Organised crime costs UK £50bn in a year

Drugs supply, and its attendant murders and money laundering, is the trade fuelling the rise of crime groups in Britain, says report
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The Independent Online

Organised criminals commit one murder every week in Britain, and international gangs are rapidly expanding into the UK's drug markets, a report said yesterday.

Organised criminals commit one murder every week in Britain, and international gangs are rapidly expanding into the UK's drug markets, a report said yesterday.

Analysis of the country's 938 leading gangs shows they are increasingly turning to kidnapping, violence, trafficking in illegal immigrants, drug dealing and money laundering.

One of the most comprehensive pieces of research published into Britain's gangland activities shows the growing influence of organised crime, which costs an estimated £50bn a year.

The Threat from Serious and Organised Crime, written by experts from the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS), says that 52 murdersin 1999 have been linked to organised crime. Of these 33 were in London, many of them black-on-black drugs killings. Nationally, 37 murders are believed to be drugs-related.

The service believes the influence of ruthless Jamaican Yardie gunmen may be responsible for the high death toll. It says: "This high level of murders may relate to the gun culture which has emerged amongst the West Indian criminals and which originated in the political disturbances in Jamaica in the 1970s and 1980s."

However, while the report highlights the variety of nationality based gangs, the "British Caucasian" criminal - white working class - make up by far the majority of organised crime groups in the UK, it says.

Just over one-third of the crime groups use violence or intimidation against non-gang members and 15 per cent actually fulfil the threats. One-quarter use violence to control their own organisations. The primary reasons for violence are non-payment of drugs debts and to "ensure obedience and eliminate competition", the document explains.

Of the 72 kidnappings reported to the service in 1999, it has been estimated that about 90 per cent were abductions of criminals, nearly all of which were related to debts.

Drug trafficking is central to organised crime with slightly more than half of serious and organised crime groups involved in the trade and 42 per cent having it as their principal activity. The synthetic drugs market is believed to be the most rapidly expanding area, particularly amphetamine or speed and ecstasy. Up to one-fifth is made in the UK while the bulk comes from the Netherlands and Belgium. NCIS predicts that the South American production of heroin and synthetic drugs will increase.

Not surprisingly, almost all the drug traffickers were also involved in money laundering - to clean the huge amounts of "dirty" drug money that comes through their hands.

The research divides organised crime into high impact, medium impact and low impact, relating to monetary loss caused and by translating non-monetary losses - such as death or trauma - involved in the crime into cost equivalents.

High-impact crime includes benefit fraud, business fraud, drug trafficking, intellectual property theft, such as computer and music piracy, and revenue fraud. Medium-impact crimes involve arts and antiques, illegal immigration, paedophilia and vehicle theft.

Crimes in the lowest category are armed robbery, counterfeiting, football hooliganism, kidnapping and extortion, pornography and prostitution.

About one-fifth of the gangs were involved in each of the offences of counterfeiting and forgery, theft and handling stolen goods, VAT fraud, excise fraud (including bootlegging of tobacco and alcohol), and vehicle theft and handling. About one in ten took part in robberies, people smuggling, arms smuggling, kidnapping and extortion. Only a small number were involved in gambling, prostitution and antique theft.

Combating excise fraud, trafficking of class A drugs, VAT fraud, and organised immigration smuggling have been set as the future priorities of police and law enforcement agencies.

John Abbott, director general of the criminal intelligence service, said: "The activities of organised crime threaten the economic fabric of this country, its tentacles reaching into the deepest and most remote crevices of our way of life."