Home affairs - Minutes of EvidenceHC 1553

Oral Evidence

Taken before the Home Affairs Committee

on Tuesday 17 January 2012

Members present:

Keith Vaz (Chair)

Nicola Blackwood

Mr James Clappison

Michael Ellis

Lorraine Fullbrook

Dr Julian Huppert

Steve McCabe

Alun Michael

Bridget Phillipson

Mark Reckless

Mr David Winnick

________________

Examination of Witness

Witness: Keith Bristow QPM, Director General, National Crime Agency, gave evidence.

Q1 Chair: Mr Bristow, welcome to the Committee. This is a one-off session with the new head of the National Crime Agency. On behalf of the Committee, I congratulate you on your appointment to this post. There were only four applicants for the post of head of the NCA. You did not apply on the first occasion. What are your expectations in this job, Mr Bristow?

Keith Bristow: Good morning, Chairman. Good morning, Committee. My expectations are that I will deliver a step change in law enforcement, how we protect communities from the scourge of serious, organised and complex crime. I think there are three priorities that we need to deliver very quickly. One is a joined-up intelligence picture, so we are making judgments about what we are going to do on the same basis. Secondly, I think the agency, as an entity, is hugely important, but what is more important is the way that we join up with wider law enforcement. Thirdly, we need to have the specialist capabilities that law enforcement need from us to support them in their efforts to protect communities. So I am very clear that my job is to ensure the public are safer.

Q2 Chair: When you were appointed were you told what the budget for the NCA was going to be? When the Minister and his Director of Finance came before the Committee they were not clear what the budget of this organisation was. Presumably, when you were appointed you were given a figure as to the budget that you will have. What is that figure?

Keith Bristow: I don’t have a figure for the budget for the NCA. The guidelines that I have been given is that the NCA will be delivered within existing budget constraints, post-CSR. This year’s revenue budget, resource budget, for SOCA, which will form the core of our budget, is £417 million-worth of grants from the Home Office and £31 million in capital. We will quite clearly take on some new responsibilities and some of that will come with some resource to deliver it, but it is still too soon to be precise about the size of the budget.

Q3 Chair: But it is a bit unsatisfactory, isn’t it, because this is the same answer that has been given to the Committee by a number of witnesses, which is that there is not at the moment a defined budget for this brand new organisation. That was roughly the same information that was given before. I think what the Committee and Parliament would want to see is more than just, "It’s the core budget of SOCA". Are you asking these questions? Presumably, as an organisation that is going to be run by you, you will need to know what your budget is because you will need to know how many staff you are going to have.

Keith Bristow: Absolutely. I think the two things you want when you are leading an organisation is to be absolutely clear about what it is that you are expected to deliver and absolutely clear about the resources that you have to deliver it with. That then helps shape the level of the expectation that we have. That said, we do have some sense of the shape, and hopefully I have shared some of that. I think we will get additional resources and additional requirements, but that is all the information I have at the moment, Chair.

Q4 Chair: The other question is what kind of a role are you going to have? Are you going to be a police officer or a civil servant? I put this in the debate on the landscape of policing last Thursday. Are you Sir Humphrey or-I said Eliot Ness but perhaps I mean J Edgar Hoover. Are you going to be operational or are you just going to be a civil servant?

Keith Bristow: I am going to be an operational crime fighter. My background, my professional expertise, is as an operational police officer. I will be an NCA officer, which has slightly different powers, we hope, from that of a constable because we have a broader remit, but I am very clear that I want the powers that our work force will have, partly because that is the way I believe in leading a law enforcement organisation, which as the head of the organisation is also a law enforcement officer. Secondly, I will exercise those powers operationally, because I intend to do my part in protecting the public as well as leading our work force. So I am very clear, and the Home Secretary has been very clear with me, that I am an operational crime fighter and I am there to protect the public.

Q5 Chair: Is this why you are currently seconded by Warwickshire? I was surprised to note the fact that you are not actually employed by the National Crime Agency but you are on secondment from your old force of Warwickshire. Is that how it is going to continue for the next few years? Are you always going to be seconded rather than officially there at the NCA, because you are clearly the head of it?

