Wednesday, 25 February 2009

ACPO


Body in charge of UK policing policy is now an £18m-a-year brand charging the public £70 for a 60p criminal records check

Britain's most powerful police body is being run as a private business with an annual income of around £18million.

The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), which oversees everything from anti-terrorism policy to speed cameras, was last night facing demands that it be disbanded, following a Mail on Sunday investigation into its activities which include:

  • Selling information from the Police National Computer for up to £70 – even though it pays just 60 pence to access those details.
  • Marketing ‘police approval’ logos to firms selling anti-theft devices.
  • Operating a separate private firm offering training to speed camera operators, which is run by a senior officer who was banned from driving.
Ken Jones, President of ACPO

The boss: Ken Jones, President of ACPO, has £140,000 a year plus a police pension

  • Advising the Government and police forces – earning £32million of taxpayers’ money in the process.
  • Employing retired senior officers on lucrative salaries.

Until now, ACPO’s central role in policing has not been questioned as it is seen as an essential, if sometimes controversial, public body writing the rules on police operations as well as campaigning on key issues such as the proposed 90-day detention for terror suspects and the DNA database.

But the organisation is not a public body, nor is it a police trade union or even a campaign group. It is a private company – a self-styled ‘global brand name’ – paid millions of pounds a year by the taxpayer to effectively run the nation’s police forces.

Because ACPO is a private company, members of the public cannot use the Freedom of Information Act to scrutinise its operations. Last night it came under fire from politicians and human rights lawyers, who called for its immediate reform.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of the civil rights group Liberty, questioned whether ACPO’s role as a company with increasing national powers was ‘legal’. She said: ‘They need to be stopped in their tracks.’

At the centre of the controversy are the services ‘sold’ by ACPO and over which it has a monopoly.

The association is headed by former Sussex Chief Constable Sir Ken Jones, who earns £138,702 a year and receives a further £30,000 in pension contributions on top of his existing police pension.

Its unpaid board includes Sir Hugh Orde, Chief Constable of Northern Ireland, Sir Paul Scott-Lee, West Midlands Chief Constable, and Tim Hollis, Chief Constable of Humberside.

It also employs a number of former high-ranking police officers on lucrative short-term contracts.

Its staff bill is £1.4million a year – which averages out at £66,000 for each of its 21 employees, although that figure also includes pension contributions and retainers paid to former members of staff acting as consultants.

Chief Constable Meredydd Hughes

Chairman of RSS Meredydd Hughes claims all speed cameras should be hidden and mobile

ACPO was set up in 1997, replacing an informal network of police chiefs who decided national policies. It was established as a formal body ‘to deal with growing budgets, the need to sign leases [and] the need to directly employ people’.

In the past two years its influence and public role has expanded to playing a major role in formulating national police policy, advising Ministers and overseeing the development of the National Police Improvement Agency, which runs the controversial DNA database and Police National Computer.

Its annual income from ‘project’ work for the police and Home Office has risen to £15million, from just £1.3million in 2005.

But its growth has taken place without any parliamentary debate and without being subject to public scrutiny, and its decisions are largely taken in secret.

According to its accounts, it earned money from the taxpayer for ‘co-ordination of the national police response to terrorism, organised crime [and] large operations such
as the Suffolk prostitute murders’.

It also says it was paid for its involvement in arranging the ‘use of police cells across the country to house prisoners’.

In 2007 ACPO rewrote its statement of purpose adopting ‘a new, more responsive business structure’.

The new document included the assertion that it would ‘continue to develop our business activities to ensure that the ACPO brand name is recognised globally as a mark of excellence in policing’.

It is unclear who decides how much ACPO charges the Home Office and police forces for its activities. Its board members can claim expenses but their salaries are paid by their individual police forces.

As a ‘not for profit’ company it does not pay dividends to its shareholders, but its accounts show a significant annual surplus, which has led to ACPO having £15.8million in assets, including £9.2million ‘cash at bank and in hand’.

ACPO's Central London base, close to Scotland Yard

Corporate HQ: ACPO's Central London base, close to Scotland Yard

ACPO says this money is to fund future projects, but the accounts show its cash account grew from £6million in 2007 to £9million this year and earned interest of nearly £1.4million over the period.

Boosting this annual surplus are a number of ACPO subsidiaries which sell ‘police’ services. It recently set up ACRO – the ACPO Criminal Records Office – which sells so-called police certificates which reveal whether someone has a criminal record.

Headed by retired Hampshire Deputy Chief Constable Ian Readhead, who has a £50,000 contract with ACPO, it provides the documents required by people applying for visas to work or live in the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

Until now visa applicants could obtain these details by making what was known as a ‘subject access request’ to the police. The maximum charge for these requests was £10.

