Jacqui Smith – 2008 Speech to the Conference of European Organised Crime

I am very glad to be able to speak at the conference today. I very much welcome the themes of the conference, to examine policy and practice in tackling organised crime, by bringing together UK and EU experience.

Whilst organised crime may operate at national and international level, its effects are felt in every community. I say that because organised crime does not exist in some sort of vacuum. It fuels all manner of criminal and anti-social behaviour in our communities. We all know the blight and dangers which drug dealing and using brings to our streets. But it is important to remember that organised criminals also deal in cheap alcohol, tobacco and, shockingly, in people as well. The violence of the organised crime groups themselves, the misery inflicted on individual victims and the damage to our communities make this a phenomenon that we must tackle.

Reduced to financial terms we estimate that the economic and social costs in the UK are in excess of £20bn. They manifest themselves in various ways but most notably in the form of drug related crime. That is a huge sum but in itself does not illustrate what is happening in our communities as a result. It is protecting those communities in which I am interested. An effective response to organised crime is part of that.

In the UK in recent years we have gone to great lengths to make the country a more difficult place for organised criminals to operate. Government has carried through legislative change and reformed the organisations we task to tackle organised crime. But success can only be achieved through a strong partnership.

In particular, a partnership approach between Government and law enforcement. We set overall strategic priorities, while law enforcement drive the effort at the front end. But there are other partners as well. We see our role as supporting law enforcement by providing necessary powers and assisting in dealing with third parties whose contribution can be important (for example the private sector). And, as today’s conference makes clear whilst impact is local, influence needs to be international if we’re to achieve real results. Legislation

Firstly, I’d like to outline some of the changes in legislation that we’ve introduced. Like many other countries, we have introduced legislation on proceeds of crime and money laundering. Organised criminals are out to make money and do not like losing it. We need to do all we can to identify dirty money which gets into the legitimate financial system; and to confiscate criminally derived assets. Asset recovery prevents and deters future crime, raises the cost of crime, and allows some payback to victims and society. We regard it as a necessary and powerful instrument for tackling organised criminals.

In addition the law enforcement authorities in the UK now benefit from a wider range of tools to do their job.

Over the last couple of years we have,

-Put the giving of Queen’s Evidence on a statutory footing so that offenders assisting investigations and prosecutions can benefit from lesser sentences if they testify against their criminal associates

-Made provision in certain circumstances for persons to be required to answer questions, provide information or produce documents for the investigation

-Introduced Financial Reporting Orders where a convicted person can be required to report on his financial affairs for a number of years, up to a maximum of twenty.

-And created Serious Crime Prevention Orders which will allow prohibitions or restrictions to be put on the activities of a person involved in serious crime. The aim will be to prevent them committing further crime, for example by limiting communication or association with other people.

These last two measures are very much aimed at life-time offender management. For the most serious career organised criminals we believe that it is necessary to fetter and disrupt their activities over a period of time. It is insufficient, for example, when they have completed a prison sentence simply to let them carry on as they have before, and as they wish. Organisations

I would like to turn now to the organisational changes we have made for tackling organised crime.

First and foremost we have created the Serious Organised Crime Agency [Bill Hughes the Director General has spoken earlier about its work].

It started business in April 2006 and was set up to tackle organised crime in a rather different way from its predecessors. Instead of asking the agency to work exclusively on preventing and detecting serious organised crime we have also asked it to consider how it can contribute to the reduction of such crime in other ways and to reduce the harms it causes.

We have also asked the organisation to pay more attention to understanding organised crime. That is, improving the intelligence picture so that organised crime is tackled through an approach which prioritises networks and markets doing the most harm.

Underpinning that approach is the UK Threat Assessment which describes the threat and the National Intelligence Requirement which aims in a systematic way to fill intelligence gaps.

I welcome the way that SOCA has gone about its tasks so far. The Government and they recognise that tackling organised crime is not a job for them alone. They have developed a control strategy comprising a number of programmes of activity which are truly collaborative.

Those programmes comprise representatives from all the relevant agencies – for example, police forces, HM Revenue and Customs and the Prison Service. It is only by bringing together all those with an interest into coherent programmes that real progress can be made. I very much support that approach.

SOCA, working with partners, can already point to significant successes. Last year it was involved in seizures of 74 tonnes of Class A drugs and 1,700 arrests made in the UK and around the world. Those are good results in an organisation in its early days. I am looking forward to more.

This year, we will merge the Asset Recovery Agency into SOCA. Bringing together the financial investigative skills, expertise and experience of both organisations will ensure the most effective investigative tools and techniques can be used against criminals. It fits with the priority of disrupting organised crime finance and SOCA’s responsibility for reducing harm.

This year also sees the creation of the UK Border Agency through an amalgamation of the Border and Immigration Agency and part of HM Revenue and Customs. An agency with a strong remit to control the movement of people and freight will strengthen our ability to tackle the international aspects of organised crime.

I would not, though, want to imply that the law enforcement authorities should provide the sole response to organised crime. They have to be helped in their tasks.

Private bodies can, and do, provide support and co-operation in the prevention, detection and prosecution of organised crime. For example, financial service providers report suspicions transactions and communication service providers retain and disclose data which help investigations. These are all very important. They need to be encouraged and the doors kept open for sharing data and information in appropriate circumstances.

