The hidden underworld of crime: 10 fascinating gangster facts

The hidden underworld of Britain's gangsters has been revealed - and it bears no resemblance to the criminal empires of Tony Soprano or the Kray twins.

The joint home office and cabinet office report has found that there is no recognised British "mafia" and the days of family run firms such as the Krays are "long gone".


The modern face of a professional gangster is like that of the CEO of a multi-national business, with "Mr Bigs" switching their operations from heroin to cannabis farms, and from cigarette smuggling to people trafficking, in search of minimal risk and maximum profit.

Here are the some of the fascinating details of the first national audit of organised crime which unearths the secret life of Britain's 4,000 criminal gangs:

1) The cost of organised crime to the economy is £40bn. The illegal drugs market constitutes almost half of that (£17.6 bn). Fraud is now worth £7.8bn to criminals. Spirits, tobacco and diesel smuggling has cost £4.1bn, people smuggling £1.4bn and fake DVD production £300m.

2) Tanning shops and nail parlours are sometimes fronts for crime. The most popular "legitimate" businesses which are typically fronts for criminal activity and money laundering are: licensed premises, car dealerships, solariums, nail bars (often Vietnamese-run stores which are run by cannabis gangs) and massage parlours.

3) Criminals like computers. Cyber crime is on the rise. There was a 250 per cent increase in 2008 alone in the number of computer bugs used by organised criminals to attack the IT systems of individuals, small businesses, governments and commercial organisations.

4) Guns are still the gangster's weapon of choice. Almost one in five known organised criminal gangs - around 800 - are involved in the importing, modification or supply of guns. There has been a recent rise in revenge shootings over drugs turf wars.

5) Fraud is at its highest level since 1995. Criminals have taken advantage of the confusion caused by the economic crisis and bank mergers, especially by using "phishing" techniques. This involves sending emails to random victims asking to confirm their bank details. They use the answers to hack into the victims' accounts. There has been a 75 per cent increase in such activity in first quarter of 2009.

6) Mobile phones are rife within British prisons. Jailed gang leaders continue to run their networks from within their cells. The Home Office is now rolling out a the use of mobile phone blocking technology in prisons after a pilot scheme was successful.

7) Gangsters move around to exploit the fragmented structure of British policing. Research has found that 73 per cent of gangs operate across the 43 different police force boundaries in England and Wales.

8) Foreign gangs enjoy exploiting our "relaxed" borders. Interviews with criminals disclosed that the UK is seen as a soft target for trafficking people because breaching the borders is perceived to be "relatively easy."

9) Gangsters start young. Children are exploited as drug runners or dealers, and sometimes used as gun "minders" because if they are caught they will not face a minimum of five years in jail.

10) People are not just trafficked into the UK. In 2008 officials found that vulnerable British males were being trafficked to Scandinavia by an organised crime gang. They were offered work, free travel, food and accommodation. However once they arrived they were exploited and paid just £20-a-week.