Keith Bristow: The reason I am seconded is for exceptional reasons. I am currently leading an investigation into former and current members of Cleveland Police Authority and police force. The judgment that was made was that it would be inappropriate to ask somebody else to lead that investigation. To undertake that responsibility I need to be a serving chief constable. The only way that could be achieved was if I came on secondment. With the full agreement of Warwickshire Police Authority, initially for a year but subject to review, until the NCA is vested, without wanting to presume the judgment that Parliament might make, I will be seconded so I have law enforcement powers to do my job.

Q6 Chair: The final question from me is the issue of tasking. Are you sure you are going to get the co-operation of not just the new police and crime commissioners who are going to be elected in November, but also from the chief constables of the forces that are already in post? This is obviously a new organisation and you will need their support to do your job effectively.

Keith Bristow: I am absolutely confident that my colleagues in policing-and clearly we do not have PCCs yet, so I certainly cannot talk about the views they may have-are clear that we need to join up the law enforcement effort to protect the public from serious, organised and complex crime. One of the ways in which we will do that is by having a shared intelligence picture, which is compelling and enables us to work together, strong relationships so we trust one another and want to work together. Equally, I have been very clear that we do need, in extremis, the power to task.

Chair: We will come on to that further. Dr Huppert has some questions on that.

Q7 Mr Winnick: Mr Bristow, why should the criminals, certainly some of the worst criminals in the country, and indeed abroad, who operate one way or another in the UK be fearful when your organisation comes into full operation at the end of next year?

Keith Bristow: The organisation that will confront some of the most risky and dangerous people that affect our communities will be one that is unequivocally focused on keeping the public safe. We will go after those people that are most dangerous and most risky and we will do that with the full support of the law enforcement and intelligence community. We will do that relentlessly, we will be focused, we will bring them to justice, but equally we will take their assets off them, we will disrupt their behaviour. This is not about detection rates. It is about dealing with very dangerous people and stopping them from harming the public, and cutting crime, very clearly cutting and reducing crime.

Q8 Mr Winnick: Mr Bristow, you would hardly say the opposite though. Everyone obviously hopes the organisation will be successful. Anything that deals effectively and undermines criminality obviously has the support of all law-abiding people, but when the Serious Organised Crime Agency was established the head said more or less the same as you have just been saying. Why should the new organisation be any more effective than the previous one?

Keith Bristow: Of course, Mr Winnick, you are right. You and communities and Parliament and the Home Secretary will judge me by what I absolutely deliver, not what I say. I think there is a difference though between SOCA and NCA, and I think it is partly about what I said to the Chairman in response to his question. It is about the joined-up intelligence picture. It is the legitimacy that NCA has been given to co-ordinate the overall response. We have a broader remit around borders, around economic crime, around cyber, and it is about that absolute determination to learn some of the lessons of what has happened to SOCA, but also build on some of the very good work that they have done. I hope that as we go through the journey of building NCA and then delivering operations I am able to come back to you and show the results that we have delivered.

Q9 Mr Winnick: On that last point, as I have said everyone wishes you well, at least everyone who is law abiding, but how soon do you think we should be judging results? You come into operation, as I have already mentioned, fully operational by the end of next year. Say by two years following that would you be satisfied if to some extent you were judged, you and your organisation, by how much progress has been made in the first two years as compared to previously?

Keith Bristow: I think I should be judged sooner than that. My determination and my commitment to the public is that I am going to make a difference before we have an NCA vested by working well with partners and making sure that we up the operational tempo and keep absolutely focused on some of the changes that we can make in the future. I think with sensible working across all of the agencies we can make a difference very quickly, and that is my determination.

Q10 Dr Huppert: If I can ask you firstly about the legislative framework. Do you currently have all the powers that you need in order to be able to operate?

Keith Bristow: At the moment we do not have any powers because we are just going through the process of building a Bill. What is really important is we preserve many of the very good powers that I think were given to SOCA through the previous Act and make sure that where those still make sense they come through for NCA as well. Powers inevitably in law enforcement are hugely important. They allow us to do the things that the ordinary citizens sometimes can’t do to protect themselves. But quite clearly that would be exposed to rigorous debate as well.

Q11 Dr Huppert: What powers would you want above and beyond those of a constable?

