Memorandum submitted by the Association
of Chief Police Officers
The fluctuating fiscal situation between the
United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland has provided a source of
income for some who live in the vicinity of the land border that
has existed between Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland since
1921. The border has been exploited in the words of one author
by "working each side to the middle and paying no one."
It is a well-recorded fact that this manner
of income benefits the personal lifestyles of many individuals
associated with paramilitary activity in the region. Consequently,
paramilitary organisations have become increasingly reliant on
this form of income as it offers greater potential for profit
than support-group activity, and similar profits to more overt
forms of criminal activity such as robbery and the supply of drugs,
but with less risk.
Northern Irish paramilitaries, and their colleagues
based in the Republic of Ireland, favour the tax evasion profits
gained from illicit dealing in tobacco, alcohol, road fuel and
counterfeit goods. For the purposes of this paper these commodities
will be jointly referred to as "contraband goods", and
the tax evasion activities as "smuggling".
The Police Service of Northern Ireland and Her
Majesty's Customs and Excise are better placed to outline the
extent of such activity in Ireland. However, it is interesting
to note and compare the Northern Ireland Organised Crime Task
Force Threat Assessment
and the National Criminal Intelligence Service UK Threat Assessment.
Both point towards the increasing influence of organised crime
groups in such activity, including paramilitary links in the Northern
Ireland context. NCIS estimates for the United Kingdom as a whole
that 19 per cent of all identified organised crime groups are
engaged in excise fraud and that 21 per cent of drug trafficking
gangs also engage in excise evasion through smuggling where profits
are similar, but the risks in terms of penalties are less.
The market places of Northern Ireland and Southern
Ireland are not sufficient to sustain such contraband goods activity.
Already it is assessed that Northern Ireland (population 1.7 million)
has reached saturation point for illicit fuel. Legal fuel deliveries,
for instance, have fallen by 50 per cent since 1994, despite an
increase of 20 per cent more vehicles on the road. The criminal
activity has by necessity expanded to the broader market places
of Great Britain (population 58 million) and potentially to all
of Europe (700 million).
To those engaged in "smuggling" and
"contraband goods" activity the role of the British
mainland has developed from being the land-bridge between mainland
Europe and Ireland to being both the processing area and market
place for such goods. Diesel, for instance, is obtained, laundered
and traded by groups in Great Britain with links to Irish paramilitaries
without the need for the commodity to touch Ireland. Tobacco and
alcohol likewise may only involve the United Kingdom and third
countries not including Ireland.
Mainland based criminal networks, familiar with
local supply and distribution, are recruited to assist the criminal
activities of Irish paramilitaries. Presumably, the profit-making
opportunities outweigh any sense of outrage caused by terrorist
activity in Great Britain. This may be symptomatic of the fear
engendered by suspected links with terrorism, or may be due to
the fact that to date the Real IRA attacks in GB have been sporadic
and have not succeeded in causing serious injury. Either way,
the availability to terrorists of networks designed and practised
in the clandestine movement and distribution of contraband goods
and people across borders is one of great concern to police in
There are clear indications of the involvement
of paramilitary figures being engaged in diesel laundering, tobacco
and alcohol operations based on the British mainland. The ratio
of criminal activity compared with direct terrorist activity,
or the provision of funding to the terrorist groups or cells,
is likely to be small. The profit from such activity dwarfs the
cost of conducting terrorism, and the illicit operations themselves
effectively mask any direct or indirect involvement in terrorism.
Police services on the British mainland follow
the ACPO-led police national counter-terrorist strategy, which
is based on Prevention, Proactivity and Post-incident investigation.
Furthermore, the activities of mainland police
as described below contribute towards the Strategic Priorities
of the Northern Ireland Organised Crime Task Force.
The current Real IRA (RIRA) campaign conmmenced
its mainland phase in June 2000 with a bomb attack on Hammersmith
Bridge followed by a further seven attacks culminating in the
potentially deadly car bomb attacks in Ealing and Birmingham.
