Former police chief says UK financial crime too great for 'public purse'

Fraud costs UK £137 billion each year yet precious little resources are allocated to tackle it

Fraud is the most common crime in England and Wales. Getty Images

The money required to tackle fraud in the UK is too great for the "public purse", a former City of London police commissioner has said.

Cowed by the "volume and scale" of the problem, successive governments have shown little "appetite or ambition" to tackle the problem, Ian Dyson told the Royal United Services-led webinar "The Future of Economic Crime Policing".

Fraud is the most common crime in England and Wales, costing the UK economy an astronomical £137 billion each year, National Audit Office data show.

Police crime statistics suggest fraud accounted for 15 per cent of all crime in 2020-21, while an Office for National Statistics Crime Survey put the figure at a hefty 39 per cent.

Yet there is a significant disjunction between the prevalence of financial crime and the resources allocated to fighting it: a measly 0.8 per cent of the total police workforce have been given the task of tackling it.

The discrepancy boils down to a policing ethos which another former chief would like to see changed.

"There's a big difference between what the public value and what adds value to the public," said Mick Creedon, former chief constable, Derbyshire Police.

"Too often, what the public value takes precedence over what adds value to the public - they are separate areas completely."

This is why fraud hasn't been given the attention it deserves, Mr Dyson said.

"Other crime types make for more uncomfortable headlines for both politicians and chief constables, frankly, and you've only got to look at the media in recent weeks: child protection, safety of vulnerable people, the response times to emergencies, the trust and confidence of communities these are things that are occupying the minds and require investment from forces," he said.

"Headlines about the number of frauds just do not seem to resonate in the same way."

Return on your reinvestment

The response to fraud at a criminal policy level has been to focus on a centralised approach. To this end, in 2019, the National Economic Crime Centre was instituted.

It has worked in concert with other national bodies including the National Crime Agency and the Serious Fraud Office. However, they have failed to bring about the "step change" that Dr Sue Hawley, chief executive of Spotlight on Corruption, believes is needed to make significant headway.

She thinks that reinvestment is key and suggested that if a quarter of what the SFO brought in fines annually were to be reinvested, "it would lead to another 217 investigators".

It is also an area of public investment she thinks would pay dividends and "where you will see big returns" given the billions of pounds a higher number of successful investigations could recoup for the exchequer.

Local approach to a local problem

Mr Dyson sees more investment as hugely important but is wary of the trend of centralisation and the tendency to view fraud as a crime in isolation.

He says local policing has been a somewhat forgotten part of the fraud-fighting ordnance.

"When I was in the City [force] ... it was only in about 50 per cent of the cases that the suspect was identified as coming from a jurisdiction outside of the United Kingdom," he said.

"About four or five years ago, we arrested 112 UK nationals who were working on a big boiler room scam in Spain. And apart from the ringleaders of that volume scam, a lot of the people that were employed in the call centre were the sort of people who frankly would have been breaking into cars and houses in their local area, but were tempted to come and work in the south of Spain, do that work in a call centre in the mornings and then in the afternoons lounge on the beach.

"So I think there is a local dimension that is often overlooked."

When it comes to taking action, Mr Dyson is sceptical the government has what it takes to grasp the nettle, He appeared unaware, however, that it has recently introduced its long-awaited economic crime bill in an attempt to crack down on Russian oligarchs following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Whatever tack is taken, he hopes it won't be a "one size fits all" approach.

"I'm not in favour of an economic crime agency or anything like that. The skills, capabilities and intelligence needed to tackle high-end money laundering, or to tackle international criminality, is a world apart from the skills and capability needed to tackle somebody who's defrauded somebody," he said.

"I go back to my point about a lot of fraud is quite local and can be tackled locally."

Former City of London commissioner Ian Dyson (R) - with Boris Johnson and Priti Patel in 2019 - believes a local approach to fraud has been overlooked. Getty Images

Mr Dyson would like to see state involvement be more preventative and pastoral, raising the issue of fraud in local constabularies and helping victims who have been defrauded.

With regard to the latter, he acknowledged that the City of London Police has "pioneered" a national economic crime victim care unit that is now being rolled out across the whole country and is "a good example of where they're starting to really show and demonstrate to local people, local communities, local policing about the importance of fraud".

Updated: April 29, 2022, 5:58 PM