Keith Bristow: There are some very specialist powers around immigration roles and customs roles, and also around information sharing, particularly around building the intelligence hub where we need that single picture of everything that is happening around serious, organised and complex crime. That does mean having the ability to share information through sensible, lawful gateways. Again, that will be subject to debate. I think many of those provisions are set out very clearly in the SOCA. We would want to preserve those because they are hugely important for us.

Q12 Dr Huppert: One particular thing that the Home Secretary told us she was trying to consider was whether the legislation would need to talk about the ability of the NCA to task police forces. Do you think that needs to be in there or does not need to be in there?

Keith Bristow: I think it does need to be in there. It does not need to be the basis upon which we undertake daily co-ordination. I think daily co-ordination needs to be based on very strong relationships and a shared intelligence picture, because no one operating in the law enforcement community is trying to avoid co-operating in a way that is good for the public. In extreme circumstances, where there are difficult choices to be made, sometimes there is a judgment that needs to be made nationally but I think that is in extreme circumstances. The base of the co-ordination effort that I want to see from us is about relationships and intelligence and shared focus and endeavour on protecting the public.

Q13 Dr Huppert: You are presumably aware that the shadow strategic policing requirement already says that once you are established chief constables must co-operate with the national co-ordination tasking arrangements led by the NCA. You do not think that statement is strong enough, is that what you are telling us?

Keith Bristow: I think it is helpful. I think the strategic policing requirement is helpful in terms of setting out what capabilities other organisations need to have for us to connect to. I think it needs that legislative backing in extreme circumstances. Of course, there is debate to be had about what that means for other national agencies as well. What I would not want to do is to paint a picture that this is all about tasking. It is mostly about co-ordination. It is mostly about joining up the effort to achieve the things that we all want to achieve, which is cutting crime for real people in real communities.

Q14 Michael Ellis: Mr Bristow, congratulations on your appointment. The question I want to ask you is about counterterrorism. What do you envisage would be the advantages, but also any disadvantages that you might perceive, in the National Crime Agency taking on responsibility for counterterrorism, which is currently scheduled to happen after the Olympic Games?

Keith Bristow: The Home Secretary has been very consistent, as has, I think, the Commissioner, as am I about to be, which is that given the proximity of some very big events this year I do not think it would be sensible to open a debate on the future of countering terrorism. Also I feel that probably we would want to have an NCA that was operating, we can all see how it worked before we opened up that debate.

The current system, it seems to me, is pretty effective. That said, things can always be improved, so at some point there will be a determination, when those things are in place, I believe, to have a really good look at whether it could be done differently and better. The real issue for me is whatever we choose to do must not be about organisations. It must be about how we turn resources into the best public protection that we possibly can.

Q15 Michael Ellis: Do you think the National Crime Agency, having that assumption of responsibility for counterterrorism matters, would be an effective use of resources?

Keith Bristow: I don’t know, but the organisation that I want to lead will use resources effectively, will deliver value for money and will deliver public protection. Those are some of the benefits that we will deliver and will need to be considered as part of an overall consideration of how we protect the public from terrorism. I don’t think it is necessarily as simple as it is as it is at the moment or it is in the NCA. I think we need a very thoughtful debate, and clearly this Committee will be part of that.

Q16 Michael Ellis: Effective use of resources is one of those elements and, of course, the effectiveness in itself of counterterrorism action is also a very important aspect.

Keith Bristow: It is. I also feel that as we build the NCA there are some lessons we can learn from the counterterrorism community, as we can from the serious, organised crime community, and I want to build those into what we do and I want an agency that is sufficiently flexible. If we are given new responsibilities we can do that without too much erosion or any erosion in performance and public protection and we can do it effectively quicker.

Chair: I overlooked Mr McCabe. I am sorry. You had a supplementary earlier.

Q17 Steve McCabe: I just wanted to go back to this relationship with the police forces up and down the country. Obviously in an ideal world one would hope that it won’t be difficult for you to persuade people to join together to fight crime, but I noticed your answer concentrated on your relationship with the chief constables. I just wonder how much thought you have given to your relationship with police and crime commissioners, and particularly the police and crime commissioner who says, "Will you stop trying to eat up my budget with your priorities when I have made it clear to my electorate I want the money spent in this area?"

