Asbos to be used against 2012 ticket touts

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Asbos will be among the battery of legal weapons to hit ticket touts and fraudsters targeting the London 2012 Games, Scotland Yard said today.

Talks have already begun for them to face tight bail conditions, possibly including a ban from the Olympic venues, and assets will be seized.

There are no guarantees that London 2012 will be a tout-free zone but "we will put the fear on them using every possible legislation that we can", vowed Assistant Commissioner Chris Allison, the National Olympic Security Co-ordinator.

With 6.6 million Olympic tickets due to go on sale on March 15, touting is currently the top priority for Operation Podium, the police team set up to deal with serious and organised criminal networks looking to exploit the Olympics.

There have been 10 operations and 37 arrests, including for fraud offences, in the past six months.

The unit is currently running 16 operations aimed at frustrating criminals so much in the run-up to 2012, by preventing and disrupting their deeds, that they do not bother to target the Games.

Detective Chief Inspector Nick Downing of the Specialist Crime Directorate said: "I cannot say that we are going to stop touting throughout the UK but I am certainly going to make sure that it is a hostile environment in 2012.

"We will look to disrupt them by whatever means necessary and if that is by seizing their assets - I think that is a good way forward, or by slapping an Asbo on them.

"(We can work) by closing down their websites and their user payment systems.

"I cannot say that I am going to stop it but I am going to make it harder.

"We will roll that out across the UK and make an influence on people who would use those activities."

Disruption to a would-be tout or fraudsters' business and lifestyle will be key.

Mr Downing suggested: "Anyone who is arrested will have bail conditions that stops them from going to another event. We want the fear to be on them. We want them to be worried about this."

On trying to ban them from Olympic venues, he said: "Obviously it would be a decision by the court. It is a tactic we are considering."

The London 2012 Games already has specific laws which make it an offence to falsely advertise or sell tickets. Detectives are bolstering this through the Fraud Act.

One success has been against a Wolverhampton gang who wanted to flood the lucrative hotel, tourism and hospitality market attached to the Olympics with fake cheques.

Officers uncovered the scam, discovered there were immigration issues, worked with the UK Border Agency and "now they are no longer in this country", Mr Downing said.

"They would have flooded the hotels and tried to cash them in because we would have such a proportion of people and the pressure on staff and time.

"They would have tried to cash them in undermining the economy and London business - that is something we need to protect."

Touts who would target Manchester United matches, the Glastonbury Festival or pop concerts are the same people who would target London 2012, the detectives pointed out.

The painful experience of hopeful Take That fans who lost out as touts tried to sell tickets online for staggeringly inflated prices is also being fed into how detectives are approaching the touting problem.

Ticket websites, unable to cope with the demand, crashed and fans missed out as touts snapped up huge quantities.

Determined fans were forced to resort to online auction sites where huge mark-ups had been added.

Mr Downing said: "It is a reputation issue. I do not think that visitors to London want to be harassed.

"Someone might travel from another country or from across the UK thinking they have a ticket for the 100-metre final only to find they do not have any accommodation.

"I do not want to be associated with that and we are working with foreign jurisdictions."

Websites can be shut down but members of the public also need to be alert for tell-tale signs of fraud. Things to look out for include checking out virtual sites and whether the payment system is secure.

Public security messages of this type will become more frequent in the run-up to 2012.

Mr Downing also warned: "Some of them (touts) seem to be of the idea that we cannot attack them if they host their website abroad - well we can."