FUGITIVE: Florin Ghinea, one of Romania's most wanted criminals is facing extradition from UK (NCA)
FREE movement from the EU into Britain has allowed thousands of suspected criminals and fugitives to try to evade justice over here, new figures have shown.
And, already the "Brexit effect" after the 2016 referendum appears to have encouraged some of them to head elsewhere, figures for the number of extradition cases heard in the UK appear to show.
Figures, released by the Ministry of Justice under the Freedom of Information Act, show that from 2009 to 2015 there was a steady rise in the number of extradition cases heard at Westminster Magistrates' Court, which handles all those for England and Wales.
On average, around 80 per cent of extradition cases heard in the UK concern EU nationals, and the lion's share of these involve suspected fugitives from eastern European countries, topped by Poland and Romania.
In 2009 there were cases concerning 1,082 European Arrest Warrants executed over here heard at Westminster and by 2012 this figure had risen to 1,716.
PACKED: Westminster Magistrates' Court where UK extradition cases are heard (Wikipedia)
After Romanian nationals were given free movement rights in 2014, the figure rose again to 2,382 in 2015.
Since the 2016 Brexit referendum, many EU nationals have left the UK, and less have come here for the first time.
Figures released last month showed that in overall net migration to the EU peaked in 2015 at 219,000 people.
However, the latest figures, for the year up to June this year, show that fell to 48,000, the lowest since 2003.
It appears that correspondingly, the amount of EU fugitives or criminals staying in the UK, or deciding to come here also dropped as a result of the referendum.
By 2016 the number of extradition cases heard at Westminster dropped to 2,133 and by 2018 it was down again to 1,573.
The latest figures for this year, up to mid November, show there were just 1,172 cases heard.
PLEDGE: Jeremy Corbyn said free movement would continue under Labour even after Brexit (Wikipedia)
The new statistics have led to criticism of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's recent claim that free movement from the EU would continue, even after Brexit, if his party wins power at this month's General Election.
David Spencer, Research Director of think tank Centre for Crime Prevention, said: "These statistics illustrate clearly a link between freedom of movement with the EU and an increasing number of criminals entering the UK.
HEARING: Andrez Klapec is wanted in Poland for fraud and driving offences (Polish Police)
"The fact that these figures show a clear spike in 2015 also appears to support the claim that many of these criminals were coming from Eastern European nations.
"With a drop in the number of extraditions and the amount of legal aid being shown since the Brexit referendum, it is clear to see that the prospect of leaving the EU is already putting criminals off moving to the UK from the EU.
"It is also quite clear from these figures that the increased freedom of movement proposed by Jeremy Corbyn and there Labour Party would increase the number of overseas criminals coming to the UK and make us less safe."
WANTED: Poland wants to extradite Miroslaw Misko in connection with Rape (Polish Police)
Among those who recently appeared in Westminster Magistrates' Court for extradition were Polish nationals Miroslaw Misko, 54, who is wanted in connection with the rape and sexual abuse of a vulnerable victim; Andrez Klapec, 38, wanted for fraud, tax and driving while drunk offences, and Jaroslaw Raczynski, 37, who is wanted for supplying drugs, fraud and criminal damage.
All the cases were adjourned.
Alp Mehmet, chairman of Migration Watch, which campaigns for controls on immigration, added: "To suggest that criminals would not have taken advantage of this free run to the UK flies in the face of reason and logic.
"Mr Corbyn is choosing to ignore one of the key messages of the referendum result, a wish to see an end to free movement.
"He adds insult to injury by suggesting that Labour will extend free movement, in line with the party’s conference resolution. This is a clear affront to the public, including very many Labour voters."
FUGITIVE: Jaroslaw Raczynski is wanted over drugs and fraud (Polish Police)
The Tories claim foreign criminals with serious convictions, who are not facing extradition, will be deported after Brexit if it goes ahead.
Security Minister Brandon Lewis said: "With Brexit we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to take control of our borders."
There has been a similar pattern with the amount of legal aid paid out to foreign criminals to fight extradition from the UK.
Figures released by the Legal Aid Agency show that in 2009/10 £852,308 was paid out to people fighting extradition from the UK in cases at Westminster and by 2016/17 this had soared to £2,724,594.
However, by 2018/19 it had fallen back to £981,529.
The agency said the true amounts paid in legal aid for fighting extraditions would be higher as the figures do not include money paid to people to appeal positive extradition judgements at the High Court.
Mr Spencer added: "The spike in legal aid revealed in these figures shows all too clearly how easy it is for foreign criminals to get a free ride through our justice system as they try to remain in the country too."
Mr Mehmet said: "This is exactly the sort of obligation that comes with EU membership that the bulk of the public resents."
A Legal Aid Agency spokesman said: "Anyone facing extradition is eligible for legal aid, subject to a strict means test.
"Without proper legal representation an individual might argue that the decision to extradite is unlawful, which would lead to greater costs to the taxpayer."