range of other organisations/agencies similarly involved. Although the Chief Constables of the 51 Forces in the United Kingdom are directly responsible for the work of their own Police Port Units, the NCPP acts as an advisor, trouble-shooter and spokesman for the Police Service on a variety of issues affecting the work of Police Port Units.

  19.  Arising from his work and concerns voiced by the other agencies about the need for closer co-operation between the Police, HMIS and HMCE at ports, in 1997, the three agencies agreed a Memorandum of Understanding to enhance that co-operation and closer working at the various port units around the country. ACPO TAM and Crime Committees, together with the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the National Crime Squad, were involved, on behalf of police, in the preparation of the Memorandum of Understanding which covered the broad spectrum of work of the three agencies. It included, for instance, agreement to share accommodation, equipment (CCTV etc) and, as appropriate, information concerning those matters of interest to the respective agencies.

  20.  The Memorandum of Understanding was instrumental in enhancing the co-operation at both a national and local level between the Border Agencies. A tri-service working group was also formed to oversee those issues. The Border Agencies Working Group meets bi-monthly and, in turn, is overseen by the Border Agencies Directors Meeting, which is held twice a year with the chairmanship of that meeting revolving amongst Police, HMIS, HMCE.

  21.  Much of its work over the past three years has been to explore and enhance the opportunities for joint working between the three Border Agencies (Police, HMIS and HMCE). It has enhanced the co-operation and close working of the three agencies and the various initiatives pursued by the Border Agencies Working Group have improved the liaison between the three agencies. An excellent example of this is shared CCTV coverage between HMCE and police at several ports of entry. However, its fairly loose structural composition and intermittent meetings do not fully embrace the needs of the three agencies nor, indeed, explore and develop joint working arrangements to the fullest. There may be a tendency, for instance, to focus on initiatives of greater interest to the particular agency, who hold the chairmanship at any given time rather than genuinely pursue joint partnership working initiatives to the benefit of all.

  22.  ACPO TAM, therefore, consulted its members and invited comments on these issues. There is no agreed ACPO policy on how Police Port Units should integrate their work with HMIS and HMCE and views received from ACPO colleagues differ on how best to progress these issues. On balance, three broad views emerge:

    —  (i)  those who feel a single Border Agency would be the best option, provided a sound business case can be made;

    —  (ii)  those who feel the system as it is generally works (the status quo), although some improvements may be needed to enhance current liaison arrangements between the border agencies;

    —  (iii)  those who, although favouring the retention of the three Border Agencies, feel that a more fundamental change is needed to the current liaison arrangements.

  23.  Comments received on those three views can be encapsulated as follows:

(i)  A single Border Agency

  ACPO acknowledges that the establishment of a single Border Agency would require legislation and a significant change in the way physical port controls are currently managed.

  Although attractive in a broad strategic sense, it is not clear what precise cost benefit would accrue and before any move in such a direction is taken, ACPO believes that a full business case would be necessary. A few ACPO colleagues support the view of the Chief Constable of Kent in citing the potential economies of scale, greater cohesion of operations and unity of command of a single agency.

  ACPO recognises that each Service has different responsibilities and different priorities. The expertise, powers and legislation available to each Service, as mentioned in this paper, are also different.

  In connection with a business case, it is interesting to note that Jersey Police commissioned a Service review by Deloitte and Touche Consultants to consider the various aspects of customs, immigration and policing in port work. I understand that the review carried out on behalf of the Jersey Customs and Excise, Immigration and Nationality Departments, and the States of Jersey Police, followed two earlier and separate reviews on customs and immigration, which examined their efficiency and effectiveness. On both those occasions, the amalgamation/merging issue was raised but faltered, as did the latest review; one comment was that cost savings were unlikely to be significant. Although on a much smaller scale and focused specifically on Jersey, some of the principles within the review impact upon the issues being considered in this current inquiry of the HAC and the Committee may wish to have sight of that report.

(ii)  Status quo with some improvements to current liaison arrangements

  For the reasons mentioned in the body of this report, some ACPO colleagues favour this option. Liaison has greatly improved in recent years between the three agencies and working relationships are generally good to excellent. ACPO colleagues supporting this option consider there is actually a strength in their diversity of experience and knowledge, together with the slightly different powers available to the existing agencies.

  The emerging potential effects of the Schengen Agreement for the UK has raised concerns about easier travel within the Schengen area for terrorist suspects and criminals alike. Police action on proposals for the UK to have access to the Schengen Information System is currently being led on behalf of ACPO by John Abbott, Director General of NCIS, who reports to both ACPO TAM and Crime Committee. Effective access by police to the Schengen Information System, as well as enhanced access to Passenger Manifest Information, are two crucial aspects upon which improved liaison arrangements are necessary.

  With the benefits accruing from the MoU and resultant improved joint working of the three agencies, some ACPO colleagues feel that the status quo is appropriate, although improvements to the current liaison arrangements may be necessary.

  In that respect, colleagues have remarked upon the need for improved joint working outside normal port protocols. British Transport Police in particular give an example of the specific MoU negotiated between the Border Agencies during the 1998 Football World Cup and Euro 2000. Both events required a substantial policing operation which entailed BTP and other police officers from Home Office Forces closely liaising with the French and Belgian authorities and their frontier agencies.

  Recent legislation on people travelling out of the UK who are suspected of certain offences (violence and football hooligans) will only enhance the need for greater co-operation between the various Border Agencies in this country and their respective counterparts abroad.

  ACPO colleagues who support the status quo option point to the "it ain't broken so don't mend it" theory and comment that enhanced liaison arrangements would be more cost effective than the more radical option of a single Border Agency.

(iii)  Retaining the three Border Agencies but with some form of joint intelligence cell/unit staffed by representatives from Police, HMIS and HMCE.

  ACPO colleagues who support this option point to the success of other joint ventures involving Police, HMCE, Immigration and the Intelligence Services, principally focused on the work within the National Criminal Intelligence Service.

  A joint intelligence cell, possibly located within NCIS would provide significant benefits on the sharing of intelligence, as well as operational strategies and tactics, across a broad spectrum of the work of each particular Border Agency, eg organised crime, illegal immigration, smuggling, contraband, etc. It is also strongly suggested that such an approach would be a major step in the right direction towards more integrated Border Agency working, which would enhance and complement the need for "information gateways" inherent in the new terrorism and immigration legislation. A number of ACPO colleagues feel such an option would provide an extension to the current joint working arrangements but significantly "beef up" a joint and unified focus for combined working, rather than a different emphasis being given to differing priorities by the respective agencies as at present.

  It would also help to enhance better use of technology with a more unified focus being applied to such equipment as CCTV, Automatic Number Plate Recognition Systems, other digital recording systems (eg 3D facial mapping) and more joined up working in respect of sophisticated detection equipment (both for identifying human and other cargo). Essentially, the proposal for a national joint intelligence cell builds upon the initiatives undertaken locally in some Forces where such joint units have been used to excellent effect.

  In short, it could also provide the effective and enhanced liaison arrangements envisaged by colleagues who support the status quo in option (ii) as well as providing a possible springboard for a more radical merger of the three Border Agencies, if and when such an option was deemed appropriate—both from a supportable business case approach and politically.

September 2000

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