My hon. Friend makes a good point. As I clearly outlined in the Committee, the decision to opt in was made in the context of our being a member of the European Union, and at the moment, and over the next couple of years, we are still a full member of the European Union. It is important to make sure that we take the opportunity to play a full and strong part in that. We want to continue to play a very strong role as a partner for our colleagues across Europe, and indeed globally, particularly in law enforcement.
The prime objective of Europol is to strengthen and facilitate co-operation in preventing and combating serious organised crime and terrorism, in which we have a clear interest in playing an important part. I have yet to meet a senior police officer across our country who does not value our membership of Europol. By providing a platform for members to share intelligence and information, and through a strong analysis function, it offers unparalleled opportunities to prevent serious crime and to protect EU citizens, including those here in the UK. Concretely, this means that 86,629 suspected criminals were identified on the Europol information system in 2015 alone—up by 40% on the year before. There were 1,800-plus decisions for referrals of terrorist and extremist online content between July and December 2016 alone, with 1,600-plus removals, and numerous ongoing large-scale organised crime and trafficking cases. Indeed, the UK staffs one of the largest national desks in the organisation and is one of the biggest contributors of information to Europol systems.
Another mechanism that we have at the moment is Eurojust, which supports the fight against transnational, serious organised crime by co-ordinating multinational investigations and prosecutions. It works through a co-located network of national liaison desks staffed with prosecutors and investigators from across the EU. Later this year, we will start operating the EU’s Prüm system for the exchange of DNA, fingerprints and vehicle registration data, following this House’s overwhelming vote in December 2015 to join it. In 2015, we conducted a pilot of Prüm, exchanging DNA profiles with four other member states. This gave us an impressive number of hits, many against suspects who would not have been identified otherwise, and enabled the police to arrest people for a number of serious offences, including burglary and attempted rape.
Since 2015, we have taken part in the second-generation Schengen information system, which circulates law enforcement alerts around the EU in real time. This ensures that vital intelligence is shared internationally to help prevent threats from across the world. Joining has seen us arrest and extradite wanted people including drug traffickers, murders and paedophiles whom we would not otherwise even have known about.