Saturday, May 28, 2011

Why I want the Government to commission an independent review on the effectiveness of present drug policy

The present Government policies on the use and possession of illicit drugs have failed utterly.

As a former detective in the Metropolitan Police, I saw at first-hand how the policies of criminalising people for possessing and using proscribed drugs resulted in wholly discriminatory and socially-excluding enforcement, whereby the young, the marginalised and black communities were targeted, while the white middle-class users of illicit but socially-accepted narcotics were ignored and allowed to continue unmolested.

More to the point, as an active detective focusing on financial crime and money laundering, I realised that by insisting on enforcing the policy, drug criminalisation was helping to pour a torrent of raw cash into the pockets of organised criminals. The more we criminalised the problem, the more money the drug pushers made, while the resultant costs of crime escalated.

It was the most futile and ridiculous policy, but no-one had the courage to challenge it publicly, because politicians on both sides of the House of Commons were scared to engage in a real debate, for fear of alienating the opinion forming leader writers in the scaremongering media. The Home Office too had set its mind against any form of debate, and indeed, any informed person in a position of public authority who has dared to challenge the status-quo, finds themselves being marginalised. Professor David Nutt is a recent and classic example.

It was when I became actively involved in the issue of interdicting money laundering, and seeking to prevent the profit flows from the narco-trade, that I began to realise the real truth. The anti-money laundering laws were routinely flouted by the banks, because the flow of drug money was so important to their bottom line. Frankly, without the drug trade, many medium-sized banks around the globe would have gone out of business years ago.

in the UK drug cash is generally calculated by HMRC to be in the region of £6.5 billion, annually. It is only when you appreciate the size of the narco-cash flows that you begin to get a handle on just how big and how widely extended illicit drug taking is. Most children at our schools have experienced drug sales taking place in their grounds. Many of them have taken drugs during school time. At university, it is almost a sine-qua-non that drugs are routinely available in every hall of residence, depending on your narcotic of choice. Many young people prefer to drop Ecstasy prior to going out because pills are cheaper than the alcohol they would have to buy at the club.

This is one of many reasons why the so-called war on drugs is an abject failure and continuing along this road of criminalisation is a hugely expensive waste of valuable police time and resources.

That is one of the many reasons why we urgently need an evidence based health focussed approach to drug policy and for the decriminalisation of drug possession, and why I am proud to be associated with the efforts being made by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) to promote this outcome.

Friday, May 27, 2011

At last, a real role model for young women!

A remarkable piece in the 'Times' today by a schoolgirl called Aneesah Siddiqui.

Ms Siddiqui is 15 years old and a pupil at Elizabeth Garret Anderson School in North London, and she was one of the young women invited to go to Oxford University and meet Michelle Obama.

She says; '...before Wednesday, Oxford University was totally beyond my aspirations. I knew about its elite status, but I believed that, because of the expense, I would never get there...'

Mrs Obama has shown this young woman how wrong she was.

Michelle Obama captivated her young audience, speaking not with the voice of the wife of the most powerful man in the world, but as a high-achieving black woman from Chicago, who thinks that to be intellectually smart is to be cool, who believes that to aspire to the best that is within you is the way to achieve, and who believes that anyone can acquire the glittering prizes if they want them enough.

Ms Siddiqui says this; '...I finally met my role model...when she was delivering her speech, I was transfixed...I couldn't believe she cared so much about my school in Islington...'

This young woman has experienced her Damascene moment. '...As I asked my question, she made me feel so confident that I forget there were cameras in the room...she made me forget my fears...She said we were all future leaders and must start now...'

We should be truly grateful to Mrs Obama that she has this ability to connect so closely with young women standing on the verge of choosing their future direction in this world. This woman has managed to find a way to finally provide a real role model for young teenagers who could so easily be swayed in other directions and away from the hard path of acquiring education through real scholarship.

This is the real point - education is not easy to acquire, it involves hours of long, hard private study, and the time spent in the classroom should only be a beginning, an initial chance to observe a structure on which to build a greater edifice of self-imposed learning. Education for its own sake is worth investing in, Ms Siddiqui has already decided to choose the hardest 'A' levels she can undertake, maths, physics and biology, and what's more, she has inspired an existing student to mentor her in her university application.

We need more women like Michelle Obama. Our children are surrounded by distractions that hold out the poisoned apple of the lure of celebrity with its tawdry moral values and its cheapened distorted images. It makes such a change to hear a woman throw down the challenge of the path of education, instead of peddling trashy stories of '...my mental torment because I have big boobs...' or "... 'I spend my waking hours thinking of Pete', says Jordan..."

This kind of junk, which overflows off the shelves of our newsagents, and fills the front pages of every web search engine with up-to-the-minute expose├ęs about Cheryl Cole, merely cheapens the world of young women and offers nothing in the way of motivating them to aspire to higher opportunities. These publications exploit their readers who do not realise that they are being encouraged into dumbing down, rather than searching for the best that is within them. There must still be more teachers and lecturers out there who have not forgotten what real study can do for a young enquiring mind!

One thing is certain. Mrs Obama has enthused a whole class of young women from an Islington school. She has fired up the imagination of Ms Aneesh Siddiqui, and her enthusiasm will not be tamed. Listen to her last words ;

'...Before I met Mrs Obama I thought that I would have an ordinary job. But now I want to be something that really makes a difference in the world...If I hadn't met Michelle Obama, you would probably have never heard (of me). But now - just watch this space..!'

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Managing the new fraud risk - Towards a new Tower of Babel!

I was invited to a seminar at the London School of Economics this week. The Mannheim Centre had invited the new Commissioner of the City of London Police to address the issue of '...The role of the private sector in the future of national policing economic crime capability...'

Frankly, the content was unremarkable in many ways, I mean it's not as if it's the first time we have discussed the possibility that private sector assets could be used more effectively in providing fraud investigative services, the results of which could be handed to the national prosecuting agencies for further action.

At a time of dwindling resources and severe cut-backs in publicly-funded resourcing, I am firmly of the view that the investigation of most fraud perpetrated against the commercial sector should be the responsibility of the businesses themselves, and that the police should be used almost exclusively in cases where there is a major public interest at risk or where the investing public is being fleeced.

I say this because in so many cases, a significant amount of fraud in the commercial world takes place because those responsible for the prudential management of their business affairs either refuse to spend the money necessary to implement truly effective anti-fraud measures, such as computer system protection; or they simply fail to undertake normal precautionary measures designed to protect themselves.

One example is the simple precaution of ensuring that proper checks are carried out on the provenance and the solvency of their new customers. All businesses are required by law to demonstrate a high level of what is called 'Know Your Customer' due diligence, before taking on a new client, but very few of them do very much more than the most perfunctory checks before undertaking business transactions. If you don't believe me, look at the number of major financial services businesses which have been required to undertake hugely expensive KYC remedial reviews after a regulatory inspection, because their extant KYC information was insufficient.

The other reason of course is that the financial services industry is itself one of the greatest committers of wholesale fraud against the public. When the banks can calmly announce the setting aside of a sum not far short of £6 billion to recompense the victims of their latest so-called 'mis-selling' scam in PP insurance, an activity that would be called 'institutionalised fraud' in any other walk of life, but for the identity of those committing it, it seems reasonable that they should bear the financial responsibility for funding the means of investigating other frauds committed against them. But this was not my primary worry!

What did provide me with the greatest degree of concern however was the emphasis being placed on the direction in which the future investigation and prosecution of fraud will take. This should not be taken however to mean that there are no plans for component bodies or other agencies whose input will need to be considered, taken into consideration and consulted in the future.

The City of London police has become the ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers) lead for economic crime with responsibility for setting what is called a national policing strategy in response to what the National Fraud Indicator Report assesses amounts to £38 billion annually. This report is published by another agency, the National Fraud Authority, which is an executive agency of the Home Office. The NFA transferred from the Attorney General's Office to the Home Office on 1 April 2011, and it apparently 'works with the counter-fraud community to make fraud more difficult to commit in and against the UK.'

As well as the National Fraud Indicator Report, we have the annual UK Threat Assessment and the City of London Police responds to that through its Economic Crime Directorate. The ECD comprises over 200 staff split up into dedicated fraud investigation teams, a Cheque and Credit Card unit, a Money Laundering Unit, and Asset Recovery (Confiscation) Unit and an Overseas Anti Corruption Unit. At the same time the ECD provides officers to a multi-agency Dedicated Cheque and Plastic Card Unit (DCPCU) which is funded (ironically) by the banking sector.

The ECD has a remit to enforce, prevent, disrupt and investigate economic crime at all levels nationally. It claims to have close working relationships with all related agencies including the Serious Fraud Office, the Financial Services Authority and the Serious and Organised Crime Agency. How much longer these relationships will last is a matter of conjecture as we hear that the SFO is about to be split up, with its prosecuting arm being merged with the Crown Prosecution Service, although even this is not clear, coming after a stop-start plan by the Home Office to create a new National Crime Agency incorporating the UK's main economic crime agencies, into which the SFO's intelligence function would be merged.

However, other agencies have lobbied hard for exclusion. Last year the FSA's enforcement division was the first agency to escape incorporation into the new body. Earlier this year reports suggested the OFT's criminal enforcement division would not be included either. An increasing body of opinion is growing in support of the SFO remaining independent.

The City Police have also been commissioned and funded by Government as part of what we were informed was a '...Strategic Review of Fraud...' to create a National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, designed to record millions of records on fraud reported to the national call centre called 'Action Fraud', and the City Police are in discussions with Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs as well as the Department of Work and Pensions to record all public sector fraud intelligence.

The Commissioner acknowledged that there will have to be more discussions with Regional Asset Recovery Teams and Regional Intelligence Units to overcome regional jealousies.

Throughout the entire presentation, I never once heard the Commissioner utter the magic words, 'Arrest' 'Charge' or 'Prosecute'.

Oh there was lots of well-meaning and contemporary jargon about 'liaison', and 'consultation' and even 'multi-agency approach'. But, in the end, what came across so clearly was just the enormity of the project that, for whatever reason, this country has finally carved out for the investigation and prosecution of fraud.

Those of us who used to investigate and prosecute major fraud in the old days remember how hard it was just to persuade the old DPP's office to charge a foreign criminal. Talking to the Department of Trade and Industry was just a waste of time, and they were the only people we really had to share information with. Now, this new 'alphabet soup' of agencies, with competing agendas, and all needing to be consulted, means that even less will be achieved than before.

These new agencies will merely become even more hurdles to effective anti-fraud action, they will simply become a huge 'talk-shop', a massive, unwieldy 'Tower of Babel' , all competing with each other for resources, all struggling for primary status, jealous for promotions, keen for foreign travel to even more conferences, work-shops, and seminars, while all the time, the financial sector will continue to fleece its clients with even more mis-selling activity and other kinds of financial wrong-doing.

How do I know? Well I asked the Commissioner whether his new vision of the future involved taking on the biggest fraudsters in the Square Mile, and focusing attention on the major retail banking groups and their £6 billion set-asides to cover their fraudulent activities.

His answer was to shake his head and say that such work would continue to remain with the traditional City Regulators and that his new monolith did not anticipate taking on the banks or the other financial institutions..

Well, that's alright then!