Police chief urges ‘joined-up’ working with consulates

The head of the International Assistance Unit at the Metropolitan Police called for more cooperation between the UK police forces and consulates at a recent meeting of consuls.

Addressing the Consular Corps of London, DS Matthew Gibbs said the 43 police forces in the UK needed to be “more joined-up” in the way they provided information to consulates.

He added that bilateral cooperation on cross-border investigations would be enhanced by the appointment of a police liaison officer or police attaché at each consulate.

“We want to foster better relationships with the consulates and I passionately believe that police liaison officers facilitate law enforcement across boundaries,” said DS Gibbs, who heads up a team of 15 highly trained officers.

The unit’s primary function is to assist in the gathering of evidence in the UK at the request of foreign police forces. It has handled 3000 assistance requests in 2017, a number that has doubled over the past 5 years. Investigations cover a wide range of policing matters, from interviewing witnesses to safeguarding, surveillance, or property searches in major fraud investigations.

Consuls appealed to DS Gibbs for better communication between UK police forces and consulates, particularly when their nationals are taken into custody. Only those consulates from countries with a bilateral consular convention with the UK are automatically notified. In all other cases, a prisoner needs to give permission. Consuls felt that a prisoner’s right to consular access was not always well understood by police officers and therefore not always adequately explained, resulting in the prisoner choosing to withhold permission.

DS Gibbs agreed that police should have a better understanding of consular work and suggested the CCL make a representation to the National Police Chiefs Council.

Delays in providing information to consuls after a serious incident involving foreign nationals, such as a major accident or terrorist attack, was another area of concern for consuls, who are under pressure from home ministries to provide information. Consuls asked whether there were ways to expedite information sharing between the police, Casualty Bureau and consulates.

DS Gibbs explained that in a major incident Casualty Bureau handled information from thousands of sources which had to be matched conclusively before any victim identification could be made.

This meant the system, while thorough, was sometimes slow, he accepted. However revising the current system was the responsibility of the Home Office and not the police.

To contact the International Assistance Unit email international.unit@met.police.uk