Crime doesn’t stop at the Channel - neither should our ability to fight it

Published at: June 12, 2013 10:40 AM

Yvette Cooper's and Douglas Alexander's piece for The Guardian - 12/6/13

For an 18 year old student, beaten until her eye socket shattered in an attempted rape in Ireland, the European Arrest Warrant helped get justice. Her attacker, Arunas Cervinskas, left Ireland for London, but was returned by the Met three weeks after his Arrest Warrant was issued and is now serving his sentence in an Irish prison.

et this is the kind of European cooperation on crime and justice that the Government is proposing to ditch just because it has Europe in the title. If David Cameron is serious about standing up to his Eurosceptic backbenchers he should stop pandering and start backing action against cross border crime.

The Government is currently reviewing justice and home affairs cooperation in Europe – including cross border police investigations, criminal record sharing, work on trafficking and online child pornography as well as deportation arrangements for suspected criminals. Theresa May has said she wants to opt out of cross European cooperation, and Ministers have raised strong objections to the European Arrest Warrant. Under pressure, they hint at trying to opt back in again on some measures but won’t say which and they are playing a confused game of European hokey-cokey that puts the fight against crime at risk. 

Crime doesn’t stop at the channel. Criminals don’t stay within national borders. There are an estimated 3,600 organised crime groups active across Europe, involved in drugs, human trafficking, online child exploitation and theft. Cross border crime is likely to keep increasing whether we are in the European Union or outside it. That means the police need a clear framework for legal and effective cooperation across borders – and for Ministers to ditch it is crazy.

Joint investigation teams stopped a human trafficking ring bringing young Czech women into Britain for prostitution and rape. 33 victims were found and 9 people convicted. A similar operation with Romanian police stopped a gang trafficking children into the UK, and 272 victims have been protected. The UK has received over 500 notifications of British citizens convicted in other EU member states who need to go on the sex offenders register here at home. 

The police say the European Arrest Warrant is most important of all. Convicted armed robber Andrew Moran was found hiding in a villa in Alicante and arrested under a European Arrest Warrant a few weeks ago. Yet Ronnie Knight, the East End armed robber who fled to Spain before the days of the European Arrest Warrant, lived on the Costa del Crime for years, opening an Indian Restaurant and a night club because there were no effective procedures to persuade the Spanish police to arrest him.

And there are countless other examples. The teacher who ran off to France with a pupil was arrested and returned within weeks. The man who tried to blow up the tube at Shepherds Bush was quickly returned from Italy. Yet it took ten years of legal wrangling to send a suspected terrorist back to France before the European Arrest Warrant was brought in. Some aspects of the warrant could be improved and reformed so it isn’t used for too many minor crimes. But overall it provides a legal process to stop people fleeing justice.

The Association of Chief Police Officers has said that opting out of the European Arrest Warrant means “higher costs, more offenders evading justice and increased risk to public safety.” Children’s charities campaigning against trafficking have warned that opting out “will put the criminals in charge and put at risk children at home and abroad”.

Beatrice Jones told us recently that “to read of this backward step is simply awful”. Beatrice is the mother of Moira Jones who was assaulted, abducted and murdered by another EU national who then fled to Slovakia. The Moira Fund, set up in Moira’s memory, helps other families in similar circumstances.

Many Tory backbenchers want to ditch all this cooperation because they oppose all things European. 

The Government seem willing to give in, and risk putting internal party management ahead of fighting crime and the protecting victims.

The Prime Minister’s over-riding priority should be keeping the public safe rather than trying to satisfy his own backbenchers.

For David Cameron and Theresa May to give in to them would be shameful – ignoring evidence and expert advice, helping criminals and betraying victims. The vote we will hold today in Parliament seeks to stop the Government doing exactly that.

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