Britain is in the grip of a £40billion organised crimewave led by 6,000 gangs, the head of Scotland Yard warned last night. Sir Paul Stephenson spelt out the enormous economic cost to the country of large scale drugs supply, people smuggling, fraud and mass marketing scams as he called for a new approach to tackling the problem.
The Metropolitan Police Commissioner said the estimated cost of organised crime was more than double the £18.5billion budget for the 43 forces of England and Wales last year.
And he revealed that law enforcement agencies believe there are around 6,000 organised crime groups active in the UK with an estimated 38,000 individuals operating within them.
Analysis shows there are nearly 500 organised crime groups with known assets of over £1m and 68 groups with assets of £10m or more, he added.
The Met chief also revealed that last year just £154million worth of assets had been recovered from the estimated £40billion cost to the economy of organised crime.
Sir Paul, who has deliberately kept a low profile since succeeding gaffe-prone Sir Ian Blair as Met chief 18 months ago, made his hard-hitting comments in a speech in London to the Police Foundation.
He said the resources devoted to dealing with organised crime in Britain are 'uncoordinated and, in effect, inadequate and have been for many years'.
'In 2004, the Home Office reporting estimated the total cost of economic and social harm to the UK by organised crime at between £20-£40 billion every year. I think it reasonable to consider this to be a conservative estimate that can only have increased with the passage of time,' he said.
'It breaks down like this: every year class A drug use in England alone costs the Exchequer at least £15billion in social and economic cost. The value of the UK cannabis wholesale market equates to £1 billion, the cost of people smuggling has been estimated at £1.4 billion and trafficking for sexual exploitation £1billion.
'A 2006 study by the Office of Fair Trading reported that mass marketing scams caused losses to UK consumers of up to £3.5 billion every year. Fraud including tax and benefit fraud and counterfeit payment cards is estimated to cost £8 billion, and intellectual property crime £1billion.
'Metal theft costs the economy a third of a billion and there is an economic cost running into millions from the blackmail, extortions, abductions and kidnaps that occur every year. And of course, we have the bill for armed robberies, including cash in transit and artifice burglaries.'
Sir Paul, who fears the fight against major criminals will be hit by huge budget cuts in the police, said: 'Organised crime costs the country dearly - it is, in effect, a surcharge on every item we buy in every store in the country.
'It is sometimes said that organised crime and, in particular, fraud, is a 'victimless crime'; but in reality its effects are felt by us all.
'It reduces the money available to government, distorts the readout on the economy and affects the ability of legitimate businesses to retain market share, leading to higher prices for everyone.
'Organised criminal networks can have global reach, but the effect of their criminality is played out daily on our streets and in our homes.
'And there is a significant consequential impact and cost on all public services, including education, health and social services.
'This local impact represents the end of a continuum that can start on another continent.
'And there is a complex array of criminal relationships and transactions that have allowed events on another continent to ultimately lead to this tragedy in one of our local communities.
'Someone has produced, processed and transported heroin in bulk across continents to the UK, passing it on to middle market suppliers who then pass to a network of street dealers.
'A local market is supported by local crime gangs involved in violence to enforce debts and protect 'turf'.
'A weapon has been procured and then smuggled in to the country, leading to its use ending tragically in an innocent person being killed.'
He referred specifically to the murder of schoolgirl Agnes Sina-Inakoju, 16, who was shot dead at a local takeaway in East London in April this year.
Sir Paul said forces are targeting in an 'operationally meaningful way' just 11% of the estimated 6,000 organised crime groups.
He called for the creation of a nationally coordinated federated structure for tackling organised crime, either from within the police service or as part of an extended remit for the Serious Organised Crime Agency.