Warnings over Brexit risk to defeating organised crime

Scotland's police and prosecutors say they must be able to retain relationships with their European counterparts post-Brexit if they are to tackle serious organised crime.

Police are looking at the implications of leaving the EU
Police are looking at the implications of leaving the EU

Figures released today show nearly 3,000 people were arrested and £7 million of fake goods seized over the last year in a crackdown on criminal gangs.

A report by the Serious Organised Crime Task Force found 196 organised crime groups operate in Scotland, many of which have international links.

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Concerns have been raised about whether the UK would continue to be a member of Europol after leaving the EU and whether British forces would have access to the European Arrest Warrant.

Deputy Chief Constable Johnny Gwynne said work was already underway as part of Police Scotland’s Brexit taskforce to consider alternatives to Europol - the EU’s police force - and the arrest warrant.

He said: “We need to be able to draw on the support of other law enforcement agencies, whether collectively through Europol or not.

“We have operational requirements and if a political decision is made which means we’ve got to find a different way to achieve that operational end, then that’s our challenge. We’re not really sure what the implications of Brexit might be in terms of law enforcement, but there will always be colleagues in France or wherever that we will need to be able to speak to and we will need mechanisms to be able to do that.”

He added: “It’s not just about Europe – we share intelligence with various agencies in America, with the Colombians, wherever it happens to be. There are crime groups from other parts of the world, not just the EU, who have a footprint in Scotland.”

Lord Advocate James Woolfe added: “We are active participants in Eurojust, which is the prosecutorial equivalent of Europol. Criminality doesn’t know borders: it’s essential that we maintain those international methods of cooperation.

“I’m going to Brussels next week to speak to relevant people there about the international work we do and will need to continue doing whatever happens as a result of the referendum. My own view is that it is essential that we maintain those links.”

Earlier this week justice secretary Michael Matheson warned the UK risks becoming a “safe haven” for criminals if Brexit sees the dismantling of EU-wide security arrangements.

Yesterday’s report highlighted work carried out by Police Scotland in partnership with Europol and forces in Spain and the Netherlands to dismantle one of the country’s “most harmful” crime gangs.

The investigation, which culminated in December 2015, led to 42 arrests and prison sentences totalling 146 years.