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Organised crime is becoming increasingly involved in human trafficking

Quotation marks
  "Organised crime strikes right at the heart of our local communities, creating suffering and misery"
Quotation marks
John Abbott, NCIS

Fred Cook
Fred Cook was jailed for 12 years after NCIS discovered he was behind an amphetamines factory

Quotation marks
  "You can sell cocaine in this country for 10 times what you would pay for it in Colombia"
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Mark Thomson, Customs & Excise

David Wilson
David Wilson was gunned down by an American criminal for whom he was working

Danny Roff
Danny Roff, a suspected hitman, was shot dead in 1997

Organised crime
Organised crime in the UK
Organised crime bosses have embraced globalisation every bit as enthusiastically as the heads of legitimate international conglomerates. Which means Colombian, Italian, Chinese, Russian and Jamaican gangsters are doing business in London, Manchester, Glasgow and Belfast.

Audio  Watch Chris Summers’ report   Real 56K

Organised crime, as portrayed in TV shows such as The Sopranos or films such as Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, is often shown as a glamorous, exciting business inhabited by old-style crooks or good-natured gangsters.

The reality is very different. Organised crime leads to despair for the many people affected by it on both sides of the law; from prostitutes, illegal immigrants and drug addicts, to the victims of burglary, car crime and muggings which are often carried out to fund drug habits.

Fact box
  • The illegal drugs trade in the UK generates about £8.5bn (or 1% of GDP)
  • UK financial institutions reported 14,500 suspicious transactions to police in 1999
  • 52 murders (33 in London) in 1999 were thought to be linked to organised crime
  • 56% of organised crime groups are involved in drug trafficking and of those, 79% are involved in money laundering.
  • There are 930 organised crime groups - or "core nominals" - in the UK.

    Source: NCIS annual report.

  • Fact boc bottom

    The National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) says organised crime in the UK is a "multi-billion pound industry". In January the Home Secretary Jack Straw increased NCIS's budget from £49m to £70m a year. Welcoming the increase, the Director General of NCIS, John Abbott, said: "Serious and organised crime is big business. It's invariably international and sophisticated but it also strikes right at the heart of our local communities, creating suffering and misery for its victims and making millions for its insidious perpetrators."

    "It worms its way into our professions - our lawyers, our accountants, our bankers - it's creeping its way into the new and exciting IT technologies and it's creating miserable victims out of its promises of a better life and the often disgusting exploitation of the most vulnerable people in society."

    Of the 930 organised crime groups - or "core nominals" - in the UK, the majority of these are indigenous, British-born gangs. By far the biggest business for all these gangs is drug smuggling, which accounts for 56% of illegal activity. Much of the crime which makes the headlines is a direct result of organised crime’s activities – a third of burglaries are carried out by drug addicts, says NCIS.

    Roger Gaspar, director of intelligence at NCIS, told BBC News Online: “Organised criminality underpins at a very high level a lot of the criminality that goes on in this country. It is the medium by which drugs are available in local communities, it is the medium by which cigarettes and alcohol which have evaded the proper duties are made available in local communities. It is the means by which illegal immigration takes place in growing numbers.”

    Drugs, tobacco, alcohol and humans

    In recent years there has been a massive growth in the number of groups getting involved in alcohol and tobacco smuggling, sometimes switching from drug trafficking.

    Mr Gaspar said: "We have seen in the last two years a very distinct increase in organised criminality moving from one commodity to another. It appears they realise that one day the networks that transfer drugs can also be used to transfer people. Some of the divides between Class A and Class B drugs have certainly been eroded and certainly we've seen people move from the trafficking of drugs to the evading of duties on alcohol and tobacco.

    “That's because these are people who know how to chase their profits, they want to chase the best profits and they move in the marketplace accordingly.”

    The legal penalties for smuggling duty-evaded drink and tobacco are miniscule in comparison to trafficking drugs.

    But Customs & Excise spokesman Mark Thomson said: "It is true that sentences for excise fraud are much lighter than for drug trafficking, but the profits are not comparable. You can sell cocaine in this country for 10 times what you would pay for it in Colombia, whereas you could only sell cigarettes for twice the price."

    Human trafficking is another activity on the increase. The full glare of publicity was shone on the trade last summer when 58 Chinese illegal immigrants were found dead in a container lorry at Dover docks. Several people are awaiting trial.

    Illegal immigrants are sometimes asked to act as drugs couriers by traffickers who pay for their air fare or arrange false passports. Women from deprived countries often pay for false papers to gain passage to the West, only to find out when they get there they have to pay off their "debt" by going into prostitution.

    Hostile takeovers

    As with the business world, British crime groups are embracing globalisation and forming joint ventures with foriegn gangs.

    Mr Gaspar said: “When I first started organised criminality was very much a local dimension, for example the Krays, and they had difficulty when they started moving out of their geographical origins. Those days are long behind us now and we have a world without boundaries for criminality. This is the way it is going with commerce, with the freedom of movement of peoples, and unfortunately organised criminality uses those opportunities."

    But while organised crime groups often act like legitimate businesses, they tend to resort to violence, rather than expensive lawyers, when they fall out.

    In 1990 Great Train Robber Charlie Wilson, who had branched out into drug trafficking after his release from prison, was gunned down beside his swimming pool on the Costa Del Sol by a hitman. In 1997 Danny Roff, believed to have been that hitman, was himself shot dead in Bromley, Kent.

    In January 1995 American Hector Portillo was jailed for life for ordering the murder of accountant David Wilson, at his home in Chorley, Lancashire. Wilson, who was helping Portillo launder money from a giant cigarette fraud, was executed for "having his hand in the till".

    International police co-operation

    Just as organised crime syndicates work together to achieve results, so can law enforcement agencies from different countries. Mr Gaspar said: “We have very good relationships with a number of countries. We actually do very well from our partners overseas but when we get away from Europe one can come to some countries - which are important source countries for criminality - where the issue of co-operation is very much tied up with the stability of that country, their economic development and so on, and it therefore becomes very, very difficult.”

    One of the big successes of recent years has been Europol, an agency involving representatives from police forces all over Europe. Europol is more proactive than its older and more famous sister Interpol, which acts mainly as a database and a conduit for information and arrest warrants.

    But not everyone is convinced the battle is being won. Brian Fremantle is a journalist and author who has investigated organised crime and wrote an exposé on crime in Europe, The Octopus. He is pessimistic about the British authorities' ability to defeat organised crime. Mr Fremantle claimed numerous politicians had paid "lip service" to the war against organised crime, while failing to take radical steps.

    He said there was a need for an FBI-style national police force in the UK and proper anti-racketeering legislation, similar to the RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act introduced in the US 30 years ago.

    He told BBC News Online: "No-one is properly addressing organised crime, which is why it is winning."

    NCIS director of intelligence Roger Gaspar agreed that the RICO legislation should be given consideration. "We need to try and work out what are the most effective of these draconian types of law. The trouble with these (laws) is that they go towards the issue of innocent until proven guilty. The more one actually puts the onus upon individuals to explain what they have done, then one is attacking the principle of innocence until guilty, so it's a difficult area of law, but it's one that’s essential to examine," he said.

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