This article will take a look at the history of organised crime in London, alongside the most pressing organised crime threats. This includes drug and human trafficking, and money laundering. This piece will conclude with the UK’s strategy to combat such crime, a potential hope to lessen the burdens of organised crime in the city of London.
As well distinguished British crime author Duncan Campbell said back in 2019, “London has become the global capital of money-laundering and the beating heart of European organised crime…crime is an essential part of the British economy” (source). London is the largest city in the United Kingdom (UK), holding roughly about nine million people. With crime steadily increasing across the city (source), Campbell seemed to have been on the right track when he said that London is the center of organised crime in Europe (source).
1.0: Organised Crime in Numbers
A brief overview of telling statistics in relation to organised crime in London:
- 45, 730 drug offenses recorded by police in the 2021/2022 year alone (source).
- In 2021, 3,060 of recorded deaths were related to drug misuse (source).
- Of the drug misuse-related deaths in 2021, 45.7% of those deaths were related to opioid usage (source).
- In the National Crime Agency’s (NCA) 2022-2023 Annual Plan, in the 2021/2022 year, 237 tonnes of illegal drugs were seized (source).
- In the 2021/2022 year, over 120 firearms seized (source).
- In the 2021/2022 year, 202 tonnes of Class A drugs seized overseas (source).
- In the 2021/2022 year, 1, 159 children rescued/safeguarded (source).
- There are close to 5000 organised crime groups (OCGs) that are active in the UK alone. There is also an incredibly high presence in London, England (source).
- Recorded crime offenses reached to 912, 487 in the 2019/2020 year, which is a clear-cut crime surge compared to the number of criminal offenses in the 2016/2016 year – 743, 728 (source).
1.1: History of Organised Crime in London
By doing research on the history of organised crime in London England, regardless of the year or even century, there is always a mention of how crime rates are increasing. It is as if there is always an increase in crime throughout various periods of time in London. This can be a result of changes in population size, poverty rates, political tensions, etc. It is important to consider that London seems to be the ‘hotspot’ for having an increase in crime rates consistently throughout periods of time compared to any other city in the United Kindom.
For the sake of this article, below is a summarized list of the history of organised crime in London. This is starting from the 1900s:
- 1900s – At this point in history, ‘drugs’ such as opium traveled and could be purchased easily (source). Therefore, the view on these sorts of drugs was not viewed as ‘illicit’ or harmful the way they are today (source).
- 1901 – 250 crimes per 100,000 people (source).
- 1912 – International Opium Convention, committing nations to eliminate the trade of cocaine, morphine, and opium (source).
- The 1920s-1930s – An influx of homegrown gang violence (source).
- The 1930s – The Heavy Mob, with Billy Hill and Gypsy Hill as the head leaders (source). This was the mob that ran London’s organised crime scene up until the 1960s (source).
- The 1940s – Following the end of WWII, organised crime rates skyrocketed (source). The war weakens police forces, prisoners released (such as gang members), and the promises of the black market are alluring (source).
- 1950 – 1000 crimes committed per 100, 000 people (source).
- The 1950s – over 500,000 indictable offences (source).
- The 1960s – Seen as the peak of air travel, making it easier to smuggle drugs (source).
- The late 1950s-1960s – The Kray brothers and their gang, the Firm emerge. They take over the organised crime scene of London from the hands of the Heavy Mob and Billy Hill (source).
- The 1980s – The Hunt Syndicate gang founded, under head gangster, David Hunt (source). Involved in prostitution, fraud, and money laundering (source).
- The 1990s – The Triads emerge. A highly feared organised crime group, engaging in the smuggling of illicit drugs, murder, and money laundering (source).
- 2005 – Serious Organised Crime and Police Act established new penalties for those involved in organised crime. (source). It also added more offences including the offence of conspiracy to commit organised crime (source).
- 2020 – The Albanian mafia continues to have a strong hold on London’s cocaine trafficking scene (source).
- 2021 – Ndrangheta using London as its main base for laundering money (source).
- Present-day London – A rough estimate of close to 5000 OCGs are active in the United Kingdom (source).
London Police Officer 1899// National Archives of London
1.2: Organised Crime Cases: 2023
- January 25th – NCA raids the city of London, and arrests individuals involved in human trafficking and cannabis production (source).
- February 13th – Most wanted fugitives to appeal posted by the NCA (source).
- February 16th – American jailed for attempting to smuggle $948,613.00 (USD) worth of cannabis into Heathrow Airport (source).
- March 18th – Radek Dobias caught for the importation of live ammunition and a semi-automatic gun (source).
- March 21st – NCA caught a shipment of gold ($4 million worth) that is connected to South American drug cartels (source).
- March 29th – NCA’s National Economic Crime Centre and the London Police arrest 290 people for being involved in a complex fraud scheme (source).
- April 3rd – A couple from the greater London region arrested for money laundering during the pandemic (source).
- April 4th – The NCA shuts down the Genesis Market. Market designed for criminals to purchase stolen identities and credentials (source).
NCA at work
1.3: Albanian Mafia
Out of the almost 5000 OCGs in the United Kingdom, almost 300 are active in London alone (source). As this article would turn into a novel if an attempt to describe all of these OCGs was made, one OCG will be looked at with a closer lens: The Albanian Mafia.
Often argued that the Albanian Mafia developed in the 1990s during the fall of communism (source). Although the Albanian Mafia became more prevalent in the West during this time, their origins go back further than the 1990s (source).
