The threat to the UK from serious and organised crime continues to grow, and has a devastating impact on the public. It undermines communities, scars neighbourhoods, exploits the most vulnerable people and has a corrosive effect on our economy. It causes more harm, to more people, more often than any other national security threat.
The National Strategic Assessment of Serious and Organised Crime 2023 covers the period January to December 2022, drawing on intelligence and analysis from across law enforcement and other partner organisations, and I am grateful to everyone that has contributed. This assessment ensures our collective response is based on the latest evidence and understanding. It also sets out what the public can do, to reduce the risk of being a victim or to spot and report suspicious activity.
Over the past year, we have felt the reverberations of international conflict, instability and poverty. Organised crime groups capitalised on the war in Ukraine and the cost of living pressures, shifting their campaigns to prey on the well-meaning and the vulnerable, whilst human traffickers and drug smugglers have adapted their routes and methods to maximise profits. The consequences play out on our shores and streets on a daily basis: last year a record 45,755 people used small boats to arrive on UK shores, while drug prices fell and drug production and deaths rose.
The harm to the public is not always so visible. More crime is online, taking place behind closed doors, on the dark net and through encrypted apps. We now estimate that there are between 680,000 and 830,000 people in the UK (1.3% to 1.6% of the adult population) who pose varying degrees of sexual risk to children, and assess that viewing indecent images of children increases the risk of offenders escalating to contact abuse. We have seen cyber criminals offering ransomware as a service online and enabling fraud, and drug cartels using encrypted apps to communicate and cryptocurrency to launder their proceeds. And we have seen major tech companies rolling out end-to-end encryption in a way that they know will make it harder for law enforcement to detect and investigate crime and protect children. Online is the new frontline.
As the threat grows in scale, complexity and reach, so must our response. I have directed the NCA to focus upstream, overseas, and online, where we can best use the NCA’s unique capabilities to reduce harm on our streets and in our communities. That approach is underpinned by a new strategy that will see the Agency degrade the most harmful organised crime groups and lead the UK’s operational response. We will continue to work closely with our operational partners, with Government and with the private and third sectors. By ensuring priorities are agreed, roles and responsibilities are clear, and activity, performance and impact are assessed, we can be confident the whole system will more effectively tackle this chronic and corrosive threat.
Graeme Biggar CBE
Serious and organised crime (SOC) is defined in the 2018 Serious and Organised Crime Strategy as individuals planning, coordinating and committing serious offences, whether individually, in groups and/or as part of transnational networks.
The main categories of serious offences covered by the term are: child sexual abuse; modern slavery and human trafficking; organised immigration crime; illegal drugs; illegal firearms; organised acquisitive crime; cyber crime; fraud; money laundering; and bribery, corruption and sanctions evasion.
SOC threats cannot be considered in isolation and it is increasingly important to target cross-cutting enablers that enhance offenders’ abilities to conduct their criminal activities. Those explored in this assessment are:
Throughout the National Strategic Assessment, the ‘probability yardstick’ (as defined by the Professional Head of Intelligence Assessment) has been used to ensure consistency across the different threats and themes when assessing probability. The following defines the probability ranges considered when such language is used: