Drug traffickers, fraudsters and smugglers are to be hit by “super-Asbos” designed to disrupt the activities of crime rings.

The Home Office said that the move would crack down on the “Mr Bigs” who considered themselves untouchable and deter other people from becoming involved in criminal gangs. The plan is the first in a series of measures from John Reid, the Home Secretary, designed to chart the way forward for his troubled department.

Known criminals against whom it is difficult to construct a criminal case could face restrictions similar to those faced by people receiving antisocial behaviour orders (Asbos). So-called serious crime prevention orders could include controls on where subjects travel and who they contact by telephone, limits on the amount of cash they can carry and bans on using certain bank or credit card accounts.

They would be imposed on civil standards of proof by courts, which would have to be satisfied the moves were proportionate and took into account the human rights of people affected. As with Asbos, breaches of the restrictions would constitute a criminal offence and would carry a maximum penalty of five years in jail.

The Home Office, which calculates that organised crime costs the country £20bn a year, says police have identified “over 1,000 individuals of interest” that could face the new orders. Mr Reid said: “The proposals we are putting forward are designed to prevent these criminals from operating on UK soil, to disrupt their activities, target them more effectively and make it harder for them to evade detection.” Restrictions could also be placed on companies suspected of “facilitating organised crime”.

The Home Office is also calling for improved data sharing between the public and private sector on suspected fraudsters, such as greater co-operation between police and the Department for Work and Pensions to detect the fraudulent use of national insurance numbers. And it is proposing a new offence of encouraging or assisting a criminal act to make it easier to bring to justice those involved in the margins of organised crime.

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: “The Government is now suggesting using a system designed to deal with young tearaways to tackle international criminal rackets run by the ‘Tony Sopranos’ of this world. At first glance this looks like the worst kind of half-baked gimmick based on a lazy view that the only way to fight crime is to circumvent the criminal justice system.”

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said: “This looks like another measure to make up for the Government’s failure to get sufficient prosecutions.”

Mr Reid will set out his plans for the Home Office over the next week. He will announce proposals to overhaul its structure tomorrow, followed by moves to “rebalance” the criminal justice system towards the victims of crime. He is due to set out plans to reform the Immigration and Nationality Directorate early next week.

18 July 2006 The Independent