Old-school criminal gangs breaking up and becoming more tech-savvy, finds NCA

Written by Richard Johnstone and Sam Trendall on 15 May 2019 in News

Law enforcement professionals need the upcoming Spending Review to provide an additional £2.7bn funding per year, according to National Crime Agency director general Lynne Owens

Image credit: PA

Old-school criminal gangs are morphing and breaking up into smaller collectives of younger and more tech-savvy offenders, a UK-wide review of the crime landscape has found.

To help cope with the changing and growing demands placed on them, law enforcement professionals need the upcoming Spending Review to provide an additional £2.7bn funding per year, according to National Crime Agency director general Lynne Owens.

The National Strategic Assessment published today draws on information and intelligence from government departments, the intelligence community and the private and voluntary sectors, as well as police forces, to reveal the scale of the problem.

The review found that the hierarchies of old-style crime gangs have become fragmented as more dynamic groups of younger offenders use technology to carry out crimes while still using violence.

For example, the review found use of the dark web and encryption to cloak offending has grown significantly, with cryptocurrencies increasingly used to launder dirty money.

Elsewhere, the report highlighted that there are nearly 2.9 million accounts registered on the worst child sexual abuse sites on the dark web worldwide, of which five per cent are believed to be based in the UK, while the number of referrals to the NCA warning of online child sexual abuse and exploitation have increased by 700 per cent since 2012.

“The organised criminals of today are indiscriminate – they care less about what types of crime they’re involved in, as long as it makes them a profit,” said Owens. “These groups are preying on the most vulnerable in society, including young children and the elderly – those most unable to protect themselves.”

The review set three priorities for the law enforcement response to the threats: tackling those who exploit the vulnerable through child sexual abuse and exploitation, trafficking, servitude, fraud and other forms of abuse; those who dominate communities and chase profits in the criminal marketplace using violence or criminal reputation in the supply of drugs and firearms; and those who undermine the UK’s economy, integrity, infrastructure and institutions through their criminality.

Describing serious and organised crime as “the deadliest threat facing the nation”, Owens said that, of the additional £2.7bn in funding she is calling for, the NCA should be given £650m – which she pointed out is less than the weekly cost of serious and organised crime.

“Serious and organised crime affects more UK citizens, more frequently than any other national security threat. And it costs the UK at least £37bn a year – equivalent to nearly £2,000 per family,” she said. “We need significant further investment to keep pace with the growing scale and complexity. Enhancing our capabilities is critical to our national security. If we don’t, the whole of UK law enforcement, and therefore the public, will feel the consequences.

“Some will say we cannot afford to provide more investment, but I say we cannot afford not to.”

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