James Brokenshire speech on cutting organised and serious crime

Speech given by James Brokenshire on 3 December 2013 on Cutting Organised and Serious Crime.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP

Thank you for inviting me here today to open a very interesting day of discussion on an extremely important set of issues. To help set the context for your discussions, I would like to cover two main areas.

Firstly, I would like to explain what we mean when we talk about the threat from serious and organised crime. And secondly, I want to outline our response to that threat.

Now is an opportune time to do so - two months on from the launch of the National Crime Agency, and two months on from the publication of the government’s new strategy which outlines the breadth of work to tackle the threat.

A key part of our response and one that I want to talk about in more detail today is our work pursuing criminal assets. Tackling criminal finances and ensuring that crime does not pay is a top priority and at the heart of our work to relentlessly disrupt organised criminals.

The threat from serious and organised crime

But let’s start with the threat. First, some context.

Recorded crime is down, by more than 10% under this government which shows that our police reforms are working. But the threat from organised crime is real and significant. It is becoming more diverse, more online and more international, with entrepreneurial criminals quick to spot weaknesses and exploit new technology.

So the threat is fast-moving. But for many people, it is less clearly understood.

The public immediately understands the threat from terrorism, the dates 9/11 and 7/7 are forever associated in people’s minds with horrific events. With thankfully few so-called ‘signal events’, organised crime manages to pass largely unnoticed from the public eye even though it lies behind so much of what they do see in the media and experience in their own communities: from human trafficking to corruption; banking and online fraud to drug trafficking; child sexual exploitation to large-scale acquisitive crime and, of course, cyber crime.

The list is extensive yet the link to serious and organised criminal activity is not necessarily made. But unless we, and indeed the public whose support we depend upon, fully comprehend the nature of the threat we will not put the correct response in place.

Cost to the UK

We define serious and organised crime in our strategy as ‘serious crime planned, coordinated and conducted by people working together on a continuing basis. Their motivation is often, but not always, financial gain.’

We view serious and organised crime as a threat to national security. We do so because it costs the UK, at a conservative estimate, over £24 billion a year. Or to put it another way, over one pound for every single person in the UK every single day.

Yet these figures do not provide the full picture. It’s what organised criminals actually do.

They corrupt and intimidate. They undermine the role of the state, establishing themselves in some of our most deprived communities as alternative providers of justice, security, housing and livelihoods. And they do this through fear, corruption and control. It corrodes our communities to the point where normal life in some areas comes with the awful acceptance of everyday fear and intimidation.

They are involved in organised and financial crime which threatens the security and legitimacy of our financial markets and institutions. Cyber criminals threaten the public confidence in our online economy which undermines our strategy for economic growth. And of course organised crime is not constrained by international borders.

This is the true pernicious and malevolent nature of serious and organised crime. Intrinsic to this, and something I hope will be a recurring theme throughout today, is that the threat cannot be tackled by any one department, agency or, for that matter, even country. We all have a role to play, working together in partnership, to tackle this threat.

The response

Moving onto the response - firstly - as you will know - the National Crime Agency started its operational life on 7 October. It’s a powerful new body of operational crime fighters and will lead the law enforcement response to serious and organised crime. It is intelligence led - has new powers, new capabilities and covers the full range of threats from organised crime.

And I am delighted that Keith Bristow is here today and will shortly say more on the NCA’s work and its approach.

Secondly – on the same day the NCA went live we did publish a new Serious and Organised Crime Strategy. It is coherent and comprehensive. It uses the framework that has worked in countering terrorism – the so-called 4 ‘Ps’ - to turn the full force of the state against those engaged in serious and organised crime.

We are clear in the strategy that our highest priority is the first P, Pursue – the prosecution and relentless disruption of serious and organised criminals. But it also sets out what we will do to prevent people from getting involved in organised crime; to improve our protection against serious and organised criminals; and to prepare, so that communities, victims and witnesses get the support they need when serious and organised crime occurs.

This framework allows us to set out how we will tackle the full range of threats posed by serious and organised crime.

Now I am conscious that there is sometimes, perhaps rightly, scepticism about government strategies. But as Security Minister I have seen the benefits that this structured, coherent approach provides to combating terrorism and I would encourage you to read the new strategy. There are copies available here today as you are all critical to its success.

Working in partnership

This brings me to one of the key themes of the strategy which is about working in partnership.

