An eye-opening new report has laid bare the devastating impact organised crime is having on the UK.
The assessment from the National Crime Agency (NCA) says there are around 4,600 serious and organised crime groups operating in Britain whose activities affect more UK citizens, more often, than all other national security threats combined.
And institutions including public schools and even football clubs may be playing a part.
The Human Cost
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.
“Each year it kills more of our citizens than terrorism, war and natural disasters combined.”
The Financial Cost
The report claims crime groups cost the UK at least £37bn annually.
Owens said: “It means criminal markets that trade drugs, trade firearms, trade in people and make profit as a result.”
This figure has risen sharply since the last official estimate of £24bn published five years ago.
On Thursday, Security and Economic Crime Minister Ben Wallace will launch a new serious and organised crime strategy to target the most determined and dangerous offenders.
Organised crime takes many forms in the UK, including:
Last year the NCA said it was assisting in 300 live police operations targeting modern slavery, with alleged victims as young as 12 being sold to families in the UK from Europe.
The full extent of the problem is not known but there are believed to be “tens of thousands of victims in the UK”.
In one of the most shocking recent cases, a London-based nurse was found guilty of trafficking five Nigerian women to Germany to work as prostitutes – after forcing them to undergo humiliating voodoo rituals.
Josephine Iyamu made her victims swear oaths to hand over money during “juju” ceremonies which saw them ordered to eat chicken hearts, drink blood containing worms, and endure powder being rubbed into cuts.
In September, the head of a gang that imported blank-firing pistols, converted them into potentially deadly weapons and then sold them to the criminal underworld was jailed for 26 years.
Carlington Grant – known as Mad Dog – and his girlfriend Khianna Lewis funded a lifestyle of holidays and flash cars on the sales of at least 43 pistols and 1,160 blank cartridges they shipped in from Calais, France.
A middleman, Jermaine Dornan, also bragged about his crime-fuelled gains, taking photographs of piles of bank notes at home.
Zakaria Mohammed recruited the vulnerable youngsters to extend his “county lines” drugs network to Lincoln, but was caught after two 15-year-old boys and a 14-year-old girl were reported missing, before being found in a squalid and freezing flat.
The sale of fake goods has increased dramatically in Northern Ireland in recent years, largely due to the internet.
Goods are frequently advertised for sale via social media, auction sites and online classifieds.
There are thousands of websites dedicated to the sale of counterfeit goods, a report from the Organised Crime Task Force (OCTF) said.
Last year the most common goods seized included clothing, alcohol, cosmetics, sunglasses, handbags, footwear, DVDs, CDs and electrical items.
The Money Launderers
In a speech launching the new strategy, Wallace will point out 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.
Elsewhere, the minister fired 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.
He 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.”
On Tuesday, Wallace told MPs the sports industry “is as susceptible as anything else” to being used to hide the source of dirty money.
“I know of (a) professional football club or clubs under investigation. I couldn’t reveal how many and what they are, for that is an operational matter,” he said.
The new serious and organised crime strategy will include a £48m 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.
Wallace’s speech also comes after one of the country’s most senior officers said police must focus on catching burglars and violent offenders rather than recording incidents that are not crimes.
National Police Chiefs’ Council chair Sara Thornton warned that forces are too stretched to take on all “desirable and deserving” issues, such as logging misogyny reports even when no offence has been committed.
Calling for a “refocus on core policing”, she also said she was “unconvinced” it is appropriate to commit significant resources investigating allegations against the dead.