MPs call for national strategy to tackle crime

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Crime Correspondent

A new national police strategy and greater co-ordination between crime fighting organisations are needed to tackle the growing menace of organised crime in Britain, an influential committee of MPs recommended yesterday.

An investigation by the Commons' Home Affairs select committee has also called for police regional crime squads to take a more co-ordinated approach after concluding that organised crime in the United Kingdom is "a cause for serious concern".

The committee's suggestions open up the possibility of the establishment of an FBI-style national crime unit soon.

Their report, Organised Crime, which was published yesterday, concluded: "There is no doubt that, while the level of such crime in the UK may be lower than in some other countries, it is nevertheless substantial and is probably growing."

The committee heard evidence that organised criminals are expanding their business in drugs, the sale of illegal firearms and counterfeit currency.

They are also involved in money laundering, trading stolen art, organising vehicle theft, smuggling illegal immigrants, illegal gambling, prostitution, infiltration into the toxic waste disposal industry, extortion, fraud, and credit card crime.

There was no evidence of widescale infiltration into the UK by international criminals, or the existence of a British "Mr Big". However there were smaller, looser groupings of criminals. These included Jamaican Yardies, Chinese Triad gangs, Colombian drug gangs, Japanese gangs, and groups of Turks, Kurds and Vietnamese.

However the area of greatest concern, said the MPs, was the organised criminals from eastern Europe, particularly from the former Soviet Union, where cross-border checks have effectively collapsed. The MPs warned that Britain's banking sector provided an attractive target for the new breed of Soviet gangsters looking to "launder" the proceeds of their crimes.

The committee recommends a more co-ordinated approach to dealing with the growing problem. The committee's chairman, Sir Ivan Lawrence, yesterday admitted that the country was moving towards the establishment of a national crime unit to target organised crime.

At present intelligence is gathered by the National Criminal Intelligence Service, which is staffed mainly by police officers and custom officials. Operational work is undertaken by regional crime squads, Customs and Excise, and local police forces.

In future, the committee recommended, NCIS should expand its role and carry out surveillance work. It also said: "There is a considerable need for co-ordination in intelligence sharing and operational action between the various agencies."

It added: "If the response to serious and organised crime is to be sharpened and made more effective, the present structure of separate regional crime squads, with no central executive direction, needs to be replaced by a more nationally co-ordinated structure."

The MPs were, however, concerned that MI5, the Security Service, did not take a leading role in any new crime unit while its operations remained secretive and relatively unaccountable.

They also called on the Government to toughen up the rules on money laundering and to carry out research into why courts, who hand out confiscation orders against criminals, are only on average able to seize about a third of the money held.