But according to the US Embassy, ACPO approached them and offered to provide their own criminal record certificates. These are now the only documents acceptable for visa applications.

Under the new system, applicants fill out an online form and receive a statement about whether or not they have a criminal record.

According to the National Police Improvement Agency, which runs the Police National Computer, ACPO is charged 60p for each search.

However, ACPO charges the public up to £70 for its ‘premium service’, while its standard service – which takes ten days – costs £35.

Last year ACPO received an income of £197,633 from the service, which is not available from any other agency. It says its charges are reasonable because the service involves ‘additional processing elements including photography processing and a full report prepared for each application’.

Another lucrative ACPO offshoot is ACPO Crime Prevention Initiatives Ltd. The company, which charges manufacturers to approve their crime-prevention products such as burglar alarms and blast doors, had a turnover of £981,500 last year.

The firm’s accounts show that it made a healthy surplus of £225,000 on that income and paid its directors £107,000.

The firm issues Secured by Design licences and advertises the approved firms’ telephone numbers and other contact details on the ACPO website.

The website says: ‘The company is funded through partnership with companies whose products meet technical standards identified by ACPO.’

Products that meet that standard can display the Secured by Design logo with the wording ‘Police Preferred Specification’.

Richard Childs, former Chief Constable of Lincolnshire, is managing director of ACPO Crime Prevention Initiatives and earns £42,500 a year.

ACPO is also involved with Road Safety Support Ltd. According to documents at Companies House, RSS was established last year to ‘provide secretarial support to the ACPO Road Policing Enforcement Technology Committee and the Chair of the ACPO Safety Camera Administration Group’.

An independent affiliate of ACPO, the firm also provides expert witnesses to combat ‘loophole’ lawyers attempting to beat speeding offences. It also provides training to speed camera operators.

The chairman of RSS is Meredydd Hughes, Chief Constable of South Yorkshire. He was formerly the chairman of ACPO’s roads policing group but stood down following a driving ban after being caught on camera speeding at 90mph.

Mr Hughes, who has claimed that all speed cameras should be hidden and mobile, is not paid by the company.

ACPO said RSS is a non-profit-making private limited company set up to provide support to both Safety Camera Partnerships, which install speed cameras across the country, and the Highways Authorities on ‘a variety of legal and technical issues of road safety’.

Conservative Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling last night questioned ACPO’s role, and called for its reform. He said: ‘Is it an external reference group for Home Office Ministers or a professional association protecting senior officers’ interests?

Is it a national policing agency? Is it a pressure group arguing for greater police powers? I am planning to have serious discussions about their role.

‘I was particularly concerned by the Government’s decision to give them a statutory role in senior police appointments. There are real questions to be asked about whether they can carry out all of these roles and I think change might very well be necessary.’

Shami Chakrabarti, of Liberty, questioned whether ACPO’s role as a company with increasing national powers was legal. She said: ‘It is legally questionable for senior police officers to be running this sort of business.’

She added that police officers’ powers were limited by statute and any increase in those powers had to be approved by Parliament. By increasing its national role and engaging in commercial activities, ACPO could be breaking the law, she said.

Ms Chakrabarti added: ‘ACPO is many things. It advises Government, it sets policing policy, it campaigns for increased police powers, and now we learn it is engaged in commercial activities – all with a rather shady lack of accountability.

‘When they take positions on issues, it is very unclear who is deciding to do so. Our Parliament decided that we do not have a national police force
in this country. It is considered anti-democratic to put so much power
in one place. This is why we have regional police forces.

‘But ACPO is morphing into a national police force where they all take a single line on holding terror suspects for 42 days or ID cards and individual chief constables aren’t supposed to speak out. None of this should be happening without an Act of Parliament.

‘They need to be stopped in their tracks and there should be a fundamental review of ACPO and all its functions.’

An ACPO spokesman defended the organisation’s activities. He said: ‘ACPO is an independent, professionally led strategic body. In the public interest, ACPO leads and co-ordinates the direction and development of the police service nationally.

‘In times of national need ACPO, on behalf of all chief officers, co-ordinates the strategic policing response.

‘ACPO is funded in part by the Government in order to collectively develop advice for them. Project work which ACPO undertakes on behalf of the police service is at the request of the Home Office and goes towards public protection against serious and strategic threats that can only be tackled above force level.

'All funds to ACPO are employed in the interests of public safety and the police service.’

He denied that the organisation was keeping huge amounts of money from public funds in cash in its bank accounts.

He said: ‘All funds from the Home Office are tied to projects to tackle serious and strategic threats on behalf of the police service. As projects can be delivered across a number of years, it follows [our year] end accounts may show a surplus.’