Keith Bristow: I did not mean not to talk about the relationship with police and crime commissioners, because I think it is going to be hugely important. During the course of the next few months I am going to be speaking to the Association of Police Authorities and others and building up in my own mind a very clear approach to how I am going to engage with police and crime commissioners.

I think some of that will be setting out very clearly what we know about organised crime is not something that happens elsewhere. It might start abroad, it might cross our borders, it might come into the UK, but the gun crime, the violence, the pensioner that has their money taken out of their bank account, those are the real consequences of organised crime and I think those consequences will be of a huge concern to PCCs. What I need to do very clearly is set out what I am doing with valuable public resources and how that is going to impact on the communities that the PCC is accountable to.

Q18 Steve McCabe: At the moment, do you think you might need further legislative powers if PCCs do not prove as co-operative as you would hope?

Keith Bristow: I do need a very effective relationship with PCCs, but of course we should remember that the decisions we are talking about are operational decisions, which will be a matter for chief constables and commissioners and a matter for me as Director General of the National Crime Agency. That is not to deny the importance of PCCs, but it is to say decisions such as who we go after, who we arrest and which premises we search are absolutely operational decisions. In my view, those tasking and co-ordinating decisions, the legislation that we have just talked about and the framework of relationships and intelligence, will be sufficient because we have a shared common purpose, and that is protecting the public.

Q19 Mr Winnick: Two very brief questions arising from what Mr Ellis asked you. Would you accept that before there would be any question of the responsibility for counterterrorism being taken on by the new organisation it should first clearly establish itself over a period of time?

Keith Bristow: The NCA should establish itself, Mr Winnick?

Mr Winnick: Yes.

Keith Bristow: Yes. I think we have a broad set of responsibilities at the moment, which is about managing some real risk for the public. I would have thought as we consider how we move forward I would want to be able to convince people that we are discharging those responsibilities properly. That said, if we find a way of better protecting the public we should not delay, we should seize that opportunity, and I think that is generally not about terrorism as a specific threat. So we just need to pick our way through that balance. Let us prove what we can do but equally if there are opportunities to keep the public safer let us take the opportunities and let us cut crime sooner rather than later.

Q20 Mr Winnick: Secondly, Mr Bristow, if it is decided by those who do decide such matters, your political masters, that the overall responsibility for counterterrorism should lie with the new organisation, the National Crime Agency, would you accept nevertheless the Met is bound to play a lead part in dealing with activities such as counterterrorism alongside the National Crime Agency? You could not very well abandon altogether counterterrorism.

Keith Bristow: Whatever threat area we are talking about every police force and every national agency, and interestingly parts of the private sector and elsewhere, have a role to play in protecting the public. The Met, as by some way the biggest police force in the UK, protecting the people in our capital day in and day out, are going to be very important partners, and the Commissioner and I are committed to working very effectively together for the good of the nation as well as the good of London.

Q21 Mark Reckless: Will some partners be more important than others? We are speaking about the great weight of the Met, but surely across the country there are going to be particular forces that weigh very heavily with the NCA. Is that a fair characterisation?

Keith Bristow: Organised crime affects every community up and down the UK, but organised crime groups are denser in some parts of the country than in others. Our approach around organised crime, for instance, accepting we are going to do other things as well, will be about targeting the most risky groups and the most risky individuals. Where there is particular density-and some of that is around the northwest, the West Midlands region, and around London and the south-east-quite clearly there is going to be more effort. But of course the interesting thing is that the impact those groups have is not constrained by geography. Wherever they are based that is one issue; the harm they cause, the crime they commit, the damage they do to communities is right the way across the nation and beyond. That does mean that we will need to work well with everyone but there are some partners we will be working more with and in a more aggressive way, and we need to work through that very carefully.

Q22 Mark Reckless: Kent and Essex police forces have merged their serious and organised crime fighting capability into a joint directorate. Could that assist the NCA by giving one larger interlocutor to deal with in that area?

Keith Bristow: I think the strategic policing requirement is very helpful in setting out around organised crime what the NCA needs to be connected to, because in relative terms we are a small organisation. The impact that we are going to be able to have is about connecting with the wider law enforcement community. How police forces and regions and police authorities and PCCs choose to access that capability I think is a local judgment. My concern is that we have sufficient capacity to tackle very difficult, very dangerous groups that commit crime, that cause devastation for people, and we do that in a joined-up way.

