Efforts to take criminals’ cash ‘are a shambles’

Conman John Hirst, who funded his lavish lifestyle through a multi-million pound fraud, was told to repay �650,000 to ripped-off investors.

Conman John Hirst, who funded his lavish lifestyle through a multi-million pound fraud, was told to repay �650,000 to ripped-off investors.

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SHOP owners should be given harsher punishments if they are found selling banned ‘legal highs’ to minors, Mark Burns-Williamson has said.

Just 26p in every £100 of criminal proceeds was clawed back by authorities last year, according to the Public Accounts Committee.

Few attempts to deprive criminals of the funds are made, with 6,932 confiscation orders placed in 2012/13 compared with a total of 680,000 offenders convicted of a crime, many of which had a financial element.

The committee says those who owe the largest sums are less likely to see their orders enforced than those who owe smaller amounts, with an enforcement rate of nearly 90 per cent for orders under £1,000 compared to 18 cent for orders over £1 million.

A total of £490 million is owed by criminals who have served or are serving more time in prison for non-payment, suggesting sentences provide little deterrence and sanctions need toughening up, the MPs added in a report released yesterday.

And while different departments spent £100 million administering confiscation orders, only £133 million was confiscated.

Chairwoman Margaret Hodge MP said: “All this shows what a shambles exists and how poor the performance of all the agencies involved is. It is unclear who is responsible and accountable for what.

“There is no sense of urgency and little understanding of what works. Information is not shared across agencies, and out-of-date systems make it difficult to communicate across Government.

“We are talking about big sums here, with the National Fraud Authority estimating that £52 billion was lost to society through fraud in 2012-13. The departments need to get a grip urgently and step up their performance so that criminals stop benefitting unchallenged from the proceeds of their crimes.”

The Proceeds of Crime Act allows courts to order criminals’ money and assets be repaid. This year John Hirst, a conman from Brighouse who funded his lavish lifestyle through a multi-million pound fraud, was told to repay £650,000 to ripped-off investors.

The three biggest forces in Yorkshire and the Humber brought in nearly £10m from orders made against convicted or suspected criminals in 2012, but only got £2m back as just under half was kept by the Home Office.

West Yorkshire’s police and crime commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson has launched a petition on the Downing Street website calling for change to the legislation to allow local police, courts and prosecutors to keep more of the money seized.

He says police should be able to seize suspected criminal assets if a perpetrator absconds. He told the journal Police Professional that around £1 million of inaccessible finance is currently in bank accounts across West Yorkshire.

He has also called for a Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs investigator to be embedded within the force so cases could be fast-tracked and intelligence shared better.

Commenting on the committee’s report, he said: “At a time of huge Government cuts to our budget it is vital we get every penny back through this process and I agree that there does need to be an overhaul of the enforcement of confiscation orders.

“We need to end this culture where criminals spend more time in prison because of non-payment and they need to know that their ill gotten gains are not safe and will be found.”

A government spokesman said: “The UK has one of the world’s most effective regimes for ensuring criminals do not profit from crime and over the last three years we have seized more than £477 million of criminal assets - a record amount. We have also frozen assets worth more than £1.5 billion and returned £65 million to victims.”

Shop owners should be given harsher punishments if they are found selling banned ‘legal highs’ to minors, Mark Burns-Williamson has said.

He said the prosecution of a Leeds retailer for selling goods he knew would be used for drugs showed the approach police were taking. This month the boss of Fantasia in Ludgate Hill was convicted of supplying articles used to administer or prepare controlled drugs.

Mr Burns-Williamson said: “The sale of them needs to be urgently reviewed with retailers facing harsher penalties if they are found selling them to minors.”

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