To effectively tackle serious and organised crime in the UK it is important to target cross-cutting enablers that enhance organised crime groups’ abilities to conduct crime. Those covered in this section include:
These sections detail how cross-cutting enablers aid serious and organised criminals to exploit the vulnerable, dominate communities, chase profits, and undermine the UK’s economy/infrastructure.
The UK Border
If you live near the coast, waterways or an airfield and see anything suspicious please report it to your local police by calling 101 or 999 if there is an immediate risk of harm or danger.
You can also contact Crimestoppers quoting Kraken (if near a waterway) or Pegasus (if at an airfield).
Criminal Use of Technology
Insider Threat and Law Enforcement Corruption
You can report any information about individuals abusing their positions to your local police by calling 101 or 999 if there is an immediate risk of harm or danger.
You can also contact Crimestoppers.
Commodity-based serious and organised crime in the UK, such as the sale of drugs and firearms, relies on international flows of illicit goods and the ability of organised crime groups to circumvent controls at the UK border.
As COVID-19 pandemic travel restrictions lifted, opportunities for criminals to move illicit commodities and irregular migrants via traditional routes returned to pre-pandemic levels. Despite border staffing pressures, particularly at UK airports during peak travel periods in 2022, there has been no significant changes in smuggling methods.
During the pandemic, organised crime groups showed flexibility in their ability to adapt their smuggling methods and shift between different forms of transport to exploit the UK border. In some instances, organised crime groups have continued using the routes which were effective during periods of government enforced travel restrictions.
One such example is the increased use of small boats to facilitate organised immigration crime, rather than a return to pre-pandemic levels using road and ferry transport. Subsequently, some organised crime groups diversified to using general maritime vessels to facilitate organised immigration crime to the UK.
The nature of the UK coastline and the accessibility of many maritime ports means that the threat of organised crime groups exploiting general maritime for smuggling commodities is high; the capability and intent to use this mode is already demonstrated in other international jurisdictions. The impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on global supply chains in 2020/21 meant that more organised crime groups switched to general maritime to keep their commodity flows open.
In 2022, the demand for additional staff at travel hubs, particularly airports, was widely reported. It is likely that organised crime groups saw this as an opportunity to have complicit associates apply for roles in the industry. The risk may be compounded by the cost of living increase, making financially impacted staff more susceptible to approaches from organised crime groups.
After leaving the EU, the UK ceased to recognise European Economic Area and Swiss national identity cards as documents for entry to the UK. These were some of the most regularly exploited documents seen at the border and often used by organised crime groups. In their absence, there have been more counterfeit passports detected at the UK border. These are professionally made and include many different nationalities.
The use of ‘hub to hub’ freight routes and multi-load consignments continues to enable organised crime groups to move illicit commodities to the UK. This involves smuggling illicit goods within a shipment and hiding them amongst multiple legitimate consignments. Such shipments are moved to the UK from a legitimate freight hub on the continent, for onward distribution within the UK. This distribution is primarily facilitated via the UK’s road networks using HGVs, where commodities are often taken to locations away from the ports, and distributed in smaller amounts around the UK via cars and vans.
Technological advancements in container shipping will likely result in organised crime groups reacting to avoid law enforcement targeting measures. The global fleet of smart containers is forecast to grow over the next five years to 8.7 million, accounting for 25% of all containers by 2026. This should give shipping companies and law enforcement agencies greater visibility of global container movements. Organised crime groups are likely to consider this when planning smuggling operations, and will actively aim to avoid placing illicit commodities into containers which can be monitored by law enforcement agencies.
Technology is a key enabler in serious and organised crime. Criminals continuously adapt to and take advantage of technological developments and changes in user behaviour. Working with intelligence and commercial partners, law enforcement needs to be agile in its approach to identifying and adapting to technological threats and opportunities in an increasingly complex operating environment.
Criminals access a variety of easy to use and often inexpensive methods in an effort to anonymise their communications, hide their identities and evade law enforcement. They increasingly take advantage of communication tools ranging from virtual private networks and commercially available secure messaging applications with end-to-end encryption as standard, to more sophisticated devices costing thousands of pounds. Developments in technology use by serious and organised criminals can present opportunities for law enforcement activity, leading to successes such as Operation VENETIC.
As online and offline activity increasingly overlaps, many in society are at greater risk from online crime. The internet offers criminals a global reach to steal personal information to identify and exploit victims. Both UK and international offenders are targeting UK society, ranging from individual victims of fraud to cyber crime against UK industry. Children in the UK and overseas are at risk of being exploited by child sexual abuse offenders, who victimise them via online offending and seek out potential victims to commit contact abuse. The dark net continues to enable child sexual abuse, cyber crime, fraud and illicit commodity sales.
Technology trends and behaviour that evolved during the global pandemic have continued to develop. Cryptocurrency remains an important facilitator for criminal transactions, through laundering funds, paying for goods and services on the dark net and making ransom demands. Their legitimate use also provides criminals with fraud and theft opportunities.
Extended reality technologies, such as augmented and virtual reality, have been identified as evolving threats, particularly in child sexual abuse. This technology provides the ability to manipulate or merge virtual and physical worlds. These spaces are highly likely to become integral as the existing technology develops and becomes more immersive.
A developing feature of modern technology is the ease with which it can be used, providing greater opportunities for illegal use. The increasing adoption of automation and smart technology, whilst reducing the opportunity for human interference, increases the risk of cyber crime through the manipulation of underlying IT systems.
Publicly available technology, such as GPS tracking devices, are increasingly exploited by organised crime groups due to their availability and low cost.
Corruption and the use of ‘insiders’ in both the public and private sector enables organised crime groups to carry out their offending.
Employees in job roles that can be used to facilitate the activities of criminals, such as in law enforcement, the Prison Service, logistics and at the UK border are particularly vulnerable to targeting by organised crime groups. Corrupt insiders are used to facilitate the movement of illicit commodities, divulge sensitive information and circumvent security measures, reducing the likelihood of law enforcement detection.
Individuals working in sectors such as accounting, banking and legal services are also vulnerable to targeting by organised crime groups, as these roles can provide valuable assistance in complex money laundering and fraudulent activity.
The UK continues to face the challenge of its financial services and corporate structures being exploited to launder the proceeds of both international and domestic bribery and corruption.