National Co-ordinator for Special Branch

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This article is part of the Counter-Terrorism Portal project of SpinWatch.

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This article is part of the Undercover Research Portal at PowerBase - investigating corporate and police spying on activists.

Part of a series on
Special Branch
National Co-ordinator for Special Branch (NCSB)
National Co-ordinator PREVENT
Parent Units:
2003 onwards

The National Co-ordinator for Special Branch (NCSB) is a position and office created within the Association of Chief Police Officers' Terrorism and Allied Matters Committee (ACPO TAM) to co-ordinate and promulgate Special Branch policy.[1] It has since become the National Co-ordinator PREVENT, though it has remained active as the NCSB in subsequent years.[2][3][4]

One question that needs to be answered is how the National Co-ordinators fit in the chain of command for the authorizing and placing of undercover police officers.

This profile also looks into the ongoing sharing of information between Special Branch units and private institutions (such as blacklisting firm the Consultancy Association) and the question how much of this was policy or condoned within the structure of the office of the National Co-ordinators.

Also see:


The Office of the National Co-ordinator for Special Branch was created in April 2003[5] in the wake of the 2003 HM Inspectorate of Constabulary report into Special Branch, 'A Need to Know', which recommended: [6]

The appointment at Deputy Chief Constable level of a National Co-ordinator of Special Branch, a non-executive position with overall responsibility for ports policing, policy, training and issues common to Special Branch nationally.

The report was critical of structure of counter-terrorism policing as done through Special Branch and the lack of national direction. There were also territorial disputes and bad relations with Customs, which was refusing to hand over passenger manifests to Special Branch officers. As a result the Home Office took up the matter and found funding to inaugurate the NCSB and the regional intelligence cells (see below).[7]

Though the office and role were created in April 2003, the actual appointment of the first National Co-ordinator, Bryan Bell, a former head of Special Branch in Northern Ireland took place in October 2003,[8] only to be announced on 26 February 2004, by the then Home Secretary David Blunkett.[9]

By the time the 2004 Special Branch Guidelines were established, the position was in place, and described as:[10]

The National Co-ordinator is appointed by and is responsible to ACPO and will work closely with ACPO (TAM), the Home Office and the Security Service. The role of the National Co-ordinator will be to co-ordinate and promulgate Special Branch Policy, set standards and codes of practice for Special Branch activity and quality assure Special Branch implementation of best practice and policy. The National Co-ordinator draws together Ports Policing (including uniform ports security) with other aspects of Special Branch activity, through a deputy, the National Co-ordinator of Ports Policing.

Other roles of the NCSB have been given as:

  • to review annually the Special Branch Guidelines;[10]
  • to set the 'basic operating requirements' for counter terrorism units;[11]
  • fund local Special Branch Liaison Officers, whose work includes liaising with the National Offenders Management Service.[12]
  • help coordinate police counter-terrorism efforts, along with the RICs and the National Co-ordinator of Terrorist Investigations.[13]
  • Meeting regularly with managers of Regional Intelligence Cells to 'discuss Standard Operating Procedures and strategy'.[14]

Though the NCSB could make recommendations, the power to implement them continued to lie with the Chief Constables of individual forces.[1]

The National Co-ordinator for Special Branch reported directly to the ACPO TAM Committee.[15]

The role of NCSB was still in place in 2010 and 2011 when it conducted reviews of Special Branch capacity and capability, the results of which were reported to the Police Counter Terrorism Board (chaired by the Policing Minister).[16]

Special Branch Regional Intelligence Cells

One of the recommendations of the HMIC 'A Need to Know' report was to take responsibility for Special Branch out of the hands of police forces, and create regional SB units under executive directors.[6] This was opposed by Chief Constables on the grounds it was part of political move to centralise policing. The compromise reached was the creation in April 2003[17] of eight 'Regional Intelligence Cells' (RICs) out of individual forces' Special Branch units[18] (headed by officers at rank of Detective Superintendent[19]), holding on to the existing ACPO regions[14]. The role of the National Co-ordinator for Special Branch was considered important in this structure.[18] A Home Office report from March 2004 noted:[14]

