Sex trafficking, fake goods and extortion: the crimes of choice in Northern Ireland
Sexual exploitation of children and women trafficked into Northern Ireland by international crime gangs is on the rise across the province, a major Government report has warned.
The report, released today by the Public Affairs Committee, raises serious concern about the growing scale of human trafficking, which was virtually unheard of in Northern Ireland just three years ago.
To date the PSNI has rescued 25 people who had been smuggled into the province — mainly from the Far East and sub-Saharan Africa — and forced into slavery or the sex trade.
According to the report, organised crimes such as counterfeiting, extortion and identity theft are also on the rise, costing the public purse hundreds of millions of pounds a year.
The report says that the international nature of organised crime is most evident in human trafficking and counterfeiting.
“The Committee is disturbed by the increasing evidence of human trafficking, a heinous crime which preys on the vulnerability of individuals, often women and children, who are lured by the prospect of a new life, better education and a job, only to find themselves in what amounts to slavery and subject to sexual exploitation,” the report states.
The sale of counterfeit goods such as CDs, perfume, toothbrushes, razors and clothing is costing the public £200m a year. The goods are originating in the Far East, such as Hong Kong, as well as Africa and South America, and then being smuggled into Europe and the UK and making their way onto the streets of Northern Ireland.
“The PSNI described how counterfeiting is a major problem involving international and local criminals and poses significant risks to the health and safety of individuals... the Committee notes with concern that every fake DVD a person buys thinking they are getting a bargain helps to continue human exploitation somewhere in the world,” the report says.
According to the report, identity theft is expected to increase and public bodies that hold personal data have been warned to ensure they take security seriously.
“Evidence to the Committee provides reassurance that the security of personal data is being taken seriously within the Northern Ireland Civil Service. The Committee is concerned, however, that a wide range of other public sector bodies, for example in the education and health sectors, also hold such information. The Committee seeks an assurance that similar safeguards are in place in all cases where sensitive or personal data is held by public bodies or companies acting on their behalf.”
The report also found that while oil fraud, such as fuel laundering, stretching and smuggling, which is traditionally one of the biggest forms of organised crime in Northern Ireland, appears to be falling, it still “remains a major threat to the environment”.
The man in a leather coat selling Mafia chainsaws door-to-doore Counterfeit goods
The Italian Mafia has been selling counterfeit chainsaws in Northern Ireland, according to police evidence given to the committee. Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris said: “There is something fundamentally wrong when somebody is selling chainsaws from door-to-door. However, nobody noticed that and wondered whether it was right. “A person with an Italian accent, wearing a leather coat and selling chainsaws, should alert somebody,” he said.
- Counterfeit iPods have also been making their way onto the streets. And some of them have exploded in people’s hands. The counterfeit goods, that can range from DVDs to razors, originate in the Far East, Africa and South America and are smuggled here.
- Human trafficking: ACC Drew Harris told the committee that police recently rescued a young girl in her early teens who was orphaned a year ago and was trafficked to Northern Ireland where she found herself “in the most dire and grim circumstances”. He said: “The child was orphaned in the middle of last year and was moved through four countries before she arrived in Northern Ireland. She was moved through four countries... when we recovered her, she did not have a clue which country she was in or where she had been previously.”
- It is estimated it will cost £85m to clean up. The DOE is collaborating with the European Space Agency to use satellite imagery to help identify illegal sites. The PAC report says that the high cost of legitimately disposing of waste makes it an attractive area for criminals and unscrupulous individuals to exploit. “Illegal dumping has significant environmental consequences as the release of pollutants can continue to be a major environmental problem for many years. It also carries a very significant financial impact, both through loss of revenue and clean-up costs,” the report states.
- Extortion: Targeting of the construction industry has diminished, but criminals are now targeting other criminals to make quick cash. Drug dealers are finding themselves subject to extortion or tiger kidnapping. This is known as ‘bad-on-bad’ crime.
- Drugs: It is not just illegal drugs that are causing concern for the authorities, so called legal highs are becoming as big a problem now in Northern Ireland.