Profits of crime seizures start to bite with £19m Yorkshire haul

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YORKSHIRE police forces have seized more than £19m from criminals in the past year, with the controversial Proceeds of Crime Act now seen by financial investigators as a vital lifeline in the wake of savage Home Office cuts.

Figures obtained by the Yorkshire Post have revealed £19,092,634 has been collected from some of the region’s biggest organised crime groups under the Act, which was announced a decade ago but has been branded a high-profile failure in recent years.

The number is nearly double the £11,895,761 confiscated for the previous year, and far above 
the £6,609,097 collected in 2008/2009.

Of the four forces in the region, only Humberside Police has failed to meet its annual overall target – for the third time in four years.

The impact of the Act has been heavily criticised in the past by Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough MP David Blunkett, who helped create it while Home Secretary, saying it had “failed on the ambition” of bankrupting criminals.

In 2009, Mr Blunkett said agencies were recovering at least £350m a year less than expected under the Act.

However the latest figures have been welcomed as a sign it is finally starting to make a major impact on organised crime.

“I’m pleased that the slow and disappointing start has now translated into something very much more rigorous,” he told the Yorkshire Post. “If we can carry on doubling these figures over the next three years, we will get closer to what was originally intended.

“It has taken far longer than ever envisaged but I am relieved it is now starting to work.”

The money raised by the Act is now seen as crucial as forces across the country struggle against 20 per cent Home Office cuts, with more savings soon to be announced on top of the hundreds of millions that have already been lost.

The Home Office still receives 50 per cent of all monies obtained under the Proceeds of Crime Act, with 18.75 per cent going to the police and the rest being shared between the courts and Crown Prosecution Service.

Detective Inspector Ian Wills, who heads the North Yorkshire Police financial investigation unit, denies the suggestion officers are in any way handpicking jobs for the potential proceeds of crime money that may follow.

“We do not do a job because there is money at the end of it,” he said. “It does not come into our tasking process one bit.

“We are not picking these cases but we are getting smarter at latching on to a job and knowing what will be there to confiscate.”

North Yorkshire Police currently funds two posts in its financial investigation unit through the Proceeds of Crime Act, as well as the force’s “Why Should They” campaign which makes £25,000 available for community groups to bid for in the county.

“We survived the cuts pretty well but we are like the rest of the police force and under review,” Det Insp Wills said.

“In a time of straitened budgets this money is as vital as it has ever been. If we lost these posts it would really impact on us.

“I’m confident we will still be producing these figures three or four years down the line.

“We are just working smarter and know what we are doing.”

The Proceeds of Crime Act was introduced by Labour in 2002 to tackle organised crime, giving officers the power to seize cash and recover assets such as luxury cars and houses.

North Yorkshire Police collected £1,301,711 beating its overall target of £1,250,000, while West Yorkshire Police and South Yorkshire Police collected £16,049,436 between them. Neither force set itself direct targets.

Humberside Police collected £1.741,487 against an overall target of £2,486,250.

West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson said he was pushing to increase the sum the force acquires through the legislation.

“It is deeply frustrating the force receives just a small proportion of the proceeds of crime despite all the effort that they put into securing these orders.

“The value of all the orders secured in 2011/12 is £12.3m, but West Yorkshire Police only received £2.159m. Compare this to the Treasury that benefits from the work of West Yorkshire Police by receiving half of everything that is recovered.

“I want to see much more of this money coming back to West Yorkshire and being used for policing and crime prevention in the communities adversely affected by the crime in the first place.”