A top priority of the co-ordinator will be to press ahead with the development of eight new RICs with central funding of £3 million a year to act as clearing houses for intelligence in their regions. Our national security will be further significantly enhanced through the national co-ordination and prioritisation of Special Branch operations, including surveillance, intelligence and investigations.
The RICs are now well advanced, both in respect of their establishment and operating procedures. They will comprise of officers involved in source management; surveillance; technical support and financial investigations.
Managers of RICs have been meeting regularly with the National Co-ordinator of Special Branch to discuss Standard Operating Procedures and strategy and are working on a common Manual of Guidance.
Special branches assist the Security Service in carrying out its statutory functions, they also work closely with uniform ports police and immigration and HMCE officers. Work is ongoing in developing the relationships between these bodies, and part of the NCSB role will be to ensure this work continues and is improved. Several RICs are already sited alongside NCIS offices and joint intelligence units at ports containing HMCE and immigration staff.

The role of the NCSB in establishing the RICs was echoed by Home Office Minister David Blunkett in a Parliamentary debate in July 2004:[20]

The eight regional intelligence cells that have been created following the reorganisation of Special Branch are up and running, and Bryan Bell, the director in charge of reorganisation, has continued his work.

Initial funding was limited, and the RICs were small with no surveillance capability or operational support. There were also considerable problems due to the lack of a common IT structure.[7]

These Regional Intelligence Cells were also intended to support local force's Special Branch activity, through provision of specialist resources such as surveillance teams and analytic support.[19] They would subsequently form the nuclei, or were folded into of the regional Counter Terrorism Units and the Counter Terrorism Intelligence Units which were brought into being following the 2008 reorganisation of counter-terrorism policing. [5]


  • Police International Counter Terrorism Unit (PICTU), established April 2002 by ACPO, at the initiative of Ben Gunn, David Veness and the Director General of the Security Service (MI5) with the purpose of disseminating intelligence to the police and the NCSB, and to strengthen links between the police and the Security Service. It was subsequently placed under the control of the NCSB, though circa 2006 it was moved again to the control of the ACPO TAM Advisors Group.[18]
  • National Special Branch Technology Unit (NSBTU): housed within the Office of the NCSB.[19] It was this unit which developed the National Special Branch Information Management Strategy (also known as the Special Branch Information Management and Supporting Technology - iMAST[18]), which in turn gave rise to the National Special Branch Intelligence System (NSBIS / Fairway - also referred to as the National Special Branch Information System).[6]. In 2004 NSBIS merely 'sets national standards for the management of intelligence by the individual Special Branches'[21], however, it subsequently developed into a formal computer database, often better known as the National Domestic Extremism Database.[22][23]

National Co-ordinators

  • Deputy Chief Constable Bryan Bell: a former officer with the Royal Ulster Constabulary where he rose to become Head of Special Branch for Northern Ireland (with rank of Superintendent).[24] He was been promoted to Assistant Chief Constable of Cleveland Police, and had a period with the Metropolitan Police,[25] before being appointed the first National Co-ordinator for Special Branch with rank of Deputy Chief Constable in October 2003[14][26][8] The official announcement took place on 26 February 2004.[9] He was still in that position in 2006,[15][27] though he took up a three year post of Assistant Commissioner for Police in Bermuda at the start of July that year, where his responsibilities would include 'focus on crime, drugs and intelligence'.[28] After serving his three year tenure, his contract was not renewed in 2009.[29][30]
  • Assistant Chief Constable John Wright: joined ACPO TAM as the National Co-ordinator for Special Branch in April 2007 as NCSB; he remained in that role when it was converted to National Co-ordinator PREVENT, in the 2008 re-organisation of counter-terrorism strategy. He stayed in office until retiring late October 2013. Of this time as NCSB it is said that:[2]
he was the driving force being the implementation of a single national intelligence database for all Special Branches. In this role he also pioneered the secondment of Special Branch officers to the UK Immigration Service.
Following retirement he became 'Global Director of Public Safety and Justice Solutions' for the IT company Unisys.[31]
  • Rob Beckley: while an Assistant Chief Constable for Hertfordshire, he was a member of the Terrorism and Allied Matters committee where he was the lead on communities and counter-terrorism [32] from 2002 to 2007[33]. In particular, he 'set up the National Community Tensions Team and designed and led the Prevent strand of the national counter-terrorism strategy'.[34] He subsequently became Deputy Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset[35] and in June 2013 joined the College of Policing as Chief Operating Officer.[36] where he is part of the National Undercover Scrutiny Panel.

