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'John' - Anti Kidnap and Extortion Unit

The only really consistent thing about being an on-call officer in the Anti Kidnap and Extortion Unit (AKEU) is that no two days or nights are the same. When the phone goes, I have no idea what it is going to be. It could be a call about products allegedly being poisoned, or a British national kidnapped abroad, one of our partners wanting some advice, or someone asking me to go to an operational meeting or a conference on the other side of the globe. It’s not formally on the role profile, but “expect the unexpected” should really be in the job description for anyone doing this job.

The AKEU primarily deals with three main threat groups: criminal kidnap (so for a ransom, rather than for any political or terrorist reasons); blackmail and product contamination; which can cover a whole host of things, from sextortion to businesses being targeted. Most of the time we’re supporting and providing tactical advice to partners, such as local forces, the Foreign Office, Europol, Interpol and the United Nations, but we do lead on investigations too, coordinating the law enforcement response to crimes in action, often involving multiple agencies and teams, responding in a tight timeframe with life threatening consequences.

One of the principal skills for the role is having proven investigative training. When we look for new people, that’s always what we’re trying to find. These are complex, multi-faceted investigations happening against a ticking clock, so having well-honed investigation skills, and the tenacity to get to the bottom of a tricky problem, is crucial. I’ve been in law enforcement for 20 years, and go way back, starting my career off in a force, moving to the Regional Crime Squad, and on through the agencies that followed.

As well as working closely on kidnap cases, we’re also called on to deliver training to private companies, and other organisations. I’ve delivered training in Pakistan and Nigeria as well here in the UK. Our small unit is recognised as the world leader in what we do, so we’re often called on to speak at conferences, or weigh in on complicated cases.

When I’m on call, it’s from 8.00am on a Monday till 8.00am the following Monday. For that period I clear my diary, although between cases I’ll be at my desk trawling through admin and emails. You could get a call at 9am on a Sunday and be on a plane travelling across the world by 5pm. There’s also no set timescale on anything we do – we’ve had kidnap cases that are over within an hour, but our longest-running case was 13 months.

This is an incredibly exciting job to do, and it’s gratifying to have such a strong international reputation – to be recognised as the leader on the world stage. That said, we’re always learning and improving, and when officers join our team, they bring something new to the table. The support that I get from my colleagues is so important – whether it’s emotional support following a tough case, or brainstorming ideas when we’ve hit a roadblock in an investigation, we know we can rely on each other. And while the hours can be tough and unsociable, the balance between my home and work life is important and something I keep in mind. I’m pretty sure I have one of the most interesting jobs in law enforcement, and the variety certainly keeps me on my toes; but that satisfaction of going home, knowing that you’ve helped keep someone safe and alive - it just can’t be beaten.

Kidnap and extortion

Find out more about the threat from kidnap and extortion, in the UK and around the world.