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New SOCA chief battles Yes, Minister jibes from MPs

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The new boss of the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, which has responsibility for policing international e-crime, has been forced to battle suggestions from MPs that his background in senior government bureaucracy is unsuitable experience to run a front-line crimefighting agency.

Sir Ian Andrews, a 34-year veteran of the MoD, faced the Home Affairs Select Committee yesterday. MPs contrasted his background in administration with that of his predecessor as SOCA chairman, Sir Stephen Lander, who became the "British FBI's" first boss after leading MI5.

David Winnick, a Labour member of the Committee, said: "Some people might cynically say your appointment is a sort of Yes, Minister scenario, having done this senior [MoD] appointment you've been found a slot as chair of this organisation [SOCA] without any direct police experience?"

Andrews rejected the suggestion, saying he had been "very active in the national security space over much of the last couple of decades".

His experience in the upper reaches of the MoD included running part of the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (he left before the privatisation that created Qinetiq, and some very wealthy former Mandarins), and charge of the Defence Estates Agency, which manages the Department's huge property portfolio.

Andrews told the Committee: "I don't think being chairman of a large organisation does require strategic expertise in one field. What it requires is a track record in leadership."

With 3,900 staff and an annual budget of £430m, SOCA certainly counts as a large organisation. But it has failed to convince many politicians of its impact on organised crime since it was founded in 2006. Under Lander it was also frequently criticised for excessive secrecy.

Labour's Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, voiced such concerns yesterday. "This [SOCA] is an organisation that is causing concern. If you look at the recent history it is not as effective as I think ministers would expect."

As well as international e-crime and other fraud, SOCA main responsibilities are policing drug and people trafficking. It also has a role in the UK intelligence community, particularly tracking the proceeds of crime.

Regardless of his background, it appears Andrews and SOCA have much to prove. ®

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