Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 460 - 479)



  460. "Given the resources"! I do not think that is in your script, is it?
  (Jane Kennedy) The Task Force is keen to learn from international experience in tackling organised crime. You will know that Professor Ronald Goldstock, the ex-Director of the New York State Organised Crime Task Force, has been appointed by John Reid, the Secretary of State, to act as his independent expert in this area. In particular, he has been asked to formulate proposals for securing cross-community support for action drawing on international experience. I should point out that Professor Goldstock will have an advisory, non-operational role. He will not be joining the Task Force. However, he will obviously come into close contact with the organisations represented on the Task Force and we look forward to lending him our full support. I just want to say thank you for that opportunity, having thought about how I would set the scene.

  461. My apologies for not giving you the opportunity before. It was very helpful indeed. All I can say is it totally reinforces the questions I was putting to you before and we will make sure that you get to see the transcript of evidence that the Home Office gave so that you can make your representations accordingly. What discussions have you had on other issues relating to the agency, particularly in relation to the protection of staff? You will undoubtedly know that Adrian Bailey spoke in the House on all our behalf because we were on our way back from a very successful visit and Bob Ainsworth made clear that he was looking at this anonymity question. Of course, in Northern Ireland you have much more experience of the problems of intimidation of staff than they have on the mainland. Have you had discussions about that and are you satisfied that they will now move on the anonymity issue following the Irish example so that certainly so far as Northern Ireland is concerned people who are doing this sometimes dangerous and difficult job will be protected?
  (Jane Kennedy) Yes, discussions have largely been going on at an official level until very recently. We will now take those discussions forward at ministerial level. Yes, we have heard the concerns of the Committee and listened to the representations that you have made and we have looked at the situation in the Criminal Assets Bureau as well.

The Reverend Martin Smyth

  462. On the question of the links between the Assets Recovery Agency, what would your plans be to have other agencies joining the Organised Crime Task Force, bearing in mind that David Veness of the Metropolitan Police in evidence before us actually noted the spread of paramilitary-associated activity to the mainland and he expressed support for the OCTF.
  (Jane Kennedy) I am grateful that he has expressed his support. We already have as full members of the Task Force representatives of the Home Office, Customs & Excise (which is of course a UK-wide agency) the National Criminal Intelligence Service and other UK-wide bodies. Recently the Task Force had a detailed presentation by the National Crime Squad on methods that they are developing to deal with organised crime by looking at the whole activities of an individual and they made that presentation to the Task Force. We have also involved the Public Sector Sub-Group of the Task Force which links directly with the devolved Executive Assembly and the Executive. I think we already have exactly those agencies involved. I know that will continue. In fact, just yesterday I visited the Forensic Science Agency in Northern Ireland because they were wanting to show me the work they are doing in profiling certain drugs. They had been working on profiling ecstasy and they wanted to show me that within the context of the Organised Crime Task Force. In the course of that visit we talked about their involvement in one of the expert groups of the Task Force and I am hopeful that they will come to join us at some point in the future.

  463. Has there been consideration given to a role for the Benefits Agency, bearing in mind that this was one of the strong points within the Assets of Crime Task Force in Dublin?
  (Jane Kennedy) I am aware also that the Executive have established their Fraud Working Group as well involving the Social Security Department within Northern Ireland. There is already good co-operation with DARD and the SSA in Northern Ireland and we have, as I have said, the Public Sector Group.

  464. When you say "good" co-operation, how far is one going? One of the things I have discovered as a member is that when we give information about giro drops little is done about it. When we raise some of the issues it is obviously passed from one to the other and nothing happens. When we say good co-operation, how is that co-operation manifesting itself?
  (Jane Kennedy) The involvement of the Social Security Department in Northern Ireland would be at a strategic level. It would obviously be of concern if their effectiveness as fraud investigators was not being followed through. That would be a matter for that department to tackle within the devolved administration. I would be hopeful that as they engage with the Task Force that we can assist them and they will learn the benefits by getting involved with the Task Force, as the other public agencies have, of sharing information and sharing officers so they co-operate together in operations that might be targeted at organised groups involved in social security fraud. It is my intention to invite the Assistant Director of the Assets Recovery Agency to join the Organised Crime Task Force once he or she is appointed.