Police recognised that the activities of the
Real RIRA in particular were marked by the preoccupation of individual
RIRA members with the types of criminal activity previously described.
Opportunities were identified aimed at:
disruption of dealing in contraband
goods as a terrorist support activity
disruption of such networks that
may allow the movements of terrorist material or personnel
provision of further intelligence
A National Special Branch counter RIRA strategy
was launched in October 2000 with the Security Service and police
forces nationally under the leadership of ACPO (Terrorism and
Allied Matters) Committee, which included activity designed at
attacking dissident smuggling.
The attack on smuggling is truly multi-agency
involving United Kingdom police forces including the Police Service
of Northern Ireland, and also An Garda Sochana, the Security Service
and Her Majesty's Customs and Excise. Police activity is co-ordinated
and supported by the Metropolitan Police Service Special Branch
and the National Co-ordinator of Ports Policing.
Intelligence developed by a number of police
services throughout Great Britain and Northern Ireland working
together with the Security Services, HMCE and Ministry of Defence
resulted in the interception of a lorry hauling a substantial
quantity of cigarettes returning to Northern Ireland. It was suspected
that a sizeable delivery to the British mainland had already taken
A number of carefully targeted and co-ordinated
operations have been conducted at all United Kingdom seaports
covering specific periods of assessed heightened activity. This
increased police/Customs activity was complemented inland by traffic
police of various forces aimed at detecting displacement. It is
assessed that this activity was instrumental, in support of other
activity in the United Kingdom and Ireland, in preventing attacks
on the British mainland both at Christmas 2000 and during the
United Kingdom General Election period 2001.
NOVEMBER 2000 TO
In excess of 1,300 target vehicles
stopped and searched
56 seizures of contraband goods
19 vehicles impounded by HMCE
90 drivers reported for offences
Two seizures of note included two
million cigarettes concealed inside generators seized at Dover;
16,000 litres of sulphuric acid destined for a diesel laundering
plant seized at Liverpool.
Nationally, police services contribute to the
provision of intelligence leads, often gained from their criminal
investigation roles. They also assist Her Majesty's Customs and
Excise to develop intelligence and execute actions against suspected
smuggling activities throughout Great Britain.
A diesel laundering facility jointly raided
by HMCE and police recovered 30,000 litres of illegal diesel and
An illicit alcohol bottling plant raided by
HMCE recovered 18,000 litres of illicit alcohol being prepared
for distribution in England.
Two lorries intercepted on successive days in
northern England led to the recovery of 11 million cigarettes
concealed within legitimate loads.
Metropolitan Police Special Branch Financial
Investigation and Special Access Unit (FISAC) has a close working
relationship with the Police Service of Northern Ireland in the
investigation of terrorist funding, specifically where it applies
to the British mainland. Identified terrorist funding is investigated,
where appropriate bringing together the joint forces of FISAC,
Anti-terrorist branch, Police Service of Northern Ireland, Her
Majesty's Customs and Excise, regional police forces and others
In the case of the Irish related terrorism Metropolitan
Police Special Branch maintains, in conjunction with the Security
Service, a pre-emptive national counter-terrorist role, in support
of all other United Kingdom police forces.
Consequently, a squad of officers dedicated to the investigation
of intelligence leads and co-ordination of national strategy exists
and works in close partnership with the Security Service. The
Metropolitan Police Service Anti-terrorist branch comprises experienced
criminal investigators dedicated to the investigation of terrorist
offences in London and elsewhere in Great Britain as required.
All United Kingdom police forces have Special
Branches of varying sizes working in support of national strategies.
Information relating to the fundraising activities of terrorists
is shared broadly within police forces, particularly those methods
of fundraising outlined in this report, where the activity can
potentially come to the notice of police in the ordinary course
of their duties.
