David Tomkins must have considered it the silver lining on an otherwise very black cloud. He was serving five years in prison after pleading guilty to supplying heroin in Bristol, but when an attempt by the authorities to confiscate his assets collapsed on a technicality, he at least could console himself by looking forward to enjoying the proceeds of his crimes - from the string of flats in Bristol to the Toyota Land Cruiser, equipped with a £4,000 in-car DVD system.

Then the case was passed to a new and little known law enforcement organisation called the Asset Recovery Agency. Using its far-reaching and controversial powers, the agency is taking legal action in the civil courts against Tomkins, who faces losing all £300,000 of his assets.

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