There are at least 181,000 offenders linked to serious and organised crime in the UK, the National Crime Agency (NCA) has revealed, as it launches its most comprehensive study yet of the deadliest threats facing the nation. The figure – more than twice the strength of the regular British Army – is a conservative estimate as it only takes into account known members of organised crime groups and offenders operating on the worst Dark Web sites.
A £2.7 billion investment in law enforcement is needed to combat serious and organised crime over the next three years. That’s the view of the NCA’s director general Lynne Owens, who has officially released the National Strategic Assessment (NSA). Owens said that the NCA – which leads the UK’s fight against serious and organised crime – requires an additional £650 million in annual funding to spearhead the fight. That’s an amount less than the weekly cost of serious and organised crime to the nation.
Owens observed: “Serious and organised crime in the UK is chronic and corrosive. Indeed, it’s scale is truly staggering. It kills more people every year than terrorism, war and natural disasters combined. Serious and organised crime affects more UK citizens more frequently than any other national security threat. It costs the UK at least £37 billion every year. That’s equivalent to nearly £2,000 per family.”
Owens continued: “We need significant further investment to keep pace with the growing scale and complexity of such criminality. Enhancing our capabilities is critical to our national security. If we don’t do so, the whole of UK law enforcement, and therefore the public, will feel the consequences. Some will say we cannot afford to provide more investment, but I say we cannot afford not to do so. The organised criminals of today are indiscriminate – they care less about what types of crime they’re involved in, as long as it makes them a profit. These groups are preying on the most vulnerable in society, including young children and the elderly. The people most unable to protect themselves.”
Spectrum of offences
The 2019 NSA is the agency’s sixth and most wide-ranging and incisive to date. It draws on information and intelligence from more sources than ever before including UK law enforcement, Government departments, the intelligence community and the private and voluntary sectors.
As well as showing the spectrum of offences being committed, the NSA highlights the traditional idea of organised crime groups (OCGs) is becoming old-fashioned. Hierarchies and the infrastructure of old-style OCGs have fragmented into more dynamic groups of younger offenders who use technology and capitalise on networking to carry out multiple types of crimes while still employing extreme violence.
Professional enablers such as accountants, solicitors and those working in money service businesses are increasingly facilitating crimes with their expertise. Use of The Dark Web and encryption to cloak offending have also grown significantly, with cryptocurrenices increasingly now being used to launder dirty money.
The NSA shows that:
*There are nearly 2.9 million accounts registered on the worst child sexual abuse sites on The Dark Web worldwide, more than 5% of which the NCA believes are from offenders based in the UK
*The number of referrals to the NCA from industry of online child sexual abuse and exploitation have increased by 700% since 2012
*Referrals of potential victims of modern slavery have increased by more than 80% since 2016
*The number of County Lines drug supply lines has increased from 720 to around 2,000 in a little over a year
*Financial losses from fraud soared by an incredible 32% between April and September last year. There were 3.6 million incidents of fraud reported in England and Wales in 2018
Priorities for the response
Based on the NSA, Owens has set out the priorities for the system-wide operational response to SOC. They target those who exploit the vulnerable through child sexual abuse and exploitation, trafficking, servitude, fraud and other forms of abuse, those who dominate communities and chase profits in the criminal marketplace using violence or criminal reputation in the supply of drugs and firearms and also those who undermine the UK’s economy, integrity, infrastructure and institutions through their criminality.
To effectively lead the fight against serious and organised crime, the NCA needs additional funding. The money would enable the NCA to meet growing demand and build capabilities in areas such as digital forensics, covert surveillance, financial investigations and other critical areas law enforcement needs in order to combat serious and organised crime in the 21st Century.
Owens added: “Visible front line policing is vital to public safety, but the reality is that we will not defeat serious and organised crime with beat officers alone. Some of the capabilities we need are most effectively and efficiently delivered at the local or regional level. The NCA must deliver others on a national basis, providing the right agencies with the right capabilities and at the right time to deliver maximum impact. The choice is stark. Failing to invest will result in the gradual erosion of our capabilities and our ability to protect the public.”