Now 'Police Chiefs PLC' cashes in on speeding drivers

Speed camera

ACPO will earn millions from the 'retraining' of drivers caught breaking the speed limit

Britain's most powerful policing organisation has set up a private company to cash in on its own orders to send speeding drivers on retraining courses.

The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has told all police forces that from April hundreds of thousands of motorists should be sent on Speed Awareness Schemes rather than receiving penalty points and fines.

At the same time it has set up a new company which will earn millions of pounds running the only database recording which motorists are eligible for 'retraining'.

ACPO is already under fire after The Mail on Sunday disclosed that, despite setting police policy on everything from anti-terrorism to speed cameras, it is a private company - dubbed Police Chiefs PLC by this newspaper - with an annual income, mostly funded by the taxpayer, of £18million.

Now it is set to earn an estimated £5million a year checking speeding drivers' eligibility for the national Driver Offender Retraining Scheme.

The work is being done by ACPO subsidiary company Road Safety Support (RSS). It will oversee a database that holds records on whether speeding drivers are disqualified from taking a retraining course because they had already taken one in the previous three years.

According to the DVLA, this database was set up by the Government agency but in January 2008 was turned over to ACPO.

Now RSS has the job of running the database and police forces will be charged £5 for each driver's details checked. Last year 2.1million drivers were caught speeding in the UK.

If only half qualify for a training course, the company will generate an income of more than £5million a year by checking drivers' eligibility.

RSS also makes money from around 30 police and local authorities running safety camera partnerships.

ACPO's Central London base, close to Scotland Yard

'Police Chiefs PLC': ACPO's Central London headquarters

RSS is yet to file accounts with Companies House but it has told local police that this operation will generate a turnover of £900,000 in its first year of operation.

It earns this money by charging speed camera partnerships a percentage of the £110million Government grant each area gets to spend on road safety projects.

The speed camera managers are promised access to RSS's self-styled 'Dream Team' of experts to combat 'loophole lawyers' who get clients acquitted of offences on technicalities.

But RSS lawyer Andrew Perry actually works for the Crown Prosecution Service and his work is already funded by the taxpayer.

Last night a CPS spokesman said: 'Andrew Perry is a Crown Advocate, employed by and paid by the CPS, who is seconded to work with Road Safety Support. RSS pay the CPS the full cost of this secondment.'

An ACPO spokesman said: 'ACPO is introducing speed awareness courses nationally. Driver Offender Retraining course attendance will...be held with the Police National Computer. Administration will be provided by RSS.

'The database administration charge is £1.50. It is proposed that this will increase to £5. RSS does not make profits and any surplus will be returned to road safety initiatives.'


Secret police unit set up to spy on British 'domestic extremists'

Plane Stupid

Target: Members of the Plane Stupid group, pictured on the runway at Stansted Airport in December, could be under scrutiny from the new unit

A secret police intelligence unit has been set up to spy on Left-wing and Right-wing political groups.

The Confidential Intelligence Unit (CIU) has the power to operate across the UK and will mount surveillance and run informers on ‘domestic extremists’.

Its job is to build up a detailed picture of radical campaigners.

Targets will include environmental groups involved in direct action such as Plane Stupid, whose supporters invaded the runway at Stansted Airport in December.

The unit also aims to identify the ring-leaders behind violent demonstrations such as the recent anti-Israel protests in London, and to infiltrate neo-Nazi groups, animal liberation groups and organisations behind unlawful industrial action such as secondary picketing.

The CIU’s role will be similar to the ‘counter subversion’ functions formerly carried out by MI5.

The so-called reds under the bed operations focused on trade unionists and peace campaigners but were abandoned by MI5 to concentrate on Islamic terrorism.

The unit is being set up by the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) and will be based at Scotland Yard in Central London.

An internal police job advertisement for the ‘Head of Confidential Intelligence Unit’, obtained by The Mail on Sunday, reveals key details of its wide-ranging powers.

The advert says the unit will work closely with Government departments, university authorities and private sector companies to ‘remove the threat of criminality and public disorder that arises from domestic extremism’.

The CIU will also use legal proceedings to prevent details of its operations being made public.

Its chief will play an active part in obtaining Public Interest Immunity Certificates from Government Ministers, and will attend ‘legal meetings regarding sensitive source material’.

Another vacancy, for an administration officer, states that the CIU will be involved in the collection of ‘secret data’.

The job descriptions indicate that the postholders will have links with MI5.

Details of the senior vacancies were circulated to police forces last year - the closing date for applications was November 14, 2008.

The top job was open to officers of at least the rank of Detective Chief Inspector.

MI5’s counter subversion role led to it compiling files on Left-wing student activists in the Sixties and Seventies.

These included records on Jack Straw and Peter Mandelson.