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Serious Organised Crime Agency
Abbreviation SOCA
SOCA Logo.jpg
Logo of the Serious Organised Crime Agency.
Agency overview
Formed April 1, 2006
Preceding agencies
Employees 4,200
Annual budget £457M (2006/07)
Legal personality Governmental: Government agency
Jurisdictional structure
National agency
(Operations jurisdiction)
United Kingdom
United Kingdom
Size 244 821 km² / 94,526 sq mi
Population 60,609,153
Legal jurisdiction England and Wales, less in Scotland and Northern Ireland
General nature
Operational structure
Headquarters London, England
Agency executive Bill Hughes, Director-General

The Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) is a non-departmental public body of the United Kingdom government and a national law enforcement agency in the United Kingdom.

A consequence of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, SOCA formally came into being on 1 April 2006 following a merger of the National Crime Squad, the National Criminal Intelligence Service, the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU), the investigative and intelligence sections of HM Revenue & Customs on serious drug trafficking, and the Immigration Service's responsibilities for organised immigration crime. The Serious Fraud Office remains as a separate agency.

SOCA operates with greater powers in England and Wales than in Scotland and Northern Ireland and as such works with the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency and the Northern Ireland Organised Crime Taskforce, which share some of its functions in their respective jurisdictions.



SOCA formally came into being on 1 April 2006 following a merger of the National Crime Squad, the National Criminal Intelligence Service, the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU), the investigative and intelligence sections of HM Revenue & Customs on serious drug trafficking, and the Immigration Service's responsibilities for organised immigration crime. The Serious Fraud Office remains as a separate agency.

The creation of the agency was announced on 9 February 2004 as one of the elements of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, which also restricts protests and demonstrations in central London, and alters powers of arrest and the use of search warrants. Parallels have been drawn between the organisation and the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the United States: indeed, parts of the press have labelled SOCA the "British FBI."[1] The duties and functions of SOCA, however, are more akin to that of the US's Drug_Enforcement_Administration or Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Additionally, comparisons with the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement are not strictly accurate due to non-federal nature of the United Kingdom constitution, and the completely different structure of policing. Police forces will continue to deal with most crime whilst SOCA will assist forces and also work independently with regards to serious organised crime. SOCA is an intelligence agency which has the role of "reducing harm", not specifically the arrest and conviction of offenders.

SOCA does not deal with issues of national security and does not have a counter terrorism or counter intelligence role like the FBI. The Security Service MI5 and Scotland Yard Counter Terrorism Command are the lead national units in this area.[2] Scotland Yard also has important national resources such as the Specialist Crime Directorate which is often involved in major national and international criminal investigations.[3] Other important national agencies include the National Policing Improvement Agency which provides analysis and non-operational support to law enforcement agencies and the Forensic Science Service which is a national scientific resource, along with the Laboratory of the Government Chemist (LGC Forensics). Major white collar crime, corruption and fraud investigations both are conducted by territorial police forces with the City of London Police[4] designated as the lead force due to its expertise in dealing with economic crime. The Serious Fraud Office conducts investigations into fraud involving at least £1 million.

There has been criticism of SOCA Officers shouting "Stop Armed Police" in order to apprehend armed subjects by the Police Federation of England and Wales, as SOCA officers are not police officers. However SOCA has argued that the term SOCA or Serious Organised Crime Agency may not be understood by criminals and that "Stop Armed Police" is universally understood.[5] Unlike the FBI who have a Hostage Rescue Team, SOCA does not deal with Armed Hostage Situations, such incidents in the UK are generally dealt with by the firearms unit of the relevant territorial police force and on rare occasions the Special Air Service Anti-Terrorism Team.[6][7]

Former National Crime Squad detective Peter Blekesley said SOCA "needs to be elite. It needs to be secretive to a certain degree. To catch people in the highest echelon of organised crime needs a lot of dedication, a lot of expertise, a lot of officers who are multi-skilled, and devotion to the task. It's not an easy thing to take out the top people who are top of the criminal pile."[8]

