Britain could set up a national police agency for dealing with the growing demand for officers to work on high-profile, expensive and often politically sensitive overseas investigations, under plans being considered by the Home Office.

Police chiefs want the department to pay for a new unit of up to 50 specialist investigators with forensic, anti-terrorism and language skills because of worries about the politics and funding of the increasing number of foreign deployments.

The proposal highlights how, despite blows to Scotland Yard’s reputation at home, its expertise and approval are still sought for a wide variety of reasons by governments abroad.

Scotland Yard’s Commander Dave Johnston, the plan’s principal author, said he was concerned officers were being drawn away from duties in Britain and so putting additional pressures on resources, particularly when foreign governments failed to meet funding pledges. “If the government believes, as I think it does, that it is important for the British police to fly the flag, then it needs to pay for it. Our police are being drawn in, for political reasons, into investigating cases abroad but without being paid by the foreign governments concerned, or having the operations properly funded within the UK outside the existing police budget.”

Cmdr Johnston acknowledged the image of British police abroad as successful problem-solvers contrasted with the struggle UK police chiefs have domestically in the wake of the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes and controversies over various terrorism investigations.

But police chiefs believe foreign investigations are helping to establish Scotland Yard investigators as being among the most professional and efficient in the world.

The deployment to Pakistan of a team of Scotland Yard detectives to help investigate the murder of Benazir Bhutto is the latest in a growing list of high profile extra-territorial cases that can create political or financial tensions.

In the case of missing four-year-old Madeleine McCann, the Yard paid between £5,000 and £10,000 ($9,800 and $19,600) to deploy a Portuguese-speaking officer to Portugal for three months to liaise between the local authorities and Leicestershire police.

Other investigations have led to diplomatic problems such as the row over the 2006 murder of Alexander Litvinenko, the former KGB agent, in which the Yard suspected another former KGB officer was involved.

Foreign deployments can sometimes lead to disagreements between the police and government over who should pay, particularly if the deployment is backed by the Home Office or Foreign Office because it is seen as politically helpful to Britain.

A Yard insider said these tensions were highlighted in 2006 when police resisted a Foreign Office suggestion that serving officers should work with war crimes investigators in Rwanda. The Foreign Office said it decided the best option was to send a team of retired Yard officers instead.

The Home Office declined to comment on the plans.

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