Other Staff

  • Lindsay Clutterbuck: Head of MPS Counter Terrorism Policy and Strategy Unit and served in policy, strategy and research roles for the NCSB, before retiring in 2006 with rank of Detective Chief Inspector. Following retirement he became a Research Leader in the Defence and Security Programme at RAND Europe, Cambridge.[37]


Initially funding for the NCSB was problematic as the Treasury refused to release new money for it, so the Home Office used money from a central Special Branch pot to fund it and the 8 RICs.[7] In 2004, the Home Office provided £3m to strengthen the regional intelligence cells following the Madrid bombings of 11 March 2004.[1][8] (Figures of £15m given in some sources[20] actually includes £12m given specifically to the Metropolitan Police Service's Anti-Terrorism Branch (SO13) for counter-terrorism work.[38])

Figures released by Parliament indicate the following funding from the Home Office via ACPO:[39][40][41] (No payments are listed for the period 2010-2013, indicating a different funding stream in place).

Project 2006-07 2007-08 2008-09 2009-10 Note
Co-ordination of Counter-Terrorism policing none £5.3m £4m £7.96m Funds the national co-ordination functions: the National Coordinator of Special Branch, media liaison work, CT training needs analysis and the police contribution to the Border Management programme.
RIUs £8m £8m n/a n/a Setting up regional intelligence units
Prevent n/a n/a £5.87m £6.3m Prevent policing (includes provision of Prevent Engagement Officers who connect Counter-Terrorism policing, neighbourhood policing and communities in 2009-10) & the Prevent Channel Project


Sharing intelligence via informal networks

An interesting perspective on the actual role of the National Co-ordinator for Special Branch is given in this extract from a 2010 report on 'community cohesion and counter terrorism'. It sheds a light on how staff at universities and colleges makes use of informal networks with Special Branch to be briefed on those considered a threat:[42]

Council chief executives are offered security clearance but it is not usually available for local elected members, and limited material is declassified in order to allow wider dissemination. Some senior university and college staff are security cleared and have access to local Special Branch briefings, and security managers who are former police officers can often obtain information or informal briefings because they have pre-existing trusted relationships. But this is not necessarily true for those from other backgrounds.
The Office of the National Coordinator Special Branches (NCSB) has urged police forces and counter-terrorism units to be more proactive in declassifying local threat assessments, and we saw evidence of this happening in some areas, but progress must be monitored. ACPO is also conducting a review into how local counter-terrorism threat assessments are compiled and shared, which provides an opportunity to shape a new approach. NCSB and DBIS (Department of Business, Innovation and Skills) must be ready to apply further pressure if roll out is not consistent across all police forces, and DBIS should work with ACPO to ensure that the needs of universities and colleges are factored into its review process.

This implies that the NCSB is active in promoting the dissemination of material gathered by Special Branch to third parties, and this is being done with the approval of a government department.

Connection with Domestic Extremism units

The relationship of the NCSB with the National Co-ordinator Domestic Extremism is unclear and no publicly available documentation on this matter has been discovered to date (March 2015). However, it is clear there are significant links, which in turn have implication for the authorisation and use of undercover police to spy on protest movements. The following surmises what is known to date and points out links and questions. However, it remains only a partial picture and subject to revision as more information becomes available.

NCSB units structure(v1).png

As with Ports policing, domestic extremism (as it became to be called) is an established aspect of Special Branch Policing. It is now known that the domestic extremism database commonly used by the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU) is the same as the NSBIS, which was under NCSB.[22] It was an NPOIU subuit, the Confidential Intelligence Unit which ran undercover police officers such as Mark Kennedy.

Both Ports Policing and Domestic Extremism national co-ordinators held the rank of Assistant Chief Constable, while the NCSB was of Deputy Chief Constable level, and all three answered to ACPO TAM. Thus, it would seem that the NCSB had overall responsibility for the domestic extremism units which were being established or brought together in the period 2004-2006.

More uncertain is the relationship with the NPOIU, which had been established by ACPO TAM as a national Special Branch unit in 1999 and did not come under the control of the National Co-ordinator Domestic Extremism properly until 2006. It is also important to note that there was some procedural disputes over how intelligence from NPOIU operations was passed on to the NCDE in 2004-06, with the office of the NCDE not having access intelligence from the NPOIU as that required Special Branch level clearance. Given that the National Domestic Extremism Database was in fact the NSBIS (see above), which was still in development in late 2004,[43] there is an argument to be made that the merger was somewhat conditional on its establishment - again indicating close connections between the NCSB and the National Co-ordinator Domestic Extremism. If the National Co-ordinator Domestic Extremism was a position under the National Co-ordinator for Special Branch, then it places the latter in the chain of command for the authorizing and placing of undercover police officers from at least 2006 onwards, and possibly earlier.