SOCA is subject to similar internal and external safeguards as the police service. The SOCA Professional Standards Department is responsible for receiving, investigating and monitoring the progress of public complaints about the misconduct of SOCA officers. Serious complaints regarding SOCA are dealt with by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).[9] The IPCC will decide the appropriate method of investigation. In general terms, the IPCC will handle complaints against SOCA officers in the same manner as complaints against police officers or officers of HMRC. The Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland (PONI) will deal with complaints in Northern Ireland. In Scotland, this will be the responsibility of the Lord Advocate. There will also be a bespoke inspection regime for SOCA, provided through Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC).[10] SOCA has a UK-wide remit, but will work in partnership with agencies in Scotland and Northern Ireland.[10]

According to Home Office figures organised crime costs the UK around £20 billion each year, with some estimates putting the figure as high as £40 billion.[11]


The agency is an executive non-departmental public body sponsored by, but operationally independent from, the Home Office. It is funded by the UK's central government, with a provisional budget for 2006/7 of £457m, of which £416m funds on-going resources and £41m is capital investment.[12]. It will have around 4,200 employees, of which 400 are backroom staff. Of the remaining workforce, half will be criminal investigators and the other half will focus on analysis and intelligence. SOCA will co-operate closely with the police, intelligence agencies, HM Revenue and Customs, foreign police forces and others. From April 2008, the Assets Recovery Agency is to become part of SOCA.

It is led by a board with 11 members. The non-executive chairman, responsible for the overall approach of SOCA, is Sir Stephen Lander, a former head of MI5. The other non-executive directors of the board are Stephen Barrett, Elizabeth France, Ken Jarrold, Janet Paraskeva and General Sir Roger Wheeler. Day-to-day leadership is provided by the Director General, Bill Hughes, who is able to designate SOCA officers as having the powers of a police constable, a customs officer, or an immigration officer. The other executive directors of the board are David Bolt, Malcolm Cornberg, Paul Evans and Trevor Pearce.[13] The agency's headquarters are in Victoria, not far from New Scotland Yard. There is also an office in Vauxhall, South London, not far from the Palace of Westminster and the SIS Building.[14]

The board has decided that around 40% of its effort should be devoted to combating drug trafficking, 25% to tackling organised immigration crime, around 10% to fraud, 15% on other organised crime and the remaining 10% on supporting other law enforcement agencies.[15]

The organisation has been split up into four directorates: intervention (finding ways to obstruct organised criminals); intelligence (building up a detailed picture of organised crime gangs); enforcement (investigating organised crime gangs); and corporate services (the administrative back up to the operational side).

The Agency has had to deal with the effects of significant budget cuts that have affected both its strategy for dealing with organised crime and its ability to retain experienced police officers.[16]

Intelligence role and secrecy

SOCA operates from at least 40 offices across the UK. SOCA officers are empowered to perform a number of surveillance roles traditionally associated with British intelligence services such as MI5, although, unlike MI5 officers, some designated SOCA officers enjoy powers of arrest. SOCA is exempt from the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.

National Central Bureau

SOCA acts as the UK point of contact for Interpol, Europol and the Schengen Information System.

In this capacity SOCA maintains the following functions:

  • Single point of contact for International enquiries from SOCA and all UK Police and law enforcement agencies.
  • 24/7 capacity for Interpol with direct connections to their databases and provides a specialist service to Europol through our Europol Liaison Officers.
  • Coordination of all inbound and outbound Cross Border Surveillance requests with Schengen partners.
  • Dedicated Fugitives Unit that acts as the UK Central Authority for all European Arrest Warrants (EAW).

Money laundering

SOCA takes over responsibility for dealing with suspicious activity reports (SARs), previously made to the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS)under the money laundering legislation. NCIS received just under 200,000 SARs in 2005 and throughout its active life was widely critical of the banking and financial services sector, and the Financial Services Authority, for not being more transparent or forthcoming in reporting their customers suspicious activity. In 1998 of 500 banks registered through the BBA in the UK only 8% were responsible for 70% of all suspicious criminal activity disclosures to the National Criminal Intelligence Service. During this period some banks made no disclosures at all including Coutts & Co. the Queens personal bankers.

That omission supposed one of the nation’s biggest private banks with a multi billion pound turnover was not a target of money launderers. Although banks have a legal duty to report suspicious transactions NCIS were critical of Coutts excuse that during the financial year there were, apparently, simply no suspicious transactions at all.

