Serious and organised crime ‘costs UK economy £37 billion a year’

Officers from the National Crime Agency at work Credit: PA

Serious and organised crime costs the UK economy £37 billion a year, according to an official assessment.

Ministers and law enforcement chiefs published the figure as they laid bare the scale of damage inflicted by the most dangerous and prolific criminal networks.

They said gang activity affects more UK citizens, more often, than all other national security threats combined.

There are around 4,600 serious and organised crime groups in the UK, according to the latest assessment from the National Crime Agency (NCA).

They use violence and intimidation in communities to operate and prey on the most vulnerable in society, the Home Office said.

Detailing the impact of serious and organised crime, NCA director-general Lynne Owens said: “It means children being abused, the vulnerable being trafficked, it means cyber crime.

“It means criminal markets that trade drugs, trade firearms, trade in people and make profit as a result.

“And it means those so-called ‘untouchables’ who invest their illicit finance in the UK and cause people to question the efficacy of the country’s prosperity as a result.”

She said the threat has changed rapidly in volume and complexity over the last five years.

Ms Owens told the Press Association: “It now affects more UK citizens more often than any other national security threat.

“Each year it kills more of our citizens than terrorism, war and natural disasters combined. And it costs the UK at least £37 billion annually.”

The figure has risen sharply since the last official estimate of £24 billion published five years ago.

Ms Owens said the sum is made up of different types of costs.

“Some of it is direct cost – the impact of people trading cocaine, the impact of fraud, the impact of cyber-enabled crime, the impact of blackmail and extortion on big business,” she said.

“Some of it is secondary cost – somebody with significant mental health issues because they were seriously abused as a child, somebody who is a drug user who might shoplift or harm themselves.

“It’s an amalgam of those things.”

On Thursday, the Government will publish a new serious and organised crime strategy to target the most determined and dangerous offenders.

Elsewhere, the minister for security and economic crime shot a warning at bodies like public schools, football clubs and luxury car garages, which may facilitate billions in money-laundering but fail to report suspicious activity.

Ben Wallace told the Guardian: “The ones who pretend their hands aren’t really dirty and profit from moving dirty money and knowingly conspire … they’re cowards to pretend they’re nothing really to do with it.

“They comfort themselves by being at wonderful events and not getting their hands dirty, but their hands are as dirty as the person trafficking the child that they’re making their money from.”

“The Government has the powers. It has to bear down, I think, on these enablers of the flows of dirty money which is coming into London and in other great cities.”

Mr Wallace said a Government crackdown would aim to stop criminals spending ill-gotten gains on expensive cars, boxes at sporting events and high-value properties.

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott accused the Government of not using measures already available to tackle organised crime, such as unexplained wealth orders.

Speaking at the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners conference she referenced empty properties in some of London’s wealthiest streets.

She said: “The extent to which the London property market and actually the property markets in some other big cities is used to launder ill-gotten gains, dirty money, cannot be underestimated.

“And I believe the Government has given itself the powers and it should be doing more to bear down on the enablers of dirty money flows whether they be lawyers whether they be accountants whether they be estate agents, whether they be headteachers of private schools who get their fees paid in pound notes.”

Launching the blueprint, Mr Wallace will say in a speech: “Many serious and organised criminals think they are above the law.

“They think they can defy the British state. And they think they are free to act with impunity against our businesses and our way of life. They are wrong.

“Our new strategic approach not only improves our government and law enforcement capabilities but also ensures the private sector, the public and international partners are integrated as part of our response.

“And working together, implementing this new strategy, we will show them just how serious we are.”

He will also point out that money laundering is a fundamental part of criminals’ business models.

“Sharp suits swan around the nation’s capital, while all along they head up networks that covertly trade millions of pounds in financial transactions online,” he will say.

“They profit from the hidden misery and suffering of others, and it is not just their victims but all of us who suffer the consequences.”

He will announce a £48 million investment to enhance the law enforcement response.

The cash injection will be used to boost funding for the National Economic Crime Centre, invest in specially trained police fraud investigators, recruit more NCA officers who will focus on serious and organised crime and provide extra investment for data and intelligence assessment capabilities.