The Local talked to Hank Cole, Head of the International Operations for the National Crime Agency (NCA), while he was in Madrid launching an appeal for Britain’s most wanted criminals thought to be hiding out in Spain.
This is the ninth Operation Captura appeal to be made since 2006, and the previous eight have so far resulted in 65 out of 76 wanted fugitives being apprehended. How are people caught?
We get some through confidential tip-offs made to Crimestoppers. The sort that comes because someone recognizes a bloke on the wanted list as a neighbor or regular at the pub down the road and makes the call.
But we also sometime gets criminals who hand themselves in because they are sick of being on the run. One of the latest was a guy in Tenerife who walked into the local police station and said who he was. He had had enough of the constant psychological pressure of being a fugitive and just wanted to go home to England.
Then there are other criminals who get caught while they are involved in carrying out a crime.
Who gets on the Operation Captura most wanted list?
There are always a high proportion of drug traffickers on the list simply because there are just a lot of drug traffickers around and they are drawn to Spain because they can carry on their trade.
But there's a rapist on the list and an alleged sex offender.
They are all fugitives who we believe there is a good chance that they are hiding in Spain.
There are lots that don’t get on the list because we know where they are and we are watching them. We are being quiet about it because we want to watch them and wait till we can swoop in and dismantle the criminal network they are involved in.
Last year alone, we arrested 54 British criminals in Spain.
Things have changed since the era when so many crime bosses hid out here before there was an extradition treaty but does the Costa del Crime concept still exists?
Yes it does. Spain is a popular spot for criminals and although Operation Captura has a great deal of success there are obviously quite a few we don’t catch right away.
Spain holds the same attractions for a Brit fugitive as it does anyone. Spain had 15 million British visitors last year and has a sizeable permanent expat community. If you want to eat British food and sit in British style pubs talking to Brits all year then Spain is a great place to hide out.
We have run similar campaigns in Cyprus, the Netherlands and will soon do one in South Africa.
But Spain is the top spot because its close, its cheap to get to with hundreds of flights a day and it sits on the cocaine route from South America and the hashish route from N Africa.
What do the British police do about tackling the gangs and dealers peddling drugs to summer tourists in places like Ibiza?
We are working closely with the Spanish police on this problem and are sending officers over during the busy season. Some of the UK police forces are lending officers so there will be visible policing in the resorts that have the biggest problems.
The NCA will also be sending out officers but they will be running covert operations to bring down the big networks. You won’t see us but we will be there.