Trading Standards is taking the law into its own hands – by setting up a computer forensic unit. The intention is to take some of the load off the Met Police.

The computer forensic unit, which will be operational from 1 July, is the brainchild of the South East Trading Standards Authorities (Setsa). Setsa is made up of 10 local authorities in the south east.

Computer forensic work - digging into files and systems to search for wrongdoing - is currently done by either the Met Police or freelance consultants. But the Met is desperately stretched and consultants are expensive.

“Getting in computer consultants can be very expensive,” said Gaynor Johnson, Setsa's policy and coordinating officer. “We hope [the unit] will create a more cost-effective service.”

The unit will have the power to seize computers suspected of being used to commit some form of crime, from pirating software to posting illegal web content. The computers would then be examined in accordance with the Association of Chief Police Officers' guidelines.

“[The guidelines] demand the computers have not been tampered with,” said Johnson. “The information will be seized and examined in a way that ensures complete integrity.”

Information obtained by the unit could be produced as evidence in civil or criminal prosecutions.

The unit will be developed from 1 April and come into operation on 1 July. A similar forensic unit operates in Wolverhampton.