Spending cuts threaten City of London Police's ability to investigate white collar crime, says expert

Out-Law News | 15 Sep 2014 | 5:00 pm | 2 min. read

The number of investigations into financial crime initiated by the City of London Police increased by 5%, to 544, last year, but is still well below the 792 investigations begun in 2011/12, according to figures obtained by Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com.

Pinsent Masons white collar crime expert Barry Vitou said that the figures showed the need for sustainable funding for law enforcement agencies if they were to effectively stop crimes such as fraud. The City of London Police has been forced to reduce annual spending by 10% to around £90 million by 2015, with £6.6m cut from annual spending over the last two years and an additional £3m in savings needing to be found by March 2015.

"The incremental increase in the number of new investigations into white collar crime is a small step in the right direction, but is undermined by the dramatic drop off in investigations over the last two years," he said.

"Public spending cuts have placed a huge amount of pressure on the City of London Police's budget and these cutbacks seem to be seriously limiting its ability to open new investigations. The budget cuts mean the City of London Police may no longer have the capacity to pro-actively investigate potential leads. This might lead to an increased reliance on tip offs, whistleblowers or corporate self-reporting," he said.

The City of London Police plays a central role in investigating fraud and other financial crimes. It works with the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), which is the agency responsible for investigating and prosecuting the most serious cases of economic crime, on fraud cases and accompanies the SFO on property raids.

Between 2011/12, when the City of London Police opened a record 792 investigations, and 2012/13, the number of investigations fell dramatically, to 517. However, Vitou said that there was a sharp increase in white collar crime over the same period, as criminals shifted away from committing traditional forms of crime towards economic crimes, such as cybercrimes and other financial crimes. In addition, the number of fraud cases reported to authorities including the City of London Police nearly doubled over the last financial year, from 122,240 to 230,845.

Although there had been a significant increase in the SFO's activities this year, including property raids and asset seizures, Vitou said that this did not make up for the fall in financial crime investigations by the City of London Police.

"The SFO only investigates frauds that fulfil its strict criteria – this means the work of the City of London Police remains critical in investigating and prosecuting fraud," he said. "The City of London Police is a key part of the deterrent in the war against fraudsters. But both the Police and the SFO are in serious need of additional funding in order to actually be effective."

"The number of cases being investigated by the City of London Police is still a drop in the ocean compared to the scale of the problem," he said.

The UK government is planning to publish its "first ever national anti-corruption plan" shortly, according to the new attorney general, Jeremy Wright. This document is expected to set out the roles of the various bodies involved in the investigation and prosecution of economic crimes and could also consider information-sharing and funding arrangements, according to a Financial Times report published in June.