Mr McCabe

  465. I wanted to ask a few things about the Organised Crime Task Force as well. In a number of our meetings in Northern Ireland we have heard quite a lot of favourable comments about it. I think you dealt with some of the things in your opening statement in terms of saying that we will see this when the report is published. I would like to ask three very specific things. The first thing is will the report actually show the Task Force's performance against its targets? Will that be reported specifically?
  (Jane Kennedy) Yes. One of the first sessions that I had in the briefings I had with officials was about the role of the Security Minister and as I came to understand the role of Chair of the Task Force I was impressed by the work that had already been started in developing the measurements that we will be using to measure the progress and work of the Task Force, because they are very challenging. It is a nervous Minister that sets challenging targets, but I am confident that they are challenging and that they will give us a real measure of the success of the Task Force. We have previously measured the trends and sought to identify the groups and set priorities. When you see the measurements that we will be publishing shortly I hope that you will find that they are significant and challenging targets. We will be publishing those, as I say, on 16 May. I think you have already had the impact indicators sent to you. I hope that has been the case and so you will be aware of some of those targets. If you were to say what impact has there been so far, you need to look at the successes that the organisations have been having over the last year to 18 months and the increasing impact of the organisations working together. There always was good co-operation between Customs and the Police but the fact that Customs has increased the number of people that they have working in Northern Ireland and the fact that the agencies are now working together in a strategic and co-ordinated way is beginning to have a major impact and I am confident.

  466. I have no reason to doubt that. As I say, we are regularly told about the successes but that is why I was wondering will it be possible to look at specific targets and check the performance? What would you do if you found yourself in the unfortunate position where the performance falls short of the targets because the constituent agencies claim that they are constrained or limited by their other work or resources? What are your plans to tackle that?
  (Jane Kennedy) That has not so far proved a problem. Quite clearly it would not be something you would wait until the end of year report to tackle. We meet regularly as a Task Force. The co-operation now is such that where those problems become apparent we would not wait and sit around while they developed and interfered with the work of the Task Force. We would take those head-on when we encountered them. I will give you this as an example. There has been a shortage of detectives within the Police Service, that is pretty well-known. We have been aware of that but the Police Service to their great credit have not allowed it to interfere with the effectiveness of their work in this particular role. I think they deserve great credit for that.

  467. Is there anything other than the comments you have already made in your general statement that you can tell us about the Task Force's strategy for the coming 12 months or is that something we should wait for in the report on the 16th?
  (Jane Kennedy) The future work of the Task Force is going to be at various levels. We have already begun to tackle some of the issues. If I use as an example the work I have been doing with Sir Reg Empey, who is the Minister for the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment responsible for trade and business in Northern Ireland. He and I began before Christmas to try and implant in the public consciousness the need to resist counterfeit goods and so on. Reg and I got involved in something which my officials dubbed "Jane and Reg go shopping" but in actual fact was a very effective way of bringing the public's attention to the dangers of counterfeit goods. Not only are they substandard and a waste of money but they can be dangerous as well. We got involved with trading standards and others in a promotional project which did extremely well in terms of attracting attention and publicising the work of the Task Force. Following on from that, thinking in terms of what we would be developing in the coming year, we had a dinner with business leaders in which we talked to them specifically about extortion. Using his role Reg was able to bring with him the business leaders from around Northern Ireland although they did not share our views about extortion and they did not believe that the problem was as bad as the Police Service in Northern Ireland believed it was. That was a valuable exchange because using Reg's good offices we were able to say in order to be sure that we are working to the best level of information that we have, how can we engage with the business community to get them to tell us what the problems are about extortion. We knew that the problem was worse than demonstrated by the number of prosecutions and the number of charges brought, but we needed them to say to us what the scale of the problem was. The big companies will not necessarily declare in their accounts when they have paid £100,000 to a protection racket, so we are taking forward as a result of that work a project by which the police will work with the different business organisations through Reg Empey's offices and they will come forward with surveys that they will undertake between those organisations. We believe that the individual businesses will be more open to a consultation that is conducted by their own trade organisation than they would perhaps to a police survey—at least that is our sense as a result of that meeting—and therefore we will get better information as a result of that. That is just one of the projects we are going to be undertaking next year. I have already mentioned the work of Paul Boateng. As a result of the work that we have done in publishing the next risk assessment we will revaluate the priorities that we have set and there will be some additions to that and some changes, reflecting the changes that are taking place in trends in organised crime in Northern Ireland. We have got a not inconsiderable programme of work ahead of us.

