On Thursday it emerged authorities now estimate that serious and organised crime costs the UK at least £37 billion annually. Launching a fresh drive to tackle the scourge, ministers warned its impact could be even greater, as a large amount of the activity remains hidden or under-reported.
Criminals prey on the most vulnerable in society, target members of the public to defraud and use intimidation to create fear within communities, a Home Office strategy document says. It adds: “Enabled by their lawyers and accountants, corrupt elites and criminals set up fake companies to help them to hide their profits, fund lavish lifestyles and invest in further criminality.”
The report warns serious and organised criminals have learnt to become more adaptable and resilient, adding: “Some think of themselves as untouchable.
“In some countries overseas, criminals have created safe havens where serious and organised crime, corruption and the state are interlinked and self-serving.”
The assessment also warns that organised criminality, corruption and kleptocracy are “increasingly severe impediments” to the UK’s overseas policy and development objectives. It says: “They distort and impede inclusive and sustainable economic growth, corrupt the democratic process, threaten legitimate, sustainable livelihoods, damage social cohesion and exacerbate exclusion.
“All of these factors challenge the UK’s ability to help the world’s poorest people, reduce poverty and promote global prosperity.”
It flags up the need to sustain co-operation on tackling the threat after Brexit, saying criminals will look to exploit any vulnerabilities in border and security arrangements following the UK’s departure from the EU. The National Crime Agency assesses that there are around 4,600 organised crime groups operating in the UK.
The Government’s strategy says the “full force of the state” will be mobilised to ensure the gangs are subject to “relentless disruption”. Underpinned by a £48 million cash injection, the blueprint outlines measures including:
– A new “lifetime management” regime for keeping track of priority offenders as they pass through the criminal justice system.
– Pilot programmes aimed at overseas communities which feed recruits into organised crime groups active in the UK.
– Efforts to prevent border controls being undermined by corruption.
– Powers to identify, seize and deny criminals access to their finances.
Serious and organised crime, as defined by authorities, covers offence categories including child sexual exploitation, the illegal drugs trade, human trafficking and cyber crime.
Launching the strategy, Security and Economic Crime Minister Ben Wallace said: “Serious and organised crime is the deadliest and most damaging national security threat faced by the UK.
“It undermines our economy, damages our international reputation and has a corrosive effect on individuals and communities.”
Meanwhile, Justice Secretary David Gauke described prisons as “a new front line in the fight against crime”. He said: “The fact is, new technology and sophisticated approaches mean that prison walls alone are no longer effective in stopping crime – inside or outside of prison.
“Crime is being fuelled by organised gangs and networks who see prisons as a highly lucrative and literally captive market to push drugs like Spice, as well as mobile phones and other contraband into prisons. This creates a thriving illicit economy within a prison.”
Warning that jails cannot be allowed to become “incubators of crime”, he said: “That puts prison officers and prisoners at risk, undermines rehabilitation and ultimately makes our streets less safe.
“That’s why we have been taking measures to make our prisons safer, crack down on the criminal gangs exploiting our prisons and we have been denying prisoners the space and means to prey on innocent – and often vulnerable – members of the public.”