The National Crime Agency published its annual assessment yesterday, as it claimed the number of criminals involved in serious, organised crime has almost doubled in the UK over the past year.
The NCA says there are at least 350,000 offenders involved in organised crime such as fraud, drugs, trafficking and gang violence.
It also said there are now 4,772 known organised crime groups operating, with a quarter involved in violence.
The number of individual offenders, which has been given as a minimum figure, is up from 180,000 from last year, including at least 300,000 people with a sexual interest in children.
Drugs were linked to a “substantial proportion” of cases that involved serious violence.
It comes after a Yorkshire Superintendent told The Yorkshire Post last month that gangs were resorting to more “extreme” methods of violence in turf wars.
Supt Damon Solley, who is Lead for West Yorkshire Police’s Operation Jemlock, said: “The gang culture is such that if you ‘cross us’, ‘dismiss us’ or ‘encroach on our area’, then you should expect violence. Unfortunately, we are seeing that the violence is becoming more and more extreme and, in some cases, horrific.”
In yesterday’s report, NCA director Lynne Owens said it had “never been clearer” that these levels of crime posed “an international threat that disregards boundaries and borders”.
She said: “Serious and organised crime continues to kill more people than any other national security threat, and has a corrosive impact on the UK and its citizens.”
One of the high-profile cases cited in the report was the jailing of three men who ran a dark web business selling the lethal drugs fentanyl and carfentanyl, which had been mixed with bulking agents at an industrial unit in Leeds before being shipped worldwide.
Lee Childs, Jake Levene, and Mandy Lowther, were jailed for 43 and a half years collectively in January last year for selling the drug, which the NCA said could be up to 50 times stronger than heroin.
Meanwhile, the report also drew attention to the issue of vulnerable people being exploited by criminals, both as victims, and as people being forced to carry out crime on others’ behalf.
It said: “Along with our knowledge of the subject, it is highly likely that the scale of the threat from child sexual abuse continues to increase. Fraudsters are highly likely to exploit a victim’s emotional state to commit romance fraud, or to target the elderly to commit courier fraud.
“Young people are intimidated into becoming ‘runners’ in county lines drug supply, or groomed into becoming ‘money mules’, helping criminals to launder their profits. Recent examples have seen children as young as 11 being exploited by criminal groups involved in drugs and acquisitive crime.”
While the majority of criminal gangs were made up by members who were predominantly British nationals, the report also said that around two-fifths of gangs are thought to be non-British.
“The international dimension to SOC is highlighted by the fact that both British and non-British OCGs often have a presence in multiple countries,” it added.
“OCGs with upstream overseas command structures, supply chains and networks can be hard to dismantle.”