  Mr McCabe: Thank you very much.

Mr Tynan

  468. You are speaking in wide terms. It is just a supplementary question regarding the co-operation that exists between the different agencies. Does that mean that the agencies are able to circumvent the Data Protection Act and is there a free exchange of information between the different agencies in order to pursue the aims that they have?
  (Jane Kennedy) No, the agencies would not ignore or work around the provisions of the Data Protection Act. The Data Protection Act stands. However, as a result of the most recent terrrorist legislation put through, for example, the Inland Revenue can now co-operate much more freely, with the information they have available about taxpayers and companies' accounts, with the police than they have been able to in the past. As a direct consequence of that the Inland Revenue is now represented at the Task Force, which is a significant step forward. We have been conscious for quite some time that that was a gap in the work of the Task Force and we have now plugged that gap.

  469. Would it be more effective if the Data Protection Act did not exist as regards the exchange of information that can take place?
  (Jane Kennedy) David prompts me here that the Data Protection Acts exists and the provisions of it are honoured.

  Mr Tynan: I will take that as the answer then.


  470. Did it occur to any of you—it has only just occurred to me, largely as a result of this afternoon's experience—that because the problems have been so different in Northern Ireland for so long, which we all know about, that it might be a good thing to have your own Assets Recovery Agency, not necessarily a completely separate organisation but just as Customs are peculiarly separate in Northern Ireland because the job is peculiarly different, just as many others are, would you have liked to have had amongst your Organised Crime Task Force (which I think is a brilliant concept) an Assets Recovery Agency to whom you could direct priorities given the new legislation to take the money away from these guys who are profiting from organised crime and paramilitary activity?
  (Jane Kennedy) Frankly, Chairman, no. To take Customs as an example although, yes, they operate within Northern Ireland in a way that reflects the circumstances on the ground, if there is a specific operation being undertaken it is organised, managed and run from Manchester or certainly it has been from Manchester, reflecting the UK-wide structure of Customs and the special investigators they would use for a specific task are organised from the Manchester regional office. So in that sense I have not found it to be a problem and I would not expect it to be a problem with the Assets Recovery Agency either.

  471. Unless they are under-resourced and their priorities are looking elsewhere. He who pays the piper calls the tune. Scotland has its own Assets Recovery Agency.
  (Jane Kennedy) I am confident that what we are establishing will meet the needs of Northern Ireland.

  472. I am very glad to hear you say that. As I say, we are entirely on your side in this matter. We are concerned to see that you get your share of the Home Office's UK-wide pot and it is a share that reflects the supreme importance of coping with this particular problem that you have in Northern Ireland. I cannot say it more strongly than that. I was just offering you the thought that you might like to consider that because the whole situation is so special getting them seconded in some way or getting them a little more under your wing because otherwise I feel you are going to be a rather poor relation in what seems to me to be a very minor operation compared with the successful one we have seen in Dublin.
  (Jane Kennedy) Certainly it is my objective to have a very successful operation in Northern Ireland. I know that is shared by Home Office Ministers too. The fact, as I said at the beginning in answer to your first question, that we are going to be having a senior officer of the ARA as a director of the Northern Ireland organisation is an indication of the importance that the Home Office attaches to the project.

