Since it is a quiet Easter Monday, no doubt all pious contemplation with hardly a synapse to spare on the crude worldliness of politics, I thought I'd indulge in another 'Redux' post and recover what I hope is an interesting and apt post from my archive, of revived relevance to contemporary issues.
Given the increasing emphasis in the ongoing scandal surrounding Steven Purcell on the former Glasgow City Council Leader's organised crime connections and the professional drug-pushers which seem to have furnished him with his cocaine, I thought this post from June 2009 might be of particular relevance. Reporting on the first ever published "mapping" of serious organised crime in Scotland by the authorities, it ought to give us at least a slightly improved sense of what we are talking about when trading in the terms of organised criminality. Moreover, I think it is crucial for those of us who don't make a habit of reading the local tabloid media to understand that the style in which they report organised crime stories deviates significantly from those employed by the BBC et al. For that reason, we may not be fully appreciating the context in which Purcell's venal stupidity is being understood by the tabloids' more regular readers. Who are, after all, all potential voters.
Scotland's Organised Crime Map...
“There is organised crime, if groups that are primarily focused on generating profits, systematic use violence, that have severe consequences for society, and are capable of masking these crimes in a reasonable effective way, in particular by willing to use physical violence or rule out persons by means of corruption.”. (Fijnaut, C. et al. (1996) Inzake opsporing. Eindrapport georganiseerde criminaliteit in
. Den Haag: Sdu. Bijlage V.) Nederland
So how would this apply to
Organised Crime in Scotland & the Media...
Interestingly, in my researches into how the Scots media talks about organized crime a few years ago, there is a radical discontinuity of approach between popular tabloids and the broader pages of the Herald and Scotsman. I found that more detailed reporting of organised crime characters in Scotland is largely populist, covered in the tabloid press in detail, often in a relatively cursory fashion by the more upmarket broadsheets. Associated are the shelf load of Scottish “real crime” books available, with their wistful, “No Mean City” authenticity, classically speaking Glaswegian patter. While the former often give extensive detail - however doubtfully it might be viewed - the latter section of the media tends only to give bare facts, ages and the ‘gangster’ moniker. Context, in particular, is shorn away in the broadsheet accounts. If the tabloids can be viewed as tending towards “folk-hero” depictions of certain known, identifiably Scottish characters – the middle-class papers simply render the criminal actors as unspecific, empty and ultimately unintelligible. Exceptions are sometimes made for well-heeled offender. You may recall the Newton Mearns solicitor who was implicated and convicted after a high-profile “drugs-bust” in Barlinnie prison. She carried the heroin into the prison during Sunday visits to her incarcerated clients. Less attention was paid, however, when the “ringleader” of the prison gang, one George “Goofy” Docherty, was violently murdered in the centre of
Information in the public domain, however, remains fairly limited. To give you some idea of the curious potential and creative ways which groups transport their goods, a particularly vivid example is provided by the case of Torres v. H.M. Advocate (1998). The master of the boat Dimar-B was convicted of sailing from
In general, I’m obviously not in a position to judge the police evidence one way or the other on how well it actually represents the world. A few obvious limitations can be pointed out, however. As I mentioned, we don’t know what definitions or conceptualisations of organised crime the police are using, and hence, what they are excluding. Secondly, obviously the reporting is based on knowledge, and hence, won’t record as yet undetected criminal enterprises. Thirdly, I find the division of reports rather suspicion. For example, the Serious Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency are recorded as contributing 59 groups. Were there crossovers in reporting? If so, who takes precedence in the “recording” of a group, the local police force or the SCDEA? It isn’t potentially hugely significant, however there is room for disparity.
