Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Poland sends a private plane a month to get back criminals who have fled to UK

Polish police are being forced to fly private planes to Britain each month to pick up hundreds of criminals wanted in their home country.

The number of extradition requests from Polish authorities for criminals who have fled to the UK has soared 14-fold in the past two years.

To cope with the surge, Poland is flying a private plane to the UK each month to pick up hundreds of suspects caught by Scotland Yard.

Those arrested are wanted for crimes including murder, rape, robbery, burglary, drugs and theft.

Extradition requests from Poland make up more than a quarter of all requests.

In the last 12 months, officers from the Metropolitan Police's Extradition Unit have been asked to track down 257 Poles across the UK.

The number is 70 per cent higher than from any other country. The second biggest requesting country is Lithuania with 76.

Police attribute the alarming rise partly to Poland's effective use of the European Arrest Warrant which came into force in January 2004.

But the sheer number of Polish nationals wanted by police in their home country raises concerns over how many are committing crimes here and how many may be slipping under the radar of the Polish authorities.

About 5 per cent of foreign suspects are already in jail for a crime committed in the UK when the Met is issued with an arrest warrant for them.

At least 600,000 Poles have come to the UK since Poland joined the EU in 2004 though the Government admits it does not have an accurate figure.

Schoolgirl Katerina Koneva, 12, was strangled at her home in Acton, West London in May 1997 by Andrezej Kunowski who had spent 15 years in jail in his native Poland for a series of sex offences.

The 51-year-old was awaiting trial for further sex attacks when in June 1996 he was freed on bail for urgent medical treatment and absconded. He came into Britain on a tourist visa.

He remained at large in the UK for six years after Katerina's murder and only when he was arrested for the rape of a student did police realise he was Katerina's killer. He is serving life in prison in Britain and will never be released.

Scotland Yard's Extradition and International Assistance Unit won £1million in funds this month for more officers to cope with the huge increase in workload.

There were 955 extradition requests in 2007, a rise of 78 per cent on the previous year. Other top requesting countries were the Czech Republic with 41, Germany with 40, Albania, 31, and France, 23.

In 2006, Poland was top again with 87 requests out of a total of 538. In 2005, Poland placed 18 requests, making it seventh in the league. Lithuania was top with 59 requests.

This summer British and Polish authorities discussed how to deal with the huge numbers being extradited and decided that using a private plane for the sole purpose of extradition was the best option.

The first flight touched down at a London airport in October and 20 suspects were flown back. In November, 17 were extradited.

Detective Inspector Paul Fuller, head of Scotland Yard's Extradition Unit, said: "It is a unique idea concerning the Metropolitan police and the Polish authorities.

"Of course it's been a problem for us to be at the airport to hand these people over 257 times.

"Now every month the Poles are supplying a private aeroplane that flies to the UK and takes them back en masse.

"Yes, we have half a day of difficulties with getting a lot of suspects in the same place at the same time but it is only for half a day with a little bit of planning before it.

"It's a win for everyone because I haven't got people at the airport every day. The Polish don't have to pay for airline tickets for escorts over here and back, along with a prisoner. They can do it all at once."

He added: "There are some wanted for minor offences but there are also many for serious offences - murder, robbery, rape, GBH - and we are successful in getting them and we will continue to be.

"If they are in England to hide, we'll find them."