I know this is an area of work in which SOCA is investing a good deal of time and effort. Gun Crime

We need to be able to respond to particular challenges with new ways of working and new partnerships. In recent years, for example, we have seen firearms being used by younger people, in a sometimes chaotic environment. Not, in itself organised crime, but clearly supported and facilitated by trade in guns and often linked to gang membership.

Sadly, Liverpool has been among the cities to be affected and you will all be aware of the recent tragic murder of Rhys Jones.

In September, I set up the Tackling Gangs Action Programme to develop multi-agency work in neighbourhoods in London, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool where the majority of firearms offences occur. One strand of the work focuses on the supply of firearms. We know that firearms come into the UK from other EU member states, some of which may be through organised criminal gangs. The Serious Organised Crime Agency and HM Revenue and Customs have raised the priority of this issue and are working with police and colleagues across the EU to gather intelligence and choke off this supply. Last year SOCA were involved in recovering more than 150 firearms; and a co-ordinated day of action on 28 November last year in Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and London resulted in the seizure of 10 firearms and over 1,000 realistic imitations.

We are also focusing on enforcement – ensuring that those committing these offences are brought to justice – enhancing support and protection for witnesses, as well as a range of prevention activity to make sure young people are able to achieve their potential and do not become involved in criminal and gang activity. In the EU context

So far I have spoken very much about what we have been doing in the UK. But when dealing with organised crime it is essential to think internationally too. And in doing that we need, and wish, to work closely with the EU and other Member States.

It is an irony that I need to hurry back to London from here to vote – yet again – for the European Union (Amendment) Bill to ratify the Lisbon Treaty. The key argument about that, however, is not the minutiae of European institutions, but the way in which we can use European cooperation to really impact on our crime fighting efforts. I would like to mention some areas where we believe that the EU has added real value.

The European Arrest Warrant has proved itself to be an efficient and effective mechanism for returning those seeking to evade justice by going abroad. Extradition times have been reduced by months, if not years, and the UK can point to examples of the successful execution of European Arrest Warrants bringing fugitives back to the UK or returning them to the country in which they are wanted. We regard it as a real success.

We are hopeful that when the European Evidence Warrant is adopted comparable benefits will accrue in speeding up the provision of evidence.

Europol [and we have just heard from its Director, Max-Peter Ratzel] is a key EU organisation in the fight against serious and organised crime. Its importance to us derives from its ability to facilitate information exchange, its analytical support capability and its role in supporting Member State law enforcement authorities in their fight against cross border crime. The United Kingdom is strongly committed to Europol, whose assistance has been invaluable in a number of successful police investigations in the UK involving gangs operating across the European Union. It also produces the EU Organised Crime Threat Assessment which we regard as an essential underpinning document – you need to have a knowledge of what your problems are before you can make sensible decisions about tackling them.

A good example of an operation which we undertook with Europol involved an armed and violent gang committing twenty armed robberies against jewellers in the UK. They had also committed 200 similar crimes across the EU. As a result of that co-operation prosecutions have been brought in eleven cases.

Eurojust too provides an important mechanism for facilitating information exchange and co-ordinating investigations and prosecutions between EU Member States. In 2007 the UK sought assistance through Eurojust in more cases than any other Member State and received the second most number of requests for assistance.

In one operation Eurojust co-ordinated actions across five countries, including the UK, leading to the arrest of 82 people for human trafficking offences. The benefits are clear.

The EU is also taking forward a number of initiatives to improve data sharing including, for example, speeding up the process for law enforcement authorities to check unidentified fingerprint or DNA data against records held in other Member States. The ability to share information between Member States and with Third Countries for the purpose of tackling organised crime is essential. We need to be sure we do not unwittingly limit our ability to do so.

As well as these formal EU mechanisms there are other means by which Member States can pull together to tackle problems of joint interest. An example which the UK is glad to be involved in, and whose first Director is from the UK, is the Maritime Analysis and Operation Centre (Narcotics).

The Centre, based in Lisbon combines the efforts of seven Member States. Intelligence is shared between the participating countries and each state makes available interdiction assets for co-ordinated operational action. The results of the collaboration have been very successful with many tonnes of cocaine which was being shipped to Europe being stopped. It is a good example of how well planned and executed cooperative exercises can bring real added value. Beyond the EU

Collaborative working within the EU is obviously important but the fact of the matter is that many of our organised crime problems have their origins beyond the EU’s borders.

There is a need to work closely with those countries which affect us at governmental and law enforcement agency levels.

The UK has a number of countries which it regards as priorities and works closely with. That work ranges across a wide number of fronts – securing the commitment of the politicians, providing training and other assistance to law enforcement authorities, and mounting joint operations with them.

SOCA for its part has 140 liaison officers in some 40 priority countries around the world forging close and effective relationships with the authorities of the host nations. This is an approach which the Government very much supports. It is not enough to counter problems as they reach our shores – they need to be tackled close to source as well.

I welcome the partnership brought together by this conference and the ambition it represents. And I wish you luck – not just in your discussions over the coming days, but in building stronger alliances, better understanding and more effective action. Whether it is the scourge of modern day slavery through trafficking, the lives wasted and ruined through illegal drug use or the tragedies caused by guns in the wrong hands, the thread of serious and organised crime runs throughout. It is only through ensuring that our law provides the best tools, our law enforcement organisations are at their most effective and our partnerships are strong that we can meet the threat and tackle the impact on our communities.

Good luck with that task.