Collaborative Effort Needed To Stop Crime Gangs Exploiting Communities - Long

Following a recent discovery the illegal drugs had been hidden in a shipment of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), Justice Minister Naomi Long has called for a collaborative effort to "stop crime groups exploiting our community".

According to the Organised Crime Task Force (OCTF), operations between 2019/2020 included: recovered approximately £2.2 million under Confiscation Orders; helped rescue 111 potential victims of modern slavery; recorded 8,177 drug seizure incidents and 250 successful interventions such as searches, arrests and seizures have resulted in frustrating, disrupting or dismantling organised crime groups. 5.7 million cigarettes, 65,000 litres of alcohol and over 2,000 items of counterfeit goods were prevented from entering Northern Ireland.

Addressing the issue Minister Long said: "The fact that criminals would stoop so low as to exploit the circumstances created by a pandemic shows they care about nothing other than lining their own pockets. PPE is an essential part of keeping people safe from the virus so to use shipments of it to conceal drugs is beyond reprehensible. But as this latest report shows OCGs will exploit vulnerabilities wherever they find them.

"I would like to thank each and every one of the OCTF partner organisations for their contribution to the work of the Task Force. Now in its twentieth year, the OCTF continues to demonstrate that working together with a common purpose is the best way to deliver results. This report highlights how a shared strategic response to the threat posed by organised crime groups in Northern Ireland makes a tangible difference to individuals and their families, communities and businesses.
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"It is critical that we strive to make organised crime unprofitable and to bring criminals to justice. Next year, new legislation will be introduced to enhance powers for law enforcement agencies here, bringing Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK. Unexplained Wealth Orders, account freezing and forfeiture powers, and the ability to seize criminal assets are just three of the additional measures that will be available to strengthen collective efforts to tackle organised crime. In addition work will continue on proposals for new organised crime offences.

"While there are elements of EU Exit that remain unclear, it is essential that we understand the evolving risks and threats of serious and organised crime. The operational work to prepare as far as possible is happening across relevant agencies. The OC Taskforce (and its reporting structures) is a space to ensure agencies are collectively, as well as individually, alive to emerging threats and taking any action necessary to manage and mitigate the threat.

"We all need to continue to embed a culture of lawfulness and to challenge any perceived legitimacy around organised crime. Buying counterfeit goods, cigarettes, or alcohol, funds criminal groups who are engaged in exploiting young people in our communities, in drug trafficking, and in the trafficking and exploitation of people.

"We all need to work together to prevent criminals profiting from their illegal activities, and to bring to justice those who continue to wreak havoc across local communities. 

"As Justice Minister I will continue to do all I can to support the OCTF partners so that we can all live in a safer Northern Ireland where we respect the law and each other."

Crime Department Assistant Chief Constable Barbara Gray, PSNI, said : "Organised Crime Gangs exploit people and often focus on some of the most vulnerable people living in our communities. They cause harm and fear for their own selfish gains. Their criminality knows no bounds as has been witnessed during the Covid-19 pandemic when they have continued to make money regardless of the pressures on the lives of others. The Organised Crime Task Force is committed to disrupting and frustrating the criminal gangs involved. This year's Annual Report recognises the contribution and significant successes of the law enforcement agencies over the past 12 months including the seizure of illegal drugs, rescuing victims of human trafficking, and seizing counterfeit goods."

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