How millions disappear off the back of lorries

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The Independent Online

More than 500 of Britain's top crime gangs are trafficking in drugs worth £8.5bn a year. The scale of organised crime in drugs is one of the main aspects of the National Criminal Intelligence Service's far-reaching study into the most powerful and dangerous gangsters.

More than 500 of Britain's top crime gangs are trafficking in drugs worth £8.5bn a year. The scale of organised crime in drugs is one of the main aspects of the National Criminal Intelligence Service's far-reaching study into the most powerful and dangerous gangsters.

In the 938 groups examined, more than 60 per cent deal in cannabis, half in cocaine and a similar number in heroin, and around 40 per cent in synthetic drugs, such as ecstasy. Most heroin comes from Afghanistan via Belgium and the Netherlands into London, and is controlled by Turkish traffickers.

Peru, Bolivia and Colombia are the main places for cocaine production. Because prices in Britain are 10 to 20 per cent higher than elsewhere in Europe, large criminal organisations are targeting us, says the NCIS, and there are record amounts on the street.

Traditional British crime families and South American groups bring in large shipments, distributing from London, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol and Glasgow.

Most synthetic drugs are smuggled from the Netherlands and Belgium into London and Liverpool and distributed nationally. There are reports that owners of gyms are linked to drug dealers selling cocaine, ecstasy and amphetamines.

Armed robbery

Last year there were 467 attacks on security vans and couriers and about half were successful. Criminals took just under £10m. Only £1m was recovered, but the total loss is less than in previous years.

Three types of robbery were identified - the well-planned attack by professionals using firearms and violence which netted an estimated £2.5m; attacks on couriers and vehicles by semi-professionals, usually armed, getting away with about £5.5m; and the opportunistic, who made £500,000.

Firearms were used in 220 attacks and 103 people were injured. Shooting of security guards in the legs has stopped, possibly because of stiffer jail terms. Robbery of post offices, shops, jewellers and pubs remains a low-value crime committed by low-ranking crooks.

Theft of lorry loads

Loads with computers and computer parts totalling £8.5m have been choice targets and that problem is growing.

In 1999, between January and September, 1,133 lorry losses were reported, totalling £40m, half of that the actual cost of the vehicles. Priority targets for thieves are electrical goods, clothing, food, alcohol and tobacco.

Two types of gangs are involved, organised outfits which specialise in hi-tech goods, and opportunistic ones who steal whatever they can find. The more professional criminals first obtain information about loads, the others will work through vehicles in lorry parks, picking out highest-value or easiest-stolen. Most of the stolen goods go to car boot sales and some are swapped for drugs.

Art and antique theft

Antiques and valuables worth £500m are believed to move through international markets although they are more difficult to dispose of because many can be easily recognised and much has been catalogued. Criminals often target jewellery because gems can be cut up and reset.

Child pornography and paedophilia

Paedophiles are not motivated by financial gain but often blackmail each other to extort money or gain access to material or victims.

They tend to network and exchange material and victims. Actionable complaints about the internet grew from 215 reports in 1997 to 1,128 in 1999.

Counterfeiting

The number of counterfeit credit cards have risen dramatically and has yearly losses for 1999 are £20m, compared with £27m for all of 1998.

Money laundering

Crime groups are setting up and running bureaux de change to launder cash. Some are using brokers and market traders to buy and sell stocks to launder their money.

Fraud

Estimates for last year vary from £4.5bn to £16bn. That includes smuggling, advance fee dodges, benefit swindles and VAT fraud. The most recent trend is the use of the internet for credit card scams.

Intellectual property fraud

Includes piracy of film and music, and computer programs, worth an estimated £6bn. Drugs, clothes and car parts are also faked.

Kidnap, extortion

Kidnaps have risen from 23 in 1996 to 72 in 1999, and blackmail has gone from six cases to 75 in that period. The majority of kidnapping is either "bad-on-bad" drug cases, often where money is owed, and kidnapping or illegal immigrants brought to the UK by rival gangs.

Vehicle crime

The losses from vehicle and trailer theft are estimated to reach £850m a year.

Prostitution

Prostitutes in London are estimated to generate from £250m to £500m a year. The concern is the trafficking in women from South America, South-East Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa to work in the British sex industry.

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