There are at least 181,000 offenders linked to serious and organised crime in the UK, the National Crime Agency has revealed, as it launched its most comprehensive study yet of the deadliest threat 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 child abuse dark web sites.
A £2.7bn investment in law enforcement is needed to combat SOC over the next three years, NCA Director General Lynne Owens said today as she released the National Strategic Assessment (NSA).
The Director General said the agency – which leads the UK’s fight against serious and organised crime – requires an additional £650m in annual funding to spearhead the fight; an amount less than the weekly cost of serious and organised crime to the nation.
She said: “Serious and organised crime in the UK is chronic and corrosive, its scale is truly staggering.
“It kills more people every year than terrorism, war and natural disasters combined. SOC affects more UK citizens, more frequently than any other national security threat. And it costs the UK at least £37bn a year – equivalent to nearly £2000 per family.
“We need significant further investment to keep pace with the growing scale and complexity.
“Enhancing our capabilities is critical to our national security. If we don’t, 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.
“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 – those most unable to protect themselves.”
The 2019 NSA is the agency’s sixth and most wide-ranging and incisive yet.
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 shows the traditional idea of organised crime groups (OCGs) is becoming old-fashioned.
Hierarchies and 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 financial services are increasingly facilitating crimes with their expertise.
And use of the dark web and encryption to cloak offending have also grown significantly, with cryptocurrenices increasingly used to launder dirty money.
The NSA shows:
• 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 we believe 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 2013.
• 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 2018. There were 3.6 million incidents of fraud reported in England and Wales in 2018
Based on the NSA, the Director General 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 those who undermine the UK’s economy, integrity, infrastructure and institutions through their criminality.
To effectively lead the fight against SOC, the NCA needs additional funding.
The money would enable the agency to meet growing demand and to build capabilities in areas such as digital forensics, covert surveillance, financial investigations and other critical areas law enforcement needs to combat SOC in the 21st century.
The Director General 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 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.”