Q23 Mark Reckless: What is your understanding of how the strategic policing requirement to which you refer fits in with the policing protocol, which Parliament will be discussing next Monday in Committee?

Keith Bristow: My understanding of the SPR is that it sets out very clearly the capabilities that-

Q24 Alun Michael: Sorry, what is the SPR?

Keith Bristow: The strategic policing requirement, sorry, Mr Michael.

Alun Michael: Could you call it that, please?

Chair: We have a rule in the Committee, Mr Bristow, which was initiated by Mr Michael, that we don’t use acronyms, so I am afraid you have to spell it out.

Keith Bristow: I will try not to again. I apologise.

Chair: Even though I have referred to your organisation as the NCA throughout the evidence.

Keith Bristow: I was not going to raise that, Chairman. It sets out very clearly the capability that chief constables and commissioners should have or have access to, to make their contribution. I think the policing protocol is much more about the relationship between the police and crime commissioner and the chief constable, and how they will operate together for the good of the public. So one is much more operational and clear about capabilities whereas the protocol, I think, is much more about relationships and accountabilities.

Q25 Mark Reckless: To the extent that the strategic policing requirement is operational, does that imply that your relationship is with the chief constable? The policing protocol is setting out all these relationships of different parties but I just wonder if there is anything you can say to help understanding of how you as the head of the NCA will relate particularly to the elected police and crime commissioners as opposed to the chief constables?

Keith Bristow: On operational matters I relate to the head of the law enforcement agency. I think that is the right thing to do. But alongside the chief constable or the commissioner I will need to engage with police and crime commissioners and help them understand the nature of organised crime and the benefits it can have for the communities that they are there to protect. So I will need a relationship, but on an operational basis my relationship will be with the head of the operational agency, which for the most part will be a chief constable.

Q26 Alun Michael: First, Chair, I think we did not have declarations of interest and when we are dealing with policing issues I normally declare that my son is the chief executive of the North Wales Police Authority, and perhaps I ought to add to that now by saying I have indicated that I shall seek nomination for the police commissioner role in South Wales. In fairness to you, Mr Bristow, one of my colleagues used the initials PCC in asking you a question, but it should not take a Welshman to point out that the initials PCC normally refer to the Parochial Church Council, and perhaps if we could persuade people not to use that terminology it would be to everybody’s benefit.

You have answered some questions about the relationships that you are going to seek to build up and you made it clear that you are going to be very active in trying to build relationships, particularly in relation to police functions around the country. What other agencies and bodies will the National Crime Agency need to build relationships and how do you intend to go about that?

Keith Bristow: Central to my vision for the NCA is an organisation that co-ordinates the overall effort against serious, organised and complex crime. Of course, much of that is about law enforcement and much of it is about intelligence. So, beyond policing, that also means HMRC, UKBA, colleagues who operate around fraud and economic crime, but frankly it also means banks, the private sector, local authorities and others. My primary interest is going to be how we can mobilise all our resources to make sure that communities are as safe as they can be and that we can cut crime.

Q27 Alun Michael: You referred to businesses then. How do you intend to build that sort of relationship?

Keith Bristow: Perhaps if we use an example of the Economic Crime Co-ordination Board, which is in effect a shadow form of the Economic Crime Command, which will be part of-and please note I avoided all the acronyms on that occasion.

Alun Michael: I am very impressed.

Keith Bristow: Which will be part of the National Crime Agency in due course. I am going to chair that board when it next meets. My colleague the Director General of the Serious Organised Crime Agency chaired it for the first two meetings. My view is, and there is engagement from the private sector, I can see representatives of the private sector sat around the table talking to us about how we can help them protect their customers and how they can help us protect the wider public. I think there is much that we can do in that space and there are willing partners that want to work together. What I need to do is capture that energy and put it in the right place.

Q28 Alun Michael: To be clear, are you saying effectively you are going to put your personal time in because that will get the leaders in those business organisations to give it equivalent importance?

