HC Deb 27 November 2002 vol 395 cc292-3W
19. Chris Ruane

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what progress has been made in combating organised crime. [81617]

Jane Kennedy

The Organised Crime Task Force (OCTF) which I chair has a clear strategy in place to tackle organised criminal activity. This is laid out in the OCTF threat and strategy documents, which were published on 23 May 2002.

Following on from the successes of the 2001–02 financial year when 57 criminal networks were subject to detailed law enforcement investigation and 43 had members arrested, the law enforcement agencies continue to score many notable successes against the organised criminals.

For example, in May 2002, during a series of joint search and arrest operations, the Police and Inland Revenue successfully uncovered widespread misuse of tax certificates in the construction industry, estimated to cost the Exchequer in the region of £10 million. In this operation, four people were arrested.

In October 2002 one man was arrested following the detection of two fuel laundering plants. In the same operation, 30,000 litres of fuel and equipment used in the laundering process were seized by Customs Officers, assisted by PSNI. There have been many such seizures.

Also in October 2002 the police smashed a loyalist extortion racket in the construction industry. Three individuals, allegedly involved in obtaining money by the use of threats, were arrested in north Belfast.

The Task Force recognises that public support for the work of the law enforcement agencies is an essential ingredient for overall success against organised criminals. In September this year an OCTF website was launched. This is an important development, which will open a "shop window" for the OCTF and permit two way communications between the Task Force and the public. In October I hosted an OCTF awareness evening for the business community in Armagh and I plan to host a second awareness evening early in the new year in Ballymena.