With much fanfare, the Government announced the setting up of its ‘Serious and Organised Crime Agency’ on April 1st. It was trailed heavily by the Home Office in the press, including a report in the Guardian, which announced,
“Up to 140 British crime fighters will be based abroad working for Britain’s new equivalent of the FBI”.
The article went on to mention that:
“Some of Soca’s staff overseas will be carrying out intelligence duties, others will work with local authorities in places like Afghanistan and Colombia, where heroin and cocaine production are rife. Others will be embedded in foreign law enforcement agencies, which will reciprocate with officers in the UK.”
This has caused concerns in many quarters, as the situation in Colombia is a dangerous one. Last year there were more than 70 trade unionists murdered in Colombia and there were numerous other abuses of human rights. The issue of drugs in crucial as often the military aid given by the US to Colombia for counter-narcotics is diverted into counter-insurgency work and many of these operations see the army working hand-in-hand with paramilitary organisations to kill, not guerrillas, but the unarmed civilian population.
For that reason, there is naturally a desire to know who the UK police officers sent by SOCA to Colombia are working with. Clearly the Home Office would want to hide operational details, but it’s not unreasonable to ask for which Colombian institutions they are co-operating with. For example, there was a recent case of soldiers actually having killed police officers who were searching for drugs factories that the soldiers were looking after for paramilitaries. If they were working with the army then it would naturally be of concern to many people.
For that reason, Mike Hancock, MP for Portsmouth South, asked the following:
“Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) what duties are being carried out by officers of the Serious and Organised Crime Agency in Colombia; (2) how many (a) UK police officers and (b) officers from the Serious and Organised Crime Agency are based in Colombia; and what plans he has to change the number of officers in Colombia; 3) with which (a) law enforcement and b)police agencies officers of the Serious and Organised Crime Agency will work in Colombia.”
To which he receieved the short reply:
“Mr. McNulty: I cannot comment on the operational deployment of police officers or SOCA staff.”
People will doubtless ask why it is that the Home Office is happy to trail details of its policing policy’s links with Colombia to the Guardian and other newspapers, but is not willing to inform Parliament.