Keith Bristow: Yes, and that is what I have already started doing in my first few weeks, not necessarily the private sector yet but deliberately engaging with the leaders of those partner agencies and making sure that they absolutely understand what we stand for but, more importantly, I need to listen to them to find out what they need from us.

Q29 Alun Michael: You have been quite comprehensive about the building of relationships. There are two elements that we have not touched on and perhaps you would like to refer to those. One is the relationship with Parliament and the other is the sort of general relationship to the public. Are those important to you?

Keith Bristow: Very important. The Home Secretary has been consistently clear that she seeks a relationship where I am directly accountable to her. I think there are a number of models that the Home Secretary is considering at the moment, and that needs further work before that is advanced. In terms of my relationship with the public and the agency’s relationship, I see us changing our position from what has gone before very significantly. I want the public to know what NCA is, how well it does with the public’s resources, what level of protection we are delivering, what we stand for. That is because I want the public to talk to us. I want the public to have the confidence they can be witnesses or they can give us information that we might need to help us protect communities. I want us to have a strong presence to attract the best people that we possibly can and for people to be clear they know what we stand for and what we are going to do and how well we are doing.

Q30 Alun Michael: You did not refer to Parliament there.

Keith Bristow: The way that I am positioning it in my own mind is clearly I hope to come before this Committee on a regular basis and account for the things that we are doing and through this Committee and through the Home Secretary to be accountable to Parliament.

Q31 Nicola Blackwood: There has been some concern that the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre will be able to retain its independence and effectiveness within the National Crime Agency due to your focus on operational response to organised crime. Can I ask you how you are intending to ensure that it does retain that independence?

Keith Bristow: I have a very good relationship with the Chief Executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre. He and I are very clear that the CEOP brand, the uniqueness of the work that they do, is something that we want to preserve and build on.

The emerging model that I have in my mind for a structure would see us having a set of discrete commands that are focused on very specific threats to the public, so child exploitation would be one of those, and I would see that command being largely as CEOP is at the moment, but giving those commands a much better access to a shared operational resource. If we use CEOP as an example, not only can we preserve the very good things that they have done, we can make sure they are connected to an operational resource to go and do things like arrest people, conduct searches, help them with some of the high tech crime work that they do.

The chief executive’s view and my view is that can be a step up in capability for the Centre rather than any sort of erosion of capability. We are very confident we can deliver that. The balance, of course, is that I do want the National Crime Agency to be a single agency that is well integrated, not a number of organisations that are loosely held together. So we need to pick our way through that debate. I think there is much that we can learn from the success of CEOP across the NCA, but we are very confident that we can preserve all the benefits.

Q32 Nicola Blackwood: What sort of response have you been having from the outside agencies and the independent professionals who have previously been working within and with CEOP? Are those relationships remaining intact? Are you still getting a positive response?

Keith Bristow: I have not engaged personally yet but I will. The Chief Executive is confident that the way that this is forming, the way that we are designing the organisation and the principles that have been put in place to preserve the brand of CEOP is something that will reassure partners and ensure they stay engaged.

Q33 Nicola Blackwood: When we took evidence from Jim Gamble after he had resigned, one of his concerns was that CEOP, as it stood, had a particular characteristic, which was that it approached its work from a victim focus and that if it became integral within the NCA it would become more crime-fighting-focused and would lose a particular aspect of its protective characteristic. Do you think that within the command structures that you have recommended and within the safeguards that you have stated you would be able to retain that victim-centred approach?

Keith Bristow: I think across the four commands there will be slightly different approaches, hence the need for discrete commands where people understand exactly what is required. Hopefully what I have conveyed to you today is a real sense that I want the whole of the National Crime Agency to be focused on real communities and real people, some of whom are victims, so perhaps there is something we can borrow from CEOP as a national agency about how we do that. Equally, dealing with dangerous people, whether they are paedophiles or they are carrying guns or whatever they do, is not incompatible with being concerned about the needs of victims. For me it is an agency that is hugely concerned about protecting the public, supporting witnesses and victims, but very clearly about taking out dangerous people, some of whom are paedophiles.

Q34 Chair: Mr Bristow, you mentioned the lessons to be learned from SOCA and, as the Committee has pointed out in previous reports, the Committee did not believe we were getting value for money with SOCA. Some £15 of public money was spent for every pound that was seized. Are you going to do better than that? When you come back in a year’s time or two years’ time to this Committee will you be improving on that very poor record?

