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Department of Security and Crime Science

Organised Crime

16 January 2006

Prior to the seminar we had circulated a list of possible topics, asking people who might be interested in the seminar what they would see as their priority concerns. The top three topics were:

  • Money laundering
  • Fraud
  • Identity theft

The day's programme was designed around these topics but allowed for a brief session at the end of the day for other topics to be picked up.

About 30 people attended the seminar with a good balance between research organisations, business, law enforcement agencies and central government. To stimulate discussion we had invited a few people to lead the discussion by contributing their ideas on the current level of knowledge about organised crime.

Stephen Webb, Home Office, Head of Specialist Crime 2 (Organised and Financial Crime)
Organised crime: what research the Home Office is carrying out

Stephen commented on the valuable role that research has in increasing the knowledge base on organised crime. The Home Office's priorities were to identify: how big a problem organised crime is and how to measure the harm caused by organised crime.

The Home Office's research programme includes:

  • Work on the social and economic harm caused by organised crime
  • The size of the organised crime market
  • The public's perception of organised crime
  • How criminals are demotivated - their perception of risk and vulnerabilities in the market
  • A number of impact evaluations of various initiatives, for example, on prison intelligence.

The discussion arising out of this presentation focused on:

  • The value of the Home Office meeting with funding bodies such as EPSRC and ESRC to agree ways to make best use of funding for research
  • How the Home Office funds and commissions research. The procurement process was seen as unsupportive of the commissioning of genuine research.
  • The problems of carrying out research, in particular the difficulties in negotiating access to information or crime data
  • The limited pool of academics working in the field of organised crime and the possible value of consortia

Organised Crime: What we know and don't know
Professor Dick Hobbs, LSE and Durham University

Dick gave a broad history of organised crime as well as questioning some of the terminology and definitions. He commented on the few academics carrying out this work and the lack of knowledge about it. He referred to organised crime as a 'secret vice' - the denial of the label 'organised crime' for the activities that make it up. He also talked of the heavy London bias in the available literature with very little material on other areas such as Leeds or Liverpool.

Points raised on the current position included:

  • There is little acknowledgement of the complexity of organised crime background operators - lawyers, accountants etc - who are part of 'normal' society;
  • The high status of front line operators is a false diversion; the focus should be on the organisation behind them;
  • The need to look at markets in organised crime, for example, money laundering
  • Organised crime is no longer the prerogative of working class communities as in the past
  • The term 'organised' is a bugbear: the focus needs to be on individual activities rather than global organisations which do not exist.
  • Trading networks still have a role to play. It is helpful to see organised crime as a series of local activities which link together: the local can't be dismissed despite globalisation and organised crime is part of the fabric of society

The subsequent discussion focused on:

  • Differences in the way the police and academics describe organised crime, which effects how it is tackled.
  • Whether a 'map' of how organised crime operates across the globe would be useful

Money Laundering
Roger Aldridge, Associate JDI, formerly at SOCA and Matt Fleming Research Fellow JDI

Roger set out the background on the work of the Financial Asset Task Force and the development of the Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) regime; EU directives and, in the UK, the Terrorism Act 2000 and Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, which made seizing criminal assets easier, created civil recovery, created the Asset Recovery Agency and simplified money laundering prosecution.

What we know about money laundering

  • Asset recovery performance is good
  • There is recognition that the police need to do more
  • The impact of incentivisation
  • The SARS regime still in need of improvement

What we don't know

  • Is regulated sector targeting of suspicious activity more signal or noise?
  • How do criminals spend and launder their money - are we looking in the right places and for the right signals; do specialist launderers drive activity, or is most money laundering really just self-laundering?
  • How do we make the most effective and efficient use of the reports made by the regulated sector (some scoping work is underway at the JDI)
  • Does the AML regime reduce crime?
  • What does the AML regime currently cost?
  • Where does the AML fit in to the harm-reduction agenda?

What we need

  • A programme of work on understanding the Elmer data which captures SARs
  • A programme of work on holistically understanding the implications of the data-generating process (ie how reporters decide to report)
  • A programme of work on understanding offender financial behaviour

Fraud and identity theft
Professor Mike Levi, Cardiff University

Mike gave an outline of research areas in different countries on fraud and identity theft:

United Kingdom research

  • Risk and security: payment card fraud, retail/SME, on line 'regulation'
  • Business victimisation surveys
  • Research by government agencies

European (non-UK) research

  • Privatisation
  • Tax evasion
  • Corruption

Australian research

  • Securities fraud
  • Small business fraud

North American research

  • Cybercrime
  • Telemarketing
  • Securities fraud

Research needs

  • On the needs of diverse government departments
  • Fundamental research on patterns of fraud and why they occur at particular rates
  • How much harm is caused by different types of fraud
  • What is the relationship between those who commit fraud and organised crime/terrorism and how has this relationship changed over time
  • How are existing and potential criminals likely to respond to business and formal control changes such as the introduction of chip and pin
  • How and with whom are frauds organised
  • How crime is detected and recorded: under what conditions is industry information given to policing bodies; under what conditions does the policing body take action and with what effects.

Issues raised in the discussion

  • If big savings for companies are possible if they tackle fraud, why is it so difficult to get them to do it?
  • Are there ways to intervene quicker in the life cycle of frauds?


After briefly touching on other topics that attendees had raised, the session ended by highlighting a continuing problem for researchers in carrying out research: that researchers are reliant on agencies for data and there are sometimes practical problems of accessibility, ownership, quality and timeliness. The need is for a different relationship to be forged between law enforcement and academics.

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Page last modified on 22 jul 10 12:38