New report shows gangs enjoy easy access to guns and judicial corruption
Organised crime in the UK is increasing rapidly, with firearms and drugs easily obtained by underworld syndicates which are also moving into child pornography to swell profits, a government report reveals tomorrow.
The first analysis of the threat of criminal gangs to the UK by the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) adds that corruption remains a problem in the criminal justice system and that, far from reforming offenders, prison now forms the 'basis for many later criminal collaborations'.
In an alarming picture of the influence of major crime networks, the report admits the internet and the skill of syndicates in keeping one step ahead of police and security services mean the threat of organised criminals to the UK is 'increasing in both scope and complexity'.
Set up last February to target Britain's biggest gangsters, Soca's assessment warns that UK criminals are 'unlikely to have difficulty in acquiring a firearm should they wish to do so'. It adds that demand for firearms remains high, with criminals able to procure weapons from the internet or through the post easily and with reasonable safety.
Although attempts to crack down on child pornography have intensified, the report concludes that the number of active sex offenders in the UK remains unknown. However, evidence suggests numbers are growing, with the internet 'increasing the scale and reducing the risk' to perpetrators.
As the market has grown, intelligence reports reveal that major organised criminal networks are starting to move into child pornography. Recent trends monitored by police include the growing use of 'morphing', where images of children are altered by computer technology, while advances in internet technology have allowed 'real-time video coverage of abuse shown simultaneously to a number of viewers'. The US remains the host country for most illegal websites, although in the past year Japan has witnessed a sharp growth.
The report also notes with concern that the continued fall in the price of drugs indicates that measures to reduce the trade in illegal narcotics are failing. Average street prices of heroin have fallen from £70 a gram in December 2000 to £49. The cost of a gram of cocaine fell from £65 to £40 over the same period, while the price of ecstasy pills dropped from £9 to £4.
Over the past year, intelligence officials recorded a growing number of trafficked prostitutes from Lithuania and Africa, notably Nigeria, entering the UK. Street prices for illegally imported prostitutes are currently running at between £2,000 and £3,000. Elsewhere, attempts to smuggle illegal immigrants into the UK are still being made through the French ports of Calais, Coquelles and Dunkirk, with Moscow, Kiev, Istanbul, Sarajevo and the Balkans identified as key points en route to the UK. The number of criminal gangmasters involved in finding work for illegal immigrants in the UK stands at 10,000.
One of the most serious issues for Soca remains corruption, and it recorded 'a number of instances where UK law enforcement officers have acted corruptly and colluded with criminals,' although precise details are not given. Despite attempts to eradicate corrupt relations between serious criminal figures and figures throughout the criminal justice system, the report adds that syndicates remain adept at using the 'corruption of insiders ... to monitor law enforcement actions and techniques'.
Countries pinpointed as posing a particular threat to the UK because of their criminal interests include Turkey, which continues to play a pivotal role in the supply and processing of heroin. London-based Turks are responsible for disseminating the drug, which is mainly cultivated in Afghanistan, to secondary distribution centres, usually Liverpool and Birmingham. Most heroin arrives from the ports of south-east England such as Harwich, Dover and Felixstowe, with half of the UK trade shipped from the Netherlands after being driven overland from Turkey.
The Netherlands and Spain remain the main entry points to Europe for Colombian cocaine, again with most shipped into the UK via south-east ports.
Armed robberies seeking 'cash-in-transit' targets reached 837 last year with the most infamous occurring last February with the organised attack on a facility in Tonbridge, Kent, that yielded a haul of £53m.