Keith Bristow: Much of the work that SOCA has done has also been very good work and I would not want to lose that. It is an organisation with many talented, committed people, and I do not want to lose those people. If we talk about the specific issue around assets-

Chair: No. Tell us whether you are going to improve on that figure. We know they have done good work, we have seen good work that SOCA has done, but we as parliamentarians were very concerned that for every £15 of taxpayers’ money they only seized £1. What is the point of having a Serious Organised Crime Agency if they do not seize assets, if you do not meet the budget? Are you going to do better than the 15:1 ratio?

Keith Bristow: It depends why you are seizing assets. The reason I want to take assets off criminals is to prevent criminals from harming the public rather than the volume of the assets that we take. Whether the actual number that we come back and report is more or less I do not know yet. What I do know-

Chair: But you want to improve on that surely because-

Keith Bristow: I want to make sure we take assets off the most dangerous criminals as a way of preventing them from harming the public and taking away the incentive to commit serious and organised crime rather than a way of levering resource into public service. I think that is a benefit, but this is really about protecting the public.

Q35 Lorraine Fullbrook: When you talk about seizing assets for public safety, will you also be seizing assets as a form of punishment as well?

Keith Bristow: Can I just be clear about what I mean around protecting the public? It is not necessarily the groups that have the most assets that are the most harmful. What I want to focus on is disrupting and dismantling organised crime groups that cause the most harm. Part of that is taking their assets off them and I am very keen that we do that rigorously and energetically. What the numbers look like I do not yet understand sufficiently. What I will be able to reassure you of is, whether it is pre- or post-conviction, we want to go after assets very aggressively.

Q36 Lorraine Fullbrook: What kind of assets are you talking about specifically?

Keith Bristow: It is assets that people have got through their criminality, whether it is cash or it is possessions. There is also asset denial, which is not only being able to take the asset off someone and convert it into something but deny their use of, say, a property that might not have a huge inherent value but removing it from them is symbolic within communities and hugely symbolic around taking away the incentives to commit horrible crime against the public.

Q37 Mr Clappison: I think that has been dealt with. It is very important to get assets but you also have to look at the dangerousness of the offender, someone who may not be collecting much in the way of assets but may well be a very dangerous offender, such as those who commit paedophile offences, supply guns or do other such things.

Keith Bristow: Let’s be clear, someone who appears to a community to operate with impunity may have some assets that do not have a huge monetary value, perhaps a particular type of car or a particular type of jewellery, which is not going to yield hundreds and thousands of pounds if we take it off them. Let’s be absolutely clear, the impact on communities and what that says to young people, who can sometimes get seduced into idolising those people, is very important.

Q38 Chair: Have you been given specific benchmarks from the Home Secretary as to the levels of crime that she hopes will be recorded following the establishment of the NCA? I have noticed while you were Chief Constable of Warwickshire there was an 8% increase in sexual offences, an 11% increase in fraud and forgery and a 6% increase in robbery. Are you going to be given specific benchmarks as to what the Government feels you should achieve as far as recorded crime is concerned?

Keith Bristow: The Home Secretary has not given me any benchmarks or targets at the moment, apart from to say, "You will absolutely protect the public". I just go back to the figures that you mentioned. Sometimes a good thing is that recorded crime goes up. For instance, fraud, as we know, is under-reported, as was, if you look at other parts of protecting the public, like domestic abuse. So sometimes success means victims tell us. Just on the robbery figure, you may be picking on a discrete period, but during my tenure as Chief Constable robbery reduced by over 30%.

Q39 Chair: As far as the number of employees you are going to have is concerned, you told this Committee this morning you do not know what your precise budget is going to be. You think it is going to be the lion’s share of the SOCA budget. Do you know how many employees you are going to have? Are they all going to be seconded or transferred from the NPIA, at the risk of Mr Michael correcting me, or SOCA, or are you going to be able to recruit new people into the National Crime Agency?

Keith Bristow: Officials are in the process of drawing up a transfer scheme that will enable colleagues who are currently in the Serious Organised Crime Agency and some in the National Police Improvement Agency to transfer to us. There are about 3,700 full-time equivalent people within SOCA and around 150 full-time equivalents in NPIA that will transfer to us.