  Chairman: Keep at it is all I can say. Mr Barnes?

Mr Barnes

  473. I want to ask about protection of witnesses. Do you have figures for criminal charges against individuals in Northern Ireland where the cases have been withdrawn because the complainant has declined to proceed?
  (Jane Kennedy) I have only got the figures that were published in the Chief Constable's Report which do show a slight decline, but it is difficult to know whether it is a trend or not. We are commissioning research in the near future in the Northern Ireland Office which is looking into reasons for withdrawal—and it will be research conducted amongst both witnesses and victims of crime—so we would look to see what the results of that opinion research are as to what the reasons behind it were. It is hard to say at this moment in time whether it is a trend or not.

  474. This is a slight decline over the last five years or so but are the figures high in comparison to Britain?
  (Jane Kennedy) We only have two years of figures. In 1999-2000 the crimes cleared where the complainant declined to pursue the charge or declined to prosecute were 11,913. If you wanted to compare that to the proportion of all crimes that were cleared, that was 36,004. All recorded crimes of that year were 119,000. In the following year, which is the last year for which we have figures and we only have figures for those two years because prior to 1999 the figures were not recorded in this useable way, the crimes cleared in the year 2000-01 were 10,874. That is when the complainant declined to proceed. It is difficult to say if this is a problem or even if this is a trend.

  475. But it is likely to be the case that if the impression is given that a paramilitary group is involved that that is liable to silence and terrorise people into withdrawing allegations that are being put forward.
  (Jane Kennedy) There is no doubt at all that that does take place and that is one of the special problems that we face in Northern Ireland. That is why we have the special system of courts that we have there. There are special measures to protect witnesses in the Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order of 1999 and they will be commencing later this year.

  476. Is there anything further that you are engaged in to protect potential witnesses or to encourage them to come forward?
  (Jane Kennedy) If the research that we undertake demonstrates there is a growing problem then clearly that is something we will have to address.


  477. Just to clarify. You did not answer with the rest of the UK figures, but I think we are all aware it is a very high proportion of crimes which are not proceeded with in Northern Ireland because complainants refuse to proceed compared to England, Scotland and Wales.
  (Jane Kennedy) Which is why we want to understand what is happening. We know it is a problem. It is simply too early to say whether it is getting worse or whether the proportions are increasing or decreasing which lead you to believe that paramilitary activity is increasing.

  Chairman: That was the bit of answer I wanted to elicit. Mr Barnes?

  Mr Barnes: Research into that would be very valuable.

The Reverend Martin Smyth

  478. Would that research actually deal with complaints which started in a police station but which were never proceeded with because in the end the person who complained first of all was not prepared to go forward, or are we just dealing with cases that have gone forward for prosecution and then are withdrawn because the witness withdrew?
  (Jane Kennedy) The quick answer is yes. The difficulty is going to be in identifying the people at all of those stages, but the intention is to get a comprehensive piece of research to give us a clear picture of what is happening.

Mr Barnes

  479. On sentencing we have been told that sentences for crime such as extortion and counterfeiting are significantly lower than sentences for the more obviously paramilitary-related crimes. What guidance is available to the courts on sentencing in relation to crimes which may benefit terrorists?
  (Jane Kennedy) I have got to say I am not aware of any difficulty in regard to sentencing terrorist-related offenders. The statistics would suggest that offenders whose offences were scheduled offences would receive longer sentences than offenders convicted of equivalent de-scheduled offences. There has been a suggestion that we might consider the use of aggravated offences. I would want some clear evidence that there was a problem that either existing sentence lengths were inadequate or that judges in their sentencing were not reflecting the seriousness of terrrorist involvement. I do not see any evidence of that as it stands at the minute.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 2 July 2002