Despite their claims Coutts had fallen victim to money launderers in the past. The infamous mafia mobster Emilio Di Giovine served time for extortion, drug running and manslaughter and in his time laundered nearly £2M via his Coutts cash account. In 1995 the former deputy finance director of Scotland Yard was jailed after stealing more than £5M from a secret police account. He had also opened a Coutts account to help launder his stolen proceeds and before his conviction even claimed a coveted Coutts gold card.

Despite criticism from professional representative bodies that the disclosure rules are too broad, SOCA has said that up to one in three SARs lead to or add substantially to terrorism investigations; that HMRC estimates that around one in five SARs identifies new subjects of interest, and one in four SARs lead to direct tax enquiries; and that many arrests and confiscations of criminal assets.[17]

Subject to the passing of the necessary legislation, the Assets Recovery Agency will become part of the Serious Organised Crime Agency from April 2008. Both ARA and SOCA are committed to maintaining their efforts in the recovery of criminal assets during the transition. The power to launch civil recovery proceedings has been extended to the three main prosecutors in England and Wales; the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the Revenue and Customs Prosecutions Office (RCPO) and the Serious Fraud Office (SFO). It will also be extended to the Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service in Scotland.[18]

Child protection

The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) is technically part of SOCA and its officers are SOCA officers. However, CEOP largely operates separately to the bulk of SOCA. The task of online child protection had previously been (in part) the responsibility of the NHTCU. CEOP recently announced the opening of the CEOP Academy, designed to be a centre of excellence in this area of law enforcement.[19] CEOP works in conjunction with New Scotland Yard Child Abuse Investigation Command which has its own hi-tech unit.[20]

Computer crime

Officers from the former National Hi-Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU) became SOCA's e-crime unit. However, the remit of this unit is much narrower than that of the body it replaced. In particular, the NHTCU had established a confidentiality charter to encourage victims of computer crime to contact the police in confidence, because many corporate victims in particular do not report attacks due to fears of bad publicity. The loss of the confidentiality charter has been widely criticised.[21][22] although similar protection is now provided by the same Act of Parliament used to create SOCA. The Metropolitan Police is to help bridge the gap left by the disbandment of the NHTCU through an expansion of its Computer Unit and the formation of the Police Central e-crime Unit (PCeU), which will work closely with the new National Fraud Reporting Centre (NFRC) from 2009.[23]

See also

External links


  1. ^ New Powers for British FBI
  2. ^ Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command
  3. ^ Overseas Scotland Yard Unit to be Set Up - The Guardian - February 2008
  4. ^ City of London Police Economic Crime Department
  5. ^ Police Federation: Concern Over Status of (Armed) SOCA Officers
  6. ^ SAS Anti Terrorism Team
  7. ^ SAS Moves to London in Terrorism Fight - The Times (London) - January 2007
  8. ^ "New 'FBI-style' agency launched". BBC. 1 April 2006.  
  9. ^ IPCC to oversee public complaints against SOCA
  10. ^ a b FAQ's Serious and Organised Crime Website
  11. ^ Home Office figures on organised crime
  12. ^ FAQs from SOCA website.
  13. ^ Governance from SOCA website.
  14. ^ "Alan Turnbull’s "Secret Bases"".  
  15. ^ Aims from SOCA website.
  16. ^ "Soca abandons hunt for crime lords". Time Online. 13 May 2008.  
  17. ^ Financial Intelligence from SOCA website.
  18. ^ Proposed merger of the Assets Recovery Agency and the Serious Organised Crime Agency
  19. ^ CEOP Academy
  20. ^ Child Abuse Investigation Command - New Scotland Yard
  21. ^ Bennett, Madeline (2006-04-07). "British FBI drops Confidentiality Charter for IT crime victims". IT Week. Retrieved 2007-03-14.  
  22. ^ Clayton, Richard (2006-02-06). "Mysterious and Menacing". Light Blue Touchpaper, Cambridge University security blog. Retrieved 2007-03-14.  
  23. ^ Government pledges funding for e-crime unit - 30 Sep 2008 - Computer Weekly


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