Q40 Chair: Will you get them all? Will the current work force be transferred or will it be less?

Keith Bristow: The work force will have a right of transfer but, of course, at a time when budgets are reducing, the work force is reducing as well. During the course of the transfer process I would imagine there will probably be in those terms, for those organisations less people at the point of transfer than there are at the moment.

Q41 Chair: So you will have in your organisation fewer people working for the National Crime Agency than work for the National Police Improvement Agency and SOCA?

Keith Bristow: The combined totals on those particular discrete roles, yes, but of course there may be other responsibilities that Government come to the view they would like us to undertake.

Q42 Chair: The list is not closed yet? You are still accepting new responsibilities, so to speak?

Keith Bristow: Yes. Where they are about crime-fighting, where they are about protecting the public-

Chair: No, I am talking about your specific responsibilities. They are not closed. The definitive list of what you are going to do in the National Crime Agency is still open; is that right?

Keith Bristow: Yes, it is, Chair. What I am trying to share with you is a sense of the basis upon which we will be given new responsibilities, which is crime-fighting.

Q43 Mark Reckless: Were you surprised not to face more competition to be head of the NCA?

Keith Bristow: In the Chairman’s opening he said there were four applicants. My understanding is there were nine. Five were short-listed, one colleague was appointed as Commissioner and along the way one or two colleagues dropped out. So my understanding is there were nine applicants to start with.

Q44 Mark Reckless: Congratulations. On the issue of the Cleveland investigation, how high a proportion of your time is that taking and when would you expect that to be complete?

Keith Bristow: On average it is going to take, I envisage, a day a week. That leaves me six other days to be focused on the NCA, which is what I will do. I have a very good team doing some very good work. This will probably, I am afraid, sound unhelpful, but with every criminal investigation it will be done when it is done, because I am going to do it professionally and properly, and if people have broken the law I need to ensure that the evidence is there to call them to account.

Mark Reckless: And we note your commitment to work seven days a week.

Chair: I do not know whether that complies with European legislation but we better not go too far because Mr Clappison is here.

Q45 Lorraine Fullbrook: It was just a point of clarity. The Chair said just now that the National Crime Agency will have the lion’s share of the SOCA budget. Is it not the case that the SOCA budget will come into the NCA and then you will have additional funding on top of that?

Keith Bristow: Yes, in the sense that we are taking on additional responsibilities that will come with some resource.

Lorraine Fullbrook: Thank you. It was just a point of clarity, because it is slightly different from what the Chairman just said.

Q46 Chair: I was quoting from the Minister. The Minister told us that the lion’s share of the budget would come to you.1 On one other point, over the weekend it was said that SOCA was authorising payments that had been made from banks to pirate gangs on the Somali coast. Did you note that press article on Sunday?

Keith Bristow: I did note the coverage, Chairman.

Q47 Chair: Do you know whether that responsibility will now pass to the National Crime Agency? Will you have to provide the statutory defence for payments of this kind?

Keith Bristow: The suspicious activity reports regime will come to NCA as one of the responsibilities that SOCA currently undertakes.

Q48 Chair: You are taking up your new job. You have come before the Committee for the first time. You are going to be paid £70,000 more than the Prime Minister, so it is obviously a very important job. You have told the Committee today that you are going to be very hands on, you are going to be operational. So when you get a call from Dame Helen Ghosh to attend a meeting at the Home Office and you have a choice between going to that or doing something operational you presumably will be out there trying to catch those serious and organised criminals. Is that right?

Keith Bristow: It is. In the meantime I have an agency to build and I want to make sure that I am having the influence that I need to have, and I am having that influence, to make sure it looks like the sort of crime-fighting outfit that I will be proud to lead and the public can be proud to be protected by.

Chair: Mr Bristow, this Committee wishes you the best of luck and we look forward to seeing you again.

Keith Bristow: Thank you, Chairman.


[1] This was later clarified. On 28 June 2011, Rt Hon Nick Herbert MP, the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, told the Committee that the SOCA budget would “form the lion’s share of the new NCA”, (Q 690)

Prepared 22nd February 2012