Traditional crime gangs are joining forces and pose a new national threat - surpassing the activities of groups such as the Triads and the Mafia - a police and Home Office study has concluded.
The unpublished report is being used to influence the structure of Britain's first national crime squad, which is being set up to fight organised crime. Chief constables are to recommend a "two-pronged" national unit, with a co-ordinator in charge, the Independent has learnt.
One arm of the unit will use existing Regional Crime Squads to carry out investigations and arrests while intelligence gathering will be the responsibility of the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS), which will include officers from MI5.
An 11-month study for the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) has found that the new national unit should concentrate on targeting regional crime gangs, particularly those involved in drug trafficking. Contrary to previous reports, organisations such as Triads, the Mafia, Yardies and Russian criminals, pose little national threat compared to local gangs, says the study, International, National, and Inter-force Crime.
Research by the police, NCIS, and the Home Office discovered that traditional crime gangs in areas such as the North-west, the North-east, the Midlands, and the South-east, are joining forces for operations involving robbery, armed crime, and drug dealing.
Colin Phillips, assistant chief constable at Greater Manchester police, who was in charge of the Acpo crime committee study, said: "The biggest threat is now from local criminals who get together and organise themselves for a common purpose. There's no godfather who runs everything, but groups who join up for particular crimes or share contacts."
The study says that drugs are by far the most popular and lucrative business among the criminals. It estimates that there are about 300 big criminals and that about 10 per cent of all crimes are carried out by villains from outlying police force areas or from abroad.
The report also says that the powers of foreign-influenced outfits are greatly exaggerated, particularly with Jamaican "Yardie" gangsters and Russian criminals. There is however, more evidence of the involvement in Britain of the Italian Mafia, Chinese Triads, and West African criminals. They are involved in a range of crimes including drug and arms dealing, extortion and money laundering.
Researchers also examined the work of other national law-0enforcement agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Agency in the United States, and the Italian anti-Mafia outfit.
The study - which will be formally presented on 7 March - was set up to help inform police chiefs in England and Wales who are finalising their proposals for the forthcoming national crime unit.
Police chiefs intend to have a national operational arm made up of the 1,400 officers in the existing six Regional Crime Squads, which tackle serious offences. The second wing would be the intelligence gathering side, headed by an enhanced National Criminal Intelligence Service, which at present has about 500 staff. The Acpo recommendations are expected to be ratified next week.