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Scotland Yard pokes crooks on Facebook

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Scotland Yard has set up a team to monitor social networking websites such as Facebook and YouTube for snippets of intelligence from clueless crooks who brag about their exploits online.

Officers from the Met's newly established Open Source Team surf websites and infiltrate chatrooms, without disclosing their identities, to gain intelligence. It's far removed from the traditional image of coppers, as epitomised by Det Inspector Jack Regan from landmark '70s cop show The Sweeney, grilling their snouts for leads down the pub over a bottle of whisky, but Scotland Yard says the changed approach is appropriate for changed times.

A Met Police spokesman explained that the service monitors a wide variety of social networking forums such as My Space, Facebook, and Friends Reunited, for example.

Undercover work online has helped in the detection of crimes including child abuse and fraud. Detectives have also spied on suspected gun smugglers and drug dealers.

In one example a subject found on MySpace was pictured in a car park carrying what appeared to be a Mach 10 sub machine gun. The 15 year-old was subsequently traced to an estate in Tottenham, north London. He was arrested and charged, later pleading guilty to possession of an imitation firearm and receiving a 10-month referral order, the Daily Mail reports.

The team passes on intelligence profiles to other squads who ask for their help. Street names and telephone numbers are gathered online and used to piece together links between gangs and their associates.

"Social network profiles (not specific to Facebook) can reveal colours such as bandanas. Any telephone numbers that are on a profile are passed on to the relevant unit. Street names are used to link associates," A Scotland Yard statement explained.

Det Chief Supt Martin Hewitt, head of the Metropolitan Police's Intelligence Bureau, explained: "Like the general public, who are increasingly using technology to communicate, criminals are also increasingly using it - including as a tool to organise their crimes. Therefore, the internet offers a wealth of information that we are able to monitor and use to prevent and detect crimes.

"We are seeing occasions where chatrooms and social networking sites are being used to boast about crimes. Cutting edge techniques and technology, as well as good old fashioned thorough intelligence work, is enabling us to turn the tables on the criminals," he added.

As well as bragging of past exploits, some crooks are even stupid enough to talk about upcoming blags.

One senior Yard officer told The Telegraph: "We have been amazed to discover that not only are they boasting about past crimes. They are also boasting about crimes they are about to carry out in the near future.

"The internet is particularly useful for keeping tabs on gangs from various areas who issues threats and taunts against one another online."

Earlier this month, an Old Bailey trial heard testimony about how Paul Erhahon, 14, was stabbed through the heart by a gang called the Cathall Street Bois who frequently boasted of their exploits on sites such as YouTube, the Daily Mail adds. ®

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