Lynne Owens, the Director General of the National Crime Agency (‘NCA’) addressed the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (‘RUSI’) on 10 March 2016. Ms Owens, who was appointed to the post of Director General in January 2016, used her speech to highlight the recent work of the NCA and to outline her vision for the future.

Child sexual exploitation

Ms Owens said that the NCA now receives approximately 1800 referrals per month relating to the sharing of indecent images of children. In November 2015, a joint operational cell was created between the NCA and UK Government Communications Headquarters to focus on tackling online child sexual exploitation. Ms Owens, who emphasised that the NCA is focused on child sexual exploitation, recently faced criticism from the Surrey Police and Crime Commissioner Kevin Hurley, regarding concerns that the Surrey Police, under her supervision, failed vulnerable children, rape and domestic violence victims.

Drug smuggling

Ms Owens stressed the importance of tackling drug dealing, due to the fact that it sits at the heart of urban street gang culture and is often linked to other organised crime, including human trafficking and money laundering. Ms Owens mentioned the NCA’s role in the conviction of three members of a drug smuggling crime group, who were given prison sentences totalling 66 years. This appears to refer to the case of Andrew Wright and his associates, who flew 268 kilos of cocaine into the UK through Breighton Airfield using Cessna planes. Wright reportedly used his aerial photography business as a cover for his illegal activities.

Firearms offences

In August 2015, Ms Owens said that the NCA arrested eight people involved in the largest ever haul of automatic weapons in the UK mainland. It was reported at the time that the 22 automatic assault rifles, nine Skorpion machine pistols, ammunition and silencers found in Kent were destined for criminal gangs in London and the South-East. Three of those arrested pleaded guilty, while the trial of the remaining suspects is on-going. NCA officers, with support from Slovakian law enforcement partners, conducted further enquiries into a number of commercial companies selling weapons in Slovakia. These weapons were identified as identical to those seized in Kent. Ms Owens said that one of the NCA’s key operational priorities is to keep the availability of firearms in the UK low.

Money laundering and proceeds of crime

Denying criminals the benefits of their crime is a key component of the NCA’s overall response according to Ms Owens. She highlighted the work of the Civil Recovery and Tax team, who recently returned £29 million to Macau, which was hidden in British bank accounts by Ao Man-Long, a former public works chief in Macau. This was reportedly the first time Britain had repatriated proceeds of crime under the UN Convention against Corruption, which was signed in December 2003.

Plan for the future

Ms Owens said the main challenge facing the NCA is the increase in cybercrime, but sees the Investigatory Powers Bill, which is being debated in parliament today (often referred to as the Snoopers’ Charter), as a way of bridging the gap between the capabilities of law enforcement bodies and criminals.

Ms Owens’ plan for the future is to build confidence in the intelligence capabilities of the NCA, to provide clarity regarding the roles of the various law enforcement bodies, and to provide specialist capabilities through the NCA’s network of international liaison officers and high end covert capabilities.