National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit (NETCU) - a unit which sat under the National Co-ordinator Domestic Extremism - has had at least one meeting with blacklisting firm the Consultancy Association, in November 2008.[44] A significant amount of the material that ended up on the Consultancy Association blacklist was sourced from Special Branch units.[45]

In light of the ongoing sharing of information between Special Branch units and private / educational institutions (as discussed above), it is an open question how much of this was policy or condoned within the structure of the office of the National Co-ordinator for Special Branch.

Contact details

A 2009 email from the Office of the NCSB gives its contact details as the Headquarters of the Association of Chief Police Officers:[46]

National Co-ordinators Office - Special Branch
8th Floor, 10 Victoria Street
Tel: 020 7084 8530
Fax: 020 7084 8556

N.B. This is also the address and fax number for the National Co-ordinator Ports Policing.[47]

Other Undercover Research resources


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Council of the European Union, Evaluation of National Anti-Terrorist Arrangements: report about the Evaluation of the United Kingdom 17-19 May 2004 (14471/04 REST TREINT UE / ENFOPOL 161, 10 November 2004 (accessed 11 March 2015).
  2. 2.0 2.1 Office of the National Coordinator for Prevent, Prevent Bulletin, Issue 28, October 2013 (accessed 2 March 2015).
  3. Office of the National Co-ordinator for Prevent, Prevent Community Engagement Bulletin, Issue 19, October 2013 (accessed 2 March 2015).
  4. Various sources have refered to John Wright, the National Co-ordinator PREVENT, as 'Head of Prevent, Office of the National Co-ordinator Special Branch, Home Office' - see for example, The Counter Terrorist Magazine, October/November 2010 (accessed 10 March 2015).
  5. 5.0 5.1 Home Department, The Government Reply to the Sixth Report from the Home Affairs Committee Session 2009-10 HC 117: The Home Office's Response to Terrorist Attacks, page 11, February 2010 (accessed 5 March 2015).
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 David Blakey, "A Need to Know – Thematic Inspection of Special Branch and Ports Policing, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, January 2003.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Nick Davies, Blunders in war on terror (part two): Culture of muddle hinders fight, The Guardian 10 November 2003 (accessed 10 March 2015).
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Intelligence and Security Committee, Annual Report 2003-2004, 26 May 2004 (accessed 8 Mar 2015).
  9. 9.0 9.1 Bell gets top terror post, Evening Gazette, 26 February 2004 (accessed 8 March 2015).
  10. 10.0 10.1 Guidelines on SPECIAL BRANCH WORK in the United Kingdom, a joint publication of the Home Office, the Scottish Executive and the Northern Ireland Office, March 2004.
  11. North West Regional Collaboration Joint Committee, Agenda for Meeting to be held on 16 November 2009, 11 November 2009 (accessed 9 March 2015).
  12. HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, Prevent: Progress and Prospects, 22 June 2009 (accessed 8 March 2015).
  13. Hazel Blears, Home Office Minister for Policing, National Policing Agency, Hansard - Written Answers, 31 January 2006 (accessed 10 March 2015).
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 Home Office, One Step Ahead: A 21st Century Strategy to Defeat Organised Crime (Cm 6167), March 2004 (accessed 8 March 2015).
  15. 15.0 15.1 John Donlon, Memorandum from the National Coordinator Ports Policing (NCPP) (TS 36), Select Committee on Transport, February 2006 (accessed 6 March 2015).
  16. Performanc and Scrutiny Board, Report of the Assistant Chief Constable (Safter Neighbourhood Delivery), North Yorkshire Police Authority, 20 May 2011 (accessed 10 March 2015).
  17. Charles Clarke, Home Secretary, Police, Hansard - Written Answers, 7 February 2006 (accessed 10 March 2015).
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 18.4 Frank Gregory, The UK’s Domestic Response to Global Terrorism: Strategy, Structure and Implementation with Special Reference to the Role of the Police, 18 June 2007 (accessed 10 March 2015). Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "gregory.1" defined multiple times with different content
