Pubdate: Sun, 17 Oct 1999
Source: Sunday Times (UK)
Copyright: 1999 Times Newspapers Ltd.
Author: Marcello Mega


TWO powerful crime-fighting organisations are locked in a
behind-the-scenes row with the Scottish government over plans for a
drug enforcement agency.

The National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS), the brains behind
many anti-drug offensives, fears its independence could be compromised
and has threatened to withhold its co-operation from the new agency.

The Sunday Times has also obtained a confidential memo prepared for
civil servants by Customs and Excise, which warns the Drug Enforcement
Agency (DEA) could be open to corruption and says existing
organisations could become "second class partners".

The criticisms are a blow to the Scottish executive, which has made
the creation of a DEA its flagship anti-drug policy. Last month deputy
justice minister Angus Mackay, responding to public outrage at
Scotland's toll of drug deaths which had reached 198 this year,
unveiled detailed proposals for the DEA.

A chief executive will be appointed in February and the organisation
will be running by June 2000. Mackay promised a budget of pounds 4m,
and said 200 officers would be appointed, half of them placed in
existing police drug squads.

NCIS is a Britain-wide intelligence-gathering operation with an elite
squad of investigators on secondment from police forces and customs.
The Scottish wing is based in Paisley and provides much of the
information on which police and customs operations are based.

Scottish executive sources have told The Sunday Times that NCIS has
warned in writing that it would not support the new agency if its own
independence was compromised.

The customs memo paints a stark picture of the problems the new agency
could create. These include strained relationships with existing
agencies, which might become "second class" partners, and an increased
risk of corruption if the new organisation had greater powers than the
other agencies.

The memo also raises questions over the accountability of the DEA, and
warns of difficulties in its relationship with the English arms of
customs and NCIS. In the past two years Scottish customs has seized
drugs valued at pounds 60m.

Scotland's chief police officers are divided over the need for the new

Mackay has signalled that the agency's primary concern will be law
enforcement, a stance supported by Strathclyde police. But chief
constables in other force areas, which do not have drug problems on
the same scale, would favour a more rounded approach with additional
resources devoted to education and rehabilitation.

One chief officer said: "The message from the top is enforcement,
enforcement, enforcement. The government must know that 200 extra
detectives won't solve Scotland's drug problems any more than 500
extra detectives would. It should be about changing attitudes,
changing youth culture, but this has all the hallmarks of a cheap fix."

Police also say ministers may have miscalculated the timescale for
setting up the DEA, which they insist will require primary

One senior figure said: "There is a strong feeling that Mackay jumped
the gun, that ministers didn't realise a new agency was likely to
require primary legislation."

The police source said that without legislation to give the DEA
statutory authority, it could have no legal power of enforcement. The
only alternative to new legislation was to "hitch" the agency to one
of the existing law enforcement arms, but this was unlikely as it
would lead to problems of accountability. "Police forces are
accountable to local authority police boards, Customs and Excise are
accountable to the Treasury, and NCIS ultimately to the Home Office,"
he said.

"We have to assume ministers intend the DEA to be accountable to the
Scottish parliament and I can't see how they can achieve that without
passing legislation."

He said another problem facing ministers and civil servants was the
pledge to appoint a chief executive by February. "If there is no
legislation in place by that time enshrining the DEA as a statutory
body, who will be employing that chief executive?" he said.

It is understood that Mackay has told civil servants they must keep to
the time-frame he announced. One route being considered is simply to
make the new agency an enhanced version of the crime squad which is
fed by Scotland's eight police forces on a pro-rata basis. But
ministers believe the public would have more confidence in an elite
new agency.

A spokesman for the Scottish executive declined to confirm or deny
that law enforcement agencies were split on the best way forward. He
said discussions between the involved parties were continuing. Until a
structure had been formalised, it would be impossible to answer any
detailed questions.

Mackay was not available for comment.
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