Serious and organised crime ‘costing UK economy £37bn a year’

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Serious and organised crime costs the UK economy £37 billion a year, according to an official assessment.

Ministers and law enforcement chiefs published the figure as they laid bare the scale of damage inflicted by the most dangerous and prolific criminal networks.

They said the gangs’ activities affect more UK citizens, more often, than all other national security threats combined.

There are around 4,600 serious and organised crime groups in the UK, according to the latest assessment from the National Crime Agency.

They use violence and intimidation in communities to operate and prey on the most vulnerable in society, the Home Office said.

Detailing the impact of serious and organised crime, NCA director-general Lynne Owens said: “It means children being abused, the vulnerable being trafficked, it means cyber crime.

“It means criminal markets that trade drugs, trade firearms, trade in people and make profit as a result.”

She said the threat has changed rapidly in volume and complexity over the last five years.

Ms Owens told the Press Association: “It now affects more UK citizens more often than any other national security threat.

“Each year it kills more of our citizens than terrorism, war and natural disasters combined.

“And it costs the UK at least £37 billion annually.”

The figure has risen sharply since the last official estimate of £24 billion published five years ago.

On Thursday, the Government will publish a new serious and organised crime strategy to target the most determined and dangerous offenders.

Launching the blueprint, Security and Economic Crime Minister Ben Wallace will say in a speech: “Many serious and organised criminals think they are above the law.

“They think they can defy the British state. And they think they are free to act with impunity against our businesses and our way of life. They are wrong.”

He will also point out that money laundering is a fundamental part of criminals’ business models.

“Sharp suits swan around the nation’s capital, while all along they head up networks that covertly trade millions of pounds in financial transactions online,” Mr Wallace will say.

He will announce a £48 million investment to enhance the law enforcement response.

The cash injection will be used to boost funding for the National Economic Crime Centre, invest in specially trained police fraud investigators, recruit more NCA officers who will focus on serious and organised crime, and provide extra investment for data and intelligence assessment capabilities.

Ben Wallace
Security and Economic Crime Minister Ben Wallace (John Stillwell/PA)

He told the Guardian: “The ones who pretend their hands aren’t really dirty and profit from moving dirty money and knowingly conspire … they’re cowards to pretend they’re nothing really to do with it.”

On Tuesday, Mr Wallace told MPs the sports industry “is as susceptible as anything else” to being used to hide the source of dirty money.

“I know of (a) professional football club or clubs under investigation. I couldn’t reveal how many and what they are, for that is an operational matter,” he said.

Mr Wallace’s speech also comes after one of the country’s most senior officers said police must focus on catching burglars and violent offenders rather than recording incidents that are not crimes.

National Police Chiefs’ Council chairwoman Sara Thornton warned that forces are too stretched to take on all “desirable and deserving” issues, such as logging misogyny reports even when no offence has been committed.

Calling for a “refocus on core policing”, she also said she is “unconvinced” it is appropriate to commit significant resources investigating allegations against the dead.

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