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 Fraud Review - Final Report, 2006 (accessed 10 March 2015).
  20. 20.0 20.1 David Blunkett, Home Secretary House of Commons Debates, Hansard, 8 July 2004 (accessed 10 March 2015).
  21. Paddy Tomkins, Chief Constable of Strathclyde, Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence Q59, 27 October 2004 (accessed 16 March 2015).
  22. 22.0 22.1 Craig Mackey, Deputy Commissioner, Letter to Joanne McCartney, Metropolitan Police Service, 9 February 2015 (accessed 16 March 2015).
  23. Supreme Court, Judgement in the Case of Catt & ors, [2015] UKSC 9, 4 March 2015 (accessed 10 March 2015).
  24. Paradise Peeler, An Phoblacht, 7 September 2006 (accessed 7 March 2015).
  25. While it is noted that he joined the Metropolitan police in 2003 it is not noted in any sources what his role was there; from this we infer his position was actually to do with the newly created office of the NCSB, though it was not until later he was officially confirmed in this role.
  26. Jarlath Kearney, Security and intelligence developments for the North, Daily Ireland, 17 May 2005 (accessed 8 March 2015).
  27. Intelligence and Security Committee, Report into the London Terrorist Attacks on 7 July 2005, 6 May 2006 (accessed 8 Mar 2015).
  28. Bermuda's History for 2006 Part 1, Bermuda Online (website), undated (accessed 10 March 2015).
  29. Alan Palmer Letter: Assessing learned helplessness - online commentary, Caribbean News Now, 21 March 2011 (accessed 10 March 2015).
  30. Don Burgess, DeSilva named new Police Commissioner, Bermuda Sun, 5 November 2009 (accessed 10 March 2015).
  31. John Wright - Profile,, undated (accessed 4 March 2015). Note, there appears to be some confus
  32. Home Affairs Committee, Terrorism and Community Relations: oral and written evidence, 25 January 2005 (accessed 22 March 2015).
  33. Vikram Dodd, Nicholas Watt & Andrew Sparrow, Senior police officers attack 42-day plan, The Guardian, 9 June 2008 (accessed 22 March 2015).
  34. College of Policing, Rob Beckley, undated (accessed 21 March 2015).
  35. Andrew Hough, Avon and Somerset police chief quits after being told to 'reapply for his job', The Telegraph, 21 November 2012 (accessed 21 March 2015).
  36. Natalie Davison, Appointment of Chief Operating Officer for the College of Policing, College of Policing, 17 May 2013 (accessed 21 March 2015).
  37. Safire Project, Partners: RAND, undated (accessed 10 March 2015).
  38. Home Office, Government steps up its fight against terrorism with £15m boost for Special Branch policing, Government News, 19 March 2004 (accessed 10 March 2015).
  39. Home Office payments to ACPO, Daily Hansard - Corrections, 21 July 2009 (accessed 10 March 2015).
  40. Home Office payments to ACPO, Daily Hansard - Written Answers, 20 April 2009 (accessed 10 March 2015).
  41. Table 1: Grant payments made to the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) for 2009/10 to 2013/14, Daily Hansard - Written Answers, 9 December 2013 (accessed 10 March 2015).
  42. Prof. Harris Beider & Rachel Briggs Promoting community cohesion and preventing violent extremism in higher and further education, Institute of Community Cohesion, March 2010 (accessed 10 March 2015).
  43. Memorandum by Association of Chief Police Officers, Scotland (ACPOS), Select Committee on European Union, 9 September 2004 (accessed 16 March 2015).
  44. Chloe Stothart, Police question evidence of blacklisting collusion, Construction News, 14 October 2013 (accessed 10 January 2014).
  45. Phil Chamberlain & Dave Smith, Blacklisted: The Secret War between Big Business and Union Activists, New Internationalist, March 2015.
  46. Jonathan Munton, RE: Letter written on 14 April, 5 May 2009, archived at Nottingham Whistleblower (blog), released as part of an investigation of the targeting of Dr Rizwaan Sabir, Hicham Yezza and Dr Rod Thornton (accessed 10 March 2015).
  47. National Co-ordinator Ports Policing, Belfast International Airport Constabulary report, Association of Chief Police Officers, March 2009 (accessed 24 February 2015).