The fourth, broader point emanating from this, is the understandable but essential weakness of the evidence – it skims across the surface, flitting as a skater, leaving only a blur of colour, and none of the important qualifying texture. However explicably in terms of keeping operational knowledge quiet, and whatever the ostensible increasing transparency of the exercise – I’d propose a measure of quiet scepticism about the figures as presented. Nevertheless, exploring the detail a little more closely is, I think, potentially revealing…
Scottish Serious Organised Crime Mapping Exercise: Analysis of the Detail
Per the brass-throated Old Testament prophets, the headline is that the report identifies 4066 individuals involved in 367 “serious organised crime groups” attended by 241 “specialist links” constituted of crooked lawyers, blind-eyeing money scrubbers, shameless profit turners and over the barrel process servers. The research, they suggest was conducted between November 2009 and April 2009. The trickling information streams flowed from
Of the total 367 “groups”, the breakdown per force and associated agencies is related as follows:
Lothian and Borders Police 35
Tayside Police 29
Grampian Police 16
Northern Constabulary 25
Central ScotlandPolice 15
92% involved in drug crimes = 336/367
8% not involved in drug crimes = 31/367
48% involved in drug importation and/or distribution 176/367
53 and 20 SOCGS known to source cocaine and heroin outside the
125 groups involved in dealing cannabis
If we are defining “drug crimes” here as offences under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, there is a relatively limited list, and about seven primary offence categories. There are (a) restrictions on importation and exportation of controlled drugs (b) restrictions on production and supply of controlled drugs (c) restriction of possession of controlled drugs (d) occupiers who knowingly permit the foregoing on their premises (e) smoking opium, or lounging in opium dens (!) (f) prohibitions for supplying articles for administering or preparing controlled drugs and (g) various regulatory offences. So if we take “involvement in drug crimes” as the larger category, and believe that 176/336 (52%) are distributing or importing – and distribution, after all, can encompass the very large and the very small forms of substance dissemination - what are the other 48% listed as engaged in criminalised “drug” activities up to? Particularly since there is apt to be cross-over within these categories, this is difficult to tease out. Presumably also, if the macro-category is a binary “engaged in some drug crime or engaged in no drug crime”, there are wildly varying levels of actual criminality. On this measure, even if one of their “associates” was known to enter commercial relations for the sale of cannabis, the whole organisation could be coded as an organisation involved in drug crime. Moreover, variation in extent is obviously not accounted for in the public figures. Hence, the implications are difficult to scrutinise closely.
81 (22%) involved in money laundering.
161/367 SOCGS involved in serious violence or murder (44%)
77% of groups involved in violence were from Strathclyde area
Difficult to analyse the bald statement, since it is difficult to determine whether “violence” here is given the same meaning as “serious violence” is above. If so, and we “read into” our analysis that the 77% figure relates to the anterior statistic, then 124 violent serious organised crime groups are based in the Strathclyde region. Compare this to the total identified by the Strathclyde force, this would suggest that 124/152 of the groups identified by the mapping exercise in Strathclyde are violent. That is a whopping 82% of the total for Strathclyde which are identified as violent. When compared to the total figure, violent criminal organisations emanating from Strathclyde would make up 34% of the total serious organised crime “picture” in
42 SOCGs involved in theft (11%) and 40 in fraud (11%)
19 involved in sexual offences, 10 involving human trafficking
202 have access to firearms – that is 55% of the total.
Interestingly, far more than are identified in the violence or serious violence categories earlier. Turning to the statistical information about individual characteristics of our 4,066 professional criminal souls, the archetypes are perhaps predictable. Males constituted 89% of the “personnel” mapped out, suggesting also that the age range amongst these persons is mid to late 20s. 82% of these are identified as White European (3334) while 383 were identified by the moron-moniker of “BME” – presumably meaning “black and minority Ethnic”. This constitutes around 9.4% of the total. Almost half of this second category were foreign nationals. Counting up the maths, the odd thing is that between these two groups – one doesn’t reach the total “headline” figure of 4,066. The “white European” category amounts, by my reckoning, to 3334, which when added to the 383, amounts only to 3717 persons. Leaving us shy a not insignificant 349 souls in the reported statistics. Where are they? That “ME” – minority ethnic – is potentially vastly encompassing. On the surface, however, we don’t know who is or who is not included in it and whether it is a big “ethnic other” category, or whether further distinctions were made and are simply not being reported. Its impossible to guess accurately a priori, leaving another unanswered question about the data, as it is presented.
Finally, my own favourite category. Or to put it a bit less glibly, the category most corruptly implicated in legitimating organised crime capital and activities - the “specialists”. The map identifies 241 “specialists” operating in Scotland. As opposed to mere “members or associates” , specialists are engaged for their particular knowledge of public systems. An interesting potential distinction to be drawn here – and which I suspect isn’t being drawn in the 241 number - is between those who are simply experts in fumigating awkward monies by dint of practice, and those who are in some sense “specialists” already in matters accounting, financial or legal – and who are tempted by the possibilities of being involved with dodgy customers. The “character” the study seems to be presenting is the latter – someone you consult, rather than an “in-house” corrupt counsel. In particular, a measure of operational independence seems to be suggested by the numbers cited as having “connections with more than one of the identified groups.” While the mapping exercise claims that 80% work with one group connection only – that is roughly 193 or 194 “specialists” known to be involved with only one group - that leaves 48 individuals known to have connections with more than one. It is a pity that we don’t have a breakdown of which industries these 241 people – or the 48 – are involved in. Nevertheless, these shadowy facilitators and accomplices with their complicities are a rotten lot. Important to note too that this means that of the 367 groups – at least 194 are connected up with specialist advisers: that is 53% of the total groups identified for