Early developments took place in the 1960s back in Albania (source). It was not until the 1990s that the Albanian Mafia became more established (source). In 1999, the Albanian Mafia began its journey to becoming the most dangerous and fearsome OCG in the West (source). They built strong ties with other OCGs including the Italian Mafia, Ndrangheta, and the Sinaloa Cartel, just to name a few (source).
The Albanian Mafia is highly likely at the top of the UK’s drug trafficking trade, and taking hold of London’s drug scene in particular (source). According to the NCA, the Albanian Mafia is in great control of the cocaine and marijuana markets (source).
Hellbanianz, an Albanian London street gang, is one of the OCGs ‘helpers’ behind getting cocaine and marijuana trafficked into the streets of London, in the name of the Albanian Mafia (source).
What makes the Albanian Mafia different from the classic mafia of the 1920s and 30s, is that they are using social media as a means to recruit and show off their fortunes (source). They are incredibly tech-savvy and are younger than ever (source).
Albanian Mafia Symbol
2.0: Drug Trafficking
The NCA has highlighted the most relevant organised crime threats for the UK and London as a city – one of them is drug trafficking.
A major source of revenue for OCGs happens to be through drug trafficking (source). It is also important to note that there is a strong relationship between organised crime groups, their illegal finances, and terrorism (source). OCG’s finances oftentimes fund terrorism operations, making this threat a top priority to control (source).
In fact, drug trafficking, according to a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report, has stated that terrorist violence and insurgency uprisings have only been able to perpetuate their violent acts due to the illicit funds that come with drug trafficking (source). This was the case for the Madrid bombings in 2004 for example (source).
If individuals or groups are involved in drug trafficking, they are most likely involved in other crimes such as modern-day slavery, firearm trafficking, and immigration-related crimes (source).
Cocaine, marijuana, and opium – top three drugs trafficked throughout the city, and the UK (source).
2.1: Human Trafficking
The terrifying thing about human trafficking is that no actual numbers can be reported. Reporting these numbers is difficult due to how common this is and how often it takes place (source).
Victims trafficked from southeast Asia, eastern Europe, and Africa (source).
British citizens typically approached in person (source). A lot of the time, they end up in the sex industry, finding it difficult to escape (source).
Although OCGs tend to be involved in human trafficking cases, there has been an increase in “looser collaborating networks” as said by the NCA (source).
Below is a video, further explaining human trafficking and signs to look for:
2.2: Money Laundering
As defined by the NCA, money laundering “underpins and enables most forms of organised crime, allowing crime groups to further their operations and conceal their assets” (source).
City of London – the property market highly exploited by criminals (source). This is attractive to criminals and as well as OCGs as it is a large financial association (source).
Money laundering is an incredible threat as it contributes to the collapse of financial institutions, to terrorist acts, and puts society at risk for poverty and a further struggle to live well (source).
Below is a video with further information on money laundering and how it works:
NCA Webpage: https://www.nationalcrimeagency.gov.uk/what-we-do/crime-threats/money-laundering-and-illicit-finance
3.0: The National Crime Agency (NCA)
The NCA, is the National Crime Agency of the United Kingdom, one of the main agencies that focus on serious and specifically organised crime in the UK (source).
Founded in 2013 and recognized as a non-ministerial government department (source).
It has been quite a successful agency in mitigating serious and organised crime-related threats. In fact, in 2021, the NCA celebrated its most successful year, with a 40% increase in disruptions or rather, ‘crack down’ on OCGs (source). This is also the year that new technology capabilities were developed and introduced to the NCA (source). An important attribute of disrupting criminals (source).
Below is a video with more insight into the NCA:
NCA Webpage: https://nationalcrimeagency.gov.uk/what-we-do
3.1: Joint International Crime Centre (JICC)
The most recent strategy developed to combat OCGs and organised criminal acts is the Joint International Crime Centre.
Launched on April 3rd, 2023 at 1:25 p.m. (source). Although it has barely been a month since the launch of this center, it is a strategy that holds great potential. It provides hope for the city of London, as well as the United Kingdom as a whole.
What is it?
- Provides the UK with a strong allowance and capability to cooperate with international law enforcement agencies (source).
- A contribution to transnational organised criminality (source).
- A center for shared data processes and systems (source).
- A multi-agency approach (source).
- Provides offender management, policy, guidance, partner support, watchlisting, data analysis, biometric data sharing, inbound intelligence development, analysis, etc (source).
3.2: The Future of London
The ‘future’ of London is hard to predict. Of course, there are those of us who hope that the strategies and rapid developments being put in place to mitigate the threats and burdens of organised crime essentially work. However, it will be interesting to see what the next five years will be like for London. Technology is always advancing and members of OCGs are becoming much younger and more ‘tech-savvy.’
Furthermore, the role of social media will highly likely continue to play a great role in the recruitment processes of OCG members. It will also be a way to connect people to things like the Dark Web and other illegal online markets such as Telegram.
Law enforcement agencies will need to continue to be vigilant on the matter. Moreover, it is important for the public to also be aware of these threats as they are very much involved. They tend to be the main victims.
As NCA’s once general director, Lynne Owens said, “People should understand that serious and organised crime kills more of our citizens every year than terrorism, war, and natural disasters combined” (source).
It is crucial to understand that organised crime is a serious matter and especially in the city of London. London is a hotspot for organised crime. It also has an influence on the criminal activity that takes place in other areas of the United Kingdom, and the rest of the world.