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New computer crime unit established two years after disbandment of NHTCU

A new specialist police unit has been created to tackle crime carried out on the internet. The Government said that it would spend £7 million establishing the Police Central E-crime Unit (PceU) in London.02 Oct 2008

Advert: free OUT-LAW Breakfast Seminars - 1. Making your contract work: pitfalls and best practices; 2. Transferring data: the information security issuesThe unit will be run by London's Metropolitan Police and will be more than half-funded by the Met. It will be run as a national service, the Government said.

The Government disbanded the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU) two years ago, dealing with organised and serious crime through the Serious and Organised Crime Agency (SOCA). This meant that crime that was not carried out on a very large scale was not being tackled by a specialist force.

That has now changed, and the Government has accepted the Association of Chief Police Officers' (ACPO) proposals for a PceU. The Government said that it would work alongside the National Fraud Reporting Centre (NFRC) when that was created next year.

"The new PCeU will work closely with the NFRC to tackle electronic crime reported to it. This will ensure that the NFRC has support in this highly specialised area," said E-crime Minister Vernon Coaker. "The PCeU will also play a vital role in helping police forces across the country improve skills and techniques needed to clamp down on e-crime."

The Home Office admitted last year that the disbanding of the NHTCU meant that e-crime was not being adequately addressed.

“We know that [computer] crime is not a problem that sits comfortably within local policing structures, and that historically most forces have underinvested in their capacity to respond effectively to it,” said the Home Office in its response to a House of Lords report that there were problems with the current set up. “We therefore believe that national co-ordination would bring some obvious benefits to the policing of these crimes.”

The Met itself admitted that police forces' own e-crime units were struggling to deal with computer crime.

“The MPS assessment is that specialist e-crime units can no longer cope with all e-crime," said DCI McMurdie last year in a report from the MPS to the Metropolitan Police Authority, the body that oversees the Met.

"It is widely recognised that e-crime is the most rapidly expanding form of criminality, encompassing both new criminal offences in relation to computers (viruses and hacking etc.) and ‘old’ crimes (fraud, harassment etc.), committed using digital or computer technology," said the report.

The new unit will help to train officers in how to deal with computer crime and will investigate on behalf of police forces nationwide.

"It is our aim to improve the police response to victims of e-crime by developing the capability of the Police Service. We will be coordinating the law enforcement approach to all types of e-crime, and providing a national investigative capability for the most serious e-crime incidents," said Janet Williams, head of e-crime for ACPO.