Agency to chase criminals' assets
The most dangerous and harmful criminals could be stripped of any status symbols in a bid to stop them being idolised by youngsters, the new head of the National Crime Agency (NCA) has said.
Keith Bristow, the director-general of the NCA, said he wanted to go after relatively low-value assets such as cars and jewellery to show communities that organised criminals could not operate with impunity. The impact on young people "who can sometimes get seduced into idolising these people" would be "very, very important", he said.
Mr Bristow, who said he wanted to lead the NCA as an "operational crime fighter", said stripping the most dangerous criminals of their assets would help protect the public.
"Someone who appears to a community to operate with impunity may have some assets that don't have a huge monetary value, perhaps a particular type of car or a particular type of jewellery, which is not going to yield hundreds of thousands of pounds if we take it off them," he said.
"But let's be absolutely clear, the impact on communities and what that says to young people who can sometimes get seduced into idolising these people, is very, very important."
Giving evidence to the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, Mr Bristow went on: "It isn't necessarily the groups that have the most assets that are the most harmful.
"And 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'm very keen that we do that rigorously and energetically. What I will be able to reassure you of is, whether it's pre- or post-conviction, we want to go after assets very aggressively."
Mr Bristow leads the NCA, which is expected to replace the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) from next year.
Asked about Soca's record of seizing assets worth just £1 for every £15 of taxpayers' money spent, he said: "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 actually more or less I don't know yet.
"I want to make sure we take assets from 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 as a way of levering resource in to public service. This is really about protecting the public."