The national counter RIRA strategy has involved
police officers beyond those dedicated to such specialist areas
of operation. Information is actively sought and acted upon from
criminal investigators and uniform patrolling officers. Likewise,
traffic police are utilised in the disruption activities against
suspected transportation of contraband goods resulting in many
seizures throughout Great Britain.
The powers available to Her Majesty's Customs
and Excise in terms of issuing penalties, confiscation of vehicles
and assets and initiating criminal proceedings tend to be appropriate
to the majority of the offences detected. However, the powers
to investigate and bring proceedings under the Terrorism Act 2000
where the links to terrorism can be proved are considered where
Much has already been said about the high levels
of co-operation that exist between police on the British mainland
and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, An Garda Sochana,
the Security Service, and Her Majesty's Customs and Excise. Relationships
also exist among many other agencies who provide excellent support
to police initiatives including the Ministry of Defence.
The Metropolitan Police Service is not presently
represented on the Northern Ireland Organised Crime Task Force,
although the Special Branch counter RIRA strategy that it promulgates,
demonstrably supports the strategic priorities of that group.
In relation to Great Britain, Irish terrorist
fundraising mainly manifests itself in the form of "smuggling"
and the dealing in "contraband goods". This activity
is most evident among Irish republican groups. It is identified
as a particular hallmark of dissident republicans, specifically
the Real IRA, from whom emanates our highest current terrorist
threat. Police activity on the British mainland, in partnership
with other agencies, actively contributes to the investigation
and disruption of "smuggling" and dealing in "contraband
goods" and goes some considerable way to enhancing the security
of the mainland. Our activities are focused on combating the financing
of Irish related terrorism, disrupting the activities of organised
criminals in Great Britain and Ireland, and maintaining the security
of mainland Great Britain. As such we believe that we make a valuable
contribution towards the Strategic Priorities of the Northern
Ireland Organised Crime Task Force and the Metropolitan Police
Service would welcome an invitation to support this work as a
fully participating partner.
The criminality described in this paper is not
solely used for the funding of terrorism. Particularly in the
case of dissident republicans it is the main means of income for
many of those who are also involved in terrorism. It begs the
question whether the criminal enterprise would be as successful
without the intimidating background of terrorism.
The nature of the criminal offences, based around
tax evasion, is often viewed as victimless in the communities
which deal in "contraband goods". The consequent "normalisation"
of such crime as experienced to an extent in Northern Ireland,
presents its own challenges. As seen in this paper the criminal
conspirators are immune to the terrorist activities of their new
partners in crime. If the Northern Ireland experience is repeated
in Great Britain, intimidation and a degree of "licensing"
by paramilitaries could follow.
It is essential for the security of Great Britain
and Northern Ireland for mainland police to engage in activity
that frustrates, detects and punishes "smuggling" and
dealing in "contraband goods". The efforts of police,
Security Service and Customs are directed at this problem and
work effectively, although other organisational priorities such
as the international terrorist threat, public fears of crime and
revenue recovery need to be addressed concurrently, and place
inevitable strains on resources.
Given the personal enrichment involved, evidential
proof that terrorism lies at the receiving end of at least part
of such funds may not always be convincing. The penalties imposed
for such offences should therefore reflect those of other serious
crime to ensure that raising funds through smuggling, particularly
where linked to paramilitaries, is not seen as a "low risk,
high gain strategy".
Finally, it is worthy of noting that the vast
majority of cigarettes and fuel "smuggled" come from
legitimate and not counterfeit stocks. We would welcome the opportunity
to develop further effective partnerships with suppliers aimed
at identifying disparities of distribution caused in legitimate
markets with a view to preventing the threat caused, not only
to economic well being of the country, but also to national security.
1 Toby Harnden, "Bandit Country", Hodder
& Stoughton, 1999. Back
Northern Ireland Organised Crime Task Force Threat Assessment,
NCIS Threat Assessment, May 2000. Back
Report of working group to review the work of Special Branches
in Great Britain, 1994. Back