Crime bosses face longer jail terms
Crime bosses who fail to pay back their ill-gotten gains face longer prison sentences under changes to the law unveiled by the Home Secretary.
As the new National Crime Agency (NCA) was launched, Theresa May also revealed the Government's Serious and Organised Crime strategy.
Covering a wide range of plans for tackling organised criminals, the framework includes proposals to hit crimelords by "substantially strengthening" prison sentences for failing to pay confiscation orders.
The Home Secretary said: "Organised crime is a threat to our national security so it needs a national response to turn the full force of the state against those behind the most serious crimes."
The overhaul of the Proceeds of Crime Act will also hit the Mr Bigs of the underworld by ensuring criminal assets cannot be hidden with spouses, freezing assets earlier on in investigations and simplifying confiscation orders so they can be heard more quickly.
The strategy, which also includes extra funding for regional police organised crime units and a new crackdown on foreign organised criminals, came as the head of the NCA - dubbed "Britain's FBI" - warned crime lords there will be "no one beyond the reach" of the new crime-fighting agency.
With a budget of nearly half-a-billion pounds a year, the National Crime Agency (NCA) will lead the fight against the estimated 37,000 criminals involved in serious and organised crime that hits the UK.
More than 4,000 NCA officers will tackle crime under four commands, organised crime, economic crime, border policing and child exploitation and online protection, alongside a National Cyber Crime Unit.
Asked if the new law-enforcement arm would be able to bring the fight to the "higher echelons" of organised crime, NCA director general Keith Bristow said: "To be clear, there will be no one beyond the reach of law enforcement or beyond the reach of the NCA.
"Those people involved in the most horrible activities can expect the most comprehensive and robust response."
The launch of the NCA marks the end of the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca), which is to be absorbed into the new organisation.
Proposals for the new agency were first unveiled by Home Secretary Theresa May in July 2010 as part of a broader shake-up of the policing landscape.
Announcing the new US-style agency, Mrs May said it would have a sweeping new power to step in to directly task and co-ordinate police forces in a bid to tackle organised crime and secure the UK's borders.
Too many of the near-6,000 organised crime gangs in the UK were escaping justice and a tough new approach was needed, she said.
The NCA has an annual budget of £463 million for resources and £31 million for capital, Mr Bristow confirmed.
But shadow policing minister David Hanson said the NCA was just the product of a "rebranding" exercise.
He said: "The National Crime Agency doesn't match the Government's hype.
"It is welcome that the NCA has finally arrived after three years of delay and we support strengthening work on organised crime and the hard work of Keith Bristow and his team.
"But most of the NCA is just the rebranding of existing organisations such as the Soca, but with a substantial 20% cut imposed by the Home Office in their overall budget."
The NCA will run the country's first national intelligence hub, place investigators at UK ports to tackle border crime such as human trafficking and will track down child-sex abusers online.
It will also place around 120 officers overseas in 40 different countries.
Mr Bristow, a former chief constable of Warwickshire Police, said unlike Soca, the NCA would not operate as a covert organisation and wants to be recognised by the public.
Some of its officers will wear jackets and caps emblazoned with NCA when on operations.
"We're going to be visible," he said. "We want the public to know who we are, what we do, what we're delivering, to understand the serious and organised crime threat that affects every neighbourhood and every citizen throughout the UK."
He added: "Frankly, we want the criminals to know who we are, because we want them to fear our attention."
The NCA will also be recruiting "special" officers - volunteers like special constables in police forces.
NCA specials with expert backgrounds such as in cyber or the financial sector are set to join the agency.
And NCA officers were already out on the streets this morning on the first major operation led by the agency.
Five people were arrested this morning as part of a crackdown on suspected identity fraudsters as officers carried out early morning raids in Liverpool, Warrington, Bromley, Brentwood and Troon.
Max Chambers, head of crime and justice at think-tank Policy Exchange, said: "Serious and organized crime is not a fringe issue.
"A large proportion of the crime that we experience on a day-to-day basis is driven by networks that are more organized than we think, but often hidden from view and difficult for law enforcement to penetrate effectively.
"The drug dealer, the pickpocket, the gang member and the credit card fraudster are often fundamentally driven by organized criminals. That's why we need stronger action nationally to protect people at a local level.
"The ability to seriously disrupt and prosecute these groups is critical and the creation of the NCA is a big step forward in terms of our capability.
"For the first time, a powerful body of operational crime fighters will fight organised crime, secure our borders, tackle fraud and cybercrime, as well as protecting vulnerable children and young people."