There have been many high-points during my long association with Crimestoppers and today marks yet another one. The charity, which was formed 23 years ago, is launching a major campaign to