It is true that we have established the National Crime Agency to lead the UK law enforcement response to serious and organised crime. It is also true that Government is providing over £26m funding this year to support police forces to increase their capacity and specialist capabilities to tackle organised crime - within Regional Organised Crime Units – and to provide an effective forum for sharing intelligence and coordinating the response between local agencies and national bodies.

However we are clear that we will not tackle this threat effectively if the response is seen as just a matter for the police and the NCA. It’s about what all government departments and local government can do. It’s about our international partners. It’s about the contribution of the private sector, the voluntary sector and regulators. In short it is all of our responsibility. And the Home Office will publish, like it does on counter-terrorism, an annual report on progress so that the public can judge how well we are doing.

I realise that working together is not a new concept, and the term ‘dare to share’ will already be familiar to many of you.

The ability, at a local level, to use the information and powers of many agencies and departments is fundamental to successfully tackling serious and organised crime.

There are already innovative and productive local partnerships providing police forces with support to deal with organised crime. Later on you will hear from Tony Lloyd, PCC for Greater Manchester, on Operation Challenger.

This operation is a great illustration of what I am talking about – multiple agencies working together, sharing information as a matter of course to successfully disrupt and bring to justice those involved in serious and organised crime. These partnerships are essential to the success of this strategy and should become standard practice.

And I am especially pleased that Tony, as a PCC, is here to talk to you about partnership working. The strategy is clear that PCCs should play a leading role in local partnerships, ensuring representatives from the police, local authorities, education, health and social care, and immigration enforcement are brought together at a local level. The effect must be to bring the full range of powers to bear locally against serious and organised criminality.

But partnerships do not begin and end at the local level. This is a cross government strategy, not just a Home Office strategy. Just as we have for counter- terrorism, we will work with our partners in government and law enforcement to turn the full force of the state against those behind the most serious crime.

And it does not end there. Organised crime is a global phenomenon with no regard for borders, so we have to act together at an international level too, with strong international partnerships, both bilaterally with our allies and with multilateral institutions.

This builds on the understanding that we must look beyond our shores if we are to cut crime here.

So I hope we can move beyond any lingering presumption that organised crime is a problem faced solely by the police. Indeed, today’s event starts to prove that point. It is about harnessing your different perspectives, knowledge and powers and using them against organised criminality.

Criminal assets

With working in partnership in mind, there are two other key areas I wish to focus on this morning. The first is criminal assets.

Financial gain is often, but not exclusively, the fundamental motive for serious and organised crime. Our response must tackle this head on and ensure that crime does not pay.

Performance on asset recovery has been stronger over the last three years of this government than ever before. We have recovered over £475 million in net receipts and returned nearly £100 million more to victims. In addition we have frozen in excess of £500 million year on year to put it beyond the reach of the criminals. This is hitting criminals where it hurts.

But more can and must be done. The existing legislation is under sustained legal attack from criminals who are constantly seeking new ways to avoid its reach and frustrate the recovery of their assets. In many cases we have found that criminals fight far harder against asset recovery than they do the criminal sentences that put them in prison, which to me is a clear signal that we are on the right track.

Criminal assets are also being moved overseas beyond the easy reach of law enforcement agencies in the UK. Some countries are willing safe havens for criminal property.

We will strengthen the legislation by closing the loopholes that allow criminals to exploit the current framework, and by substantially strengthening the prison sentences for failing to pay confiscation orders. We will also reduce the time that criminals have to pay those orders.

There does still remain though a significant gap between the orders that are made by the courts and the amount that is collected, leaving a growing stock of unenforced orders. We need to accept that some of this may never be enforced and if we leave it accumulating interest year-on-year then it risks becoming a millstone around the neck of law enforcement and prosecuting agencies.

So we have asked the NCA to analyse the stock of unenforced orders to identify those that are realistically enforceable. Once identified, the courts, The Crown Prosecution Service and the NCA will work together to enforce them, relentlessly. And we should be open to new ideas and options to tackle the harder to reach orders including more innovative partnerships with the private sector.

We are also working with our counterparts overseas to encourage them to enforce our orders overseas and we are testing a new approach to this with Spain. Levels of assets recovered are low but they are improving. We want to ensure that criminals are deterred from moving their assets by making perceived safe havens a hostile environment.

Attacking criminal finances also means attacking the means by which criminal profits are laundered – whether it is through legitimate banks; high street cash-rich businesses; or money service businesses. We will target specialist money launderers. And we want to work with the banking, legal, accountancy and other professions, and their regulators, to expose and bring to justice those who are complicit in facilitating organised crime and laundering money. How confident can we all be that there are not people in our own organisations wittingly or unwittingly facilitating organised crime?

Criminal finances

And a final point on criminal finances. It is not just about recovering money. Success is also about disrupting criminal activity. And not just against the biggest criminals – the tools can and should be used at all levels of criminality. Financial investigation should be at the heart of disrupting serious and organised crime and we want to make sure that it is within the mindset of all law enforcement officers, from the very beginning of any investigation.

We also need to improve our collective ability to investigate and cut economic crime more broadly. We intend to take the fight to the fraudsters, with the National Crime Agency spearheading the crackdown. Yesterday, the Home Secretary announced the closure of the National Fraud Authority and realignment of its responsibilities to reflect the creation of the National Crime Agency. The NCA, in particular its Economic Crime Command, will bring a single national focus to cutting economic crime, working closely with other law enforcement bodies, the public, private and voluntary sectors. While the NFA has been successful in raising awareness of fraud, the focus now has to be on investigating and cutting economic crime. This is why I think this change does matter and why the alignment to the NCA is important. The strengthening of structures like Action Fraud, by co aligning it with the City of London Police, will further strengthen our response.

Cyber crime

The second key issue is cyber crime, and I notice that the fourth session today focuses on this very issue so I will endeavour to be brief.

To begin with it is important to clarify exactly what we mean when we use the term ‘cyber’, as it is a phrase commonly used to describe two different, but related, things.

Firstly there is cyber-dependent crime, which can only be undertaken with the use of computers or other information communication technology. This includes the creation and spread of malware for financial gain, denial of service attacks to take a computer system down, or hacking into a computer to steal data. Secondly, there is cyber-enabled crime, which is existing crime transformed by the use of technology. Examples include online banking fraud and what the industry calls “internet-enabled card-not-present fraud”.

To help understand this threat it is also important to be aware that for the people affected we are not just talking about economic crime, which can be devastating in its own right.

Last year the British Pregnancy Advisory Service was subject to a cyber attack where 10,000 records were stolen. These records held information on woman who had been seeking advice on acutely private matters such as contraception, sexual health and abortions. This is information which no one else has a right to know and if released into the public sphere could be very harmful to those involved.

Fortunately in this case the police had the capabilities in place to provide a rapid response to arrest a suspect before information was made public, but I think this example shows the potential for very real harm that can be caused by cyber criminality in a very direct sense.

National Cyber Security Programme

To combat the threat from cyber attacks in November 2011 the Government launched the National Cyber Security Strategy, which sets out our approach to increasing the cyber security of the UK.

The strategy is supported by the National Cyber Security Programme, through which the government has committed £860 million over five years (from 2011 to 2016) to deliver a step-change in the UK’s cyber capabilities. A wide range of activity is taking place across Government to support this work.

Once again, working in partnership is essential to achieving our aims in this area. A large proportion of intelligence on cyber, and the potential solutions, sit with industry and through the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, we are regularly talking to businesses across all sectors to raise awareness of the threats to reputation, revenues and intellectual property from cyber attack, and what they can do to protect themselves.

In addition the new Cyber Security Information Sharing Partnership, the so-called CISP, launched in March 2013, will be the main forum through which the government will facilitate the sharing of intelligence with and between businesses in real time on cyber threats and vulnerabilities.

Alongside this, GCHQ is working with industry, academia and other government organisations on further related projects.

We have also published advice to both large businesses and smaller firms on how to safeguard their most valuable assets. Guidance aimed at board members of FTSE 100 companies, called the 10 Steps to Cyber Security, was launched in September of last year. There is now also a tailored version of the guidance for Small and Medium Sized Enterprises, which was launched in April.

Now I could go on to talk about a range of other priorities but I know you have an interesting and comprehensive agenda for the rest of the day which you need to get started on.


But before I leave though I would like to conclude by reiterating the point I made earlier around partnerships. As I hope I have conveyed, serious and organised crime is a pernicious and corrosive threat which cannot be tackled by one organisation or one agency acting alone.

Of course the NCA and other organisations will take the lead in tackling the threat, working relentlessly to disrupt criminals, bringing them to justice and seizing their assets no matter what form their crimes may take.

But it takes everyone, from international institutions to individuals, working together to show anyone who is looking to profit from organised crime in the UK that they have no where to hide.

We have a shared responsibility to do so and I believe that together we can make it a reality.

Thank you.

Published 3 December 2013