Town to be base for Britain's 'FBI'

IPSWICH is earmarked to be one of only eight regional centres for the UK's new crime-busting agency, it emerged today.Heralded as Britain's version of the FBI, the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) will absorb some of the most powerful investigating organisations in the country.

IPSWICH is earmarked to be one of only eight regional centres for the UK's new crime-busting agency, it emerged today.

Heralded as Britain's version of the FBI, the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) will absorb some of the most powerful investigating organisations in the country.

With a total of around 5,000 staff, it will spearhead efforts to carry the battle to crime gangs in Britain and beyond, which make an estimated £40 billion a year in the UK.

Among the agencies it will embrace are Special Branch, the National Crime Squad and the Immigration Service. HM Customs and Revenue and various specialist undercover teams, often known as 'spooks' will also be under SOCA's all-powerful wing.

Although its headquarters will be in London, the powerbrokers, headed by SOCA's chairman and former head of MI5 Sir Stephen Lander, have decided it is extremely likely there will be a major presence in Ipswich. The centre is expected to house a large number of investigators and administration staff.

As well as making the town one of the major crime-fighting centres in the country, the influx of staff will also help boost its economy.

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Aside from Ipswich, other regional offices are earmarked for Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Southampton, and Tyneside. There is also due to be an office which will encompass Northern Ireland and Scotland.

SOCA, which is due to come into force in April next year, has been trumpeted as an elite squad of specialist investigators. Their remit is to take on the challenge of fighting crime in the 21st century. They aim to do this by enforcement, intelligence-led operations and seizures of cash and assets.

Modern organised criminals operate across global networks using hi-tech communications and technology. The new UK-wide agency will bring together world-class experts including hi-tech and financial specialists with criminal intelligence and investigative skills. It will exploit hi-tech 21st century technology to uncover the new wave of crime bosses whose lucrative illegal enterprises range from drug trafficking and people smuggling through to fraud and money laundering.

When the launch of SOCA was announced, the then home secretary, David Blunkett, said: "Organised criminals make their millions from human misery - trafficking in drugs and people, engaging in fraud and extortion. They control criminal empires that reach from the other side of the world to the dealer on the street corner. They believe they are beyond the reach of justice and out of our sights. That is not the case - no-one should be untraceable and no-one should be untouchable."

A Home Office spokeswoman today confirmed it is looking at various locations to house SOCA staff.

She said: "Regional locations have not been finalised, but we are looking at a range of possibilities to enable SOCA to operate effectively in the regions once up and running in April 2006."

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