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May 12, 2019

UK’s organised crime threat at record level, warns National Crime Agency

by M J Farah

Mark Townsend

a man wearing a black bag: ‘Law enforcement needs new investment to help combat organised crime,’ says Lynne Owens, director general of the National Crime Agency.

© PA ‘Law enforcement needs new investment to help combat organised crime,’ says Lynne Owens, director general of the National Crime Agency.

Britain risks losing the fight against organised crime unless police receive significant new resources to tackle the “chronic and corrosive” threat from such groups, the head of the National Crime Agency has warned.

In a chilling assessment, the NCA’s director general, Lynne Owens, said the threat from organised crime groups was at unprecedented levels. “It is chronic and corrosive. The message needs to be heard by everyone.”

She added: “People should understand that serious and organised crime kills more of our citizens every year than terrorism, war and natural disasters combined.”

In a rare political intervention, the head of an agency often described as Britain’s equivalent to the FBI reopened the debate on police funding, arguing that without significant investment the UK’s forces would fall further behind the criminals exploiting encrypted communications technology and dark web anonymity.

“Against a backdrop of globalisation, extremism and technological advances, serious and organised crime is changing fast, and law enforcement needs significant new investment to help combat it,” said Owens, ahead of this week’s launch of the NCA’s annual strategic assessment into the impact of organised crime.

Last year Whitehall’s spending watchdog revealed the jobs of 44,000 police officers and staff had been lost since 2010, when the coalition government came to power, and that the Home Office had failed to even forecast the possible impact.

The writer Misha Glenny, who will chair a panel of senior officers at the NCA’s report launch in London on Tuesday, said the austerity drive had allowed powerful crime syndicates to flourish in the UK.

Glenny, whose book McMafia documented the globalisation of crime after the break-up of the Soviet bloc, said that when it was published in 2008 organised crime was viewed as a global concern and its impact on most British citizens was minimal.

“In the past 10 years what is really striking is how this industry has grown inside the UK. Austerity has been absolutely critical in this, partly because of the reduction in police capacity but also because of the continuing increase in inequality. A lot of victims of organised crime tend to be people on the margins who don’t have a voice. When you get an impoverishment of the population, which is what we have had over the last 10 years, you get an increase in desperation, and that opens up opportunities,” added Glenny.

Transnational criminal networks, the exploitation of technological improvements and “old-style violence” is allowing serious crime gangs to “dominate communities”, the NCA assessment will say this week.

“It will reveal the changing nature of organised crime and its wholesale undermining of the UK’s economy, integrity, infrastructure and institutions,” said the NCA in a statement.

The assessment, described as the most comprehensive yet by the NCA, will also chart the rise of poly-criminality where organised groups operate in several illegal trades such as drugs, firearms and human trafficking.

Last year the agency mapped 4,629 OCGs (organised crime groups) inside the UK with tens of thousands of members and says the threat has since continued to grow. One area of enduring concern remains the use of encrypted and anonymisation technology, the latter primarily on the dark web, that have eroded the ability of investigators to detect offenders.

One area of enduring concern remains the use of encrypted and anonymisation technology, the latter primarily on the dark web

On Saturday, the NCA celebrated the conclusion of an eight-year investigation by seizing £6m worth of assets, including an award-winning luxury hotel and a £100,000 Bentley, from alleged members of an international money-laundering group.

The assessment is also expected to warn that advances in technologies, such as artificial intelligence and the introduction of 5G, will present further potential opportunities for criminals.

Uncertainty surrounding Brexit will also be identified by the agency as an area for criminal exploitation. Last year the NCA raised concerns that crime groups would exploit “the design and implementation of a new UK customs system, or increased challenges for EU and UK law enforcement in locating and extraditing international fugitives, if the UK were to lose enforcement or intelligence-sharing tools”.

The report will also document the latest developments on modern slavery and human trafficking, organised immigration crime, cyber-crime, money-laundering, drugs and guns. So-called “county lines” drug supply networks are still expected to affect all 43 police forces in England and Wales.

Source: The Gaudian

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