A new Freedom of Information request has revealed that the Metropolitan Police has cut the number of financial officers it employs from 91 to just 30 in the last decade, despite a rise in scams.
This means that Britain’s largest police force, which often deals with international crime and supports cases across the UK, has lost two-thirds of its dedicated fraud fighting force.
The investigation undertaken by The Times found that while fraud accounted for about a third of crimes in England and Wales, forces across the UK were more focussed on other offences, such as terrorism and county-lines drug gangs.
Keith Ditcham, Director of the security think tank Royal United Services Institute, said police forces needed to change their priorities. He said: “Fraud is a crime that is on the rise and it would appear the resources don’t match the level of the threat,
“I don’t think it’s seen as sexy and police chiefs and crime commissioners have focused their attention elsewhere, such as terrorism, counter-narcotics and county lines.
“But fraud accounts for one-third of all reported crime — one in 10 of us is estimated to be a victim of fraud. I have made submissions to ongoing enquiries that more needs to be done to retain financial officers as at the moment they are being poached by the private sector.”
To give some scale to the growth of fraud in London, in 2018 there were 46,579 offences of fraud reported to the Metropolitan Police – nine per cent higher than the previous year.
A separate report by Thomson Reuters conducted in 2019 also found that “some fraud teams were only able to conduct one investigation at a time, with more complex ones not being pursued at all”.
Charles Thomson, a partner at the law firm Baker McKenzie and author of the Thomson Reuters report, told The Times: “Budget cuts are taking their toll on police forces, who are having to downsize fraud teams while fraud cases continue to rise.
“The result is that police forces may not always have the capacity to investigate complex fraud cases and are more likely to focus on the investigation of other offences, which are likely to be less resource-intensive. There is an urgent need for more police funding in this area and without this, the situation will only get worse.”
Roger Isaacs, Forensic Partner at Milsted Langdon, said: “Even when the perpetrator of a fraud has been identified, the police and prosecution authorities are all too often reluctant to press charges and spend limited resources on a trial. One reason for this maybe that fraud trials are notoriously challenging and often require forensic accountancy expert witnesses to explain complex financial transactions to lay juries.
“The cut in the number of financial investigators at The Met is likely to exacerbate its unwillingness to bring prosecutions and may mean that victims of financial crime have to consider Private Prosecutions as an alternative remedy.
“The cost of a Private Prosecution is usually recoverable from the government (win or lose). However, typically it is only large charities and companies that can afford the initial outlay in legal costs, especially if there is no prospect of a financial recovery. That said, criminal proceedings can be a powerful deterrent and, in some cases, can be used to recover assets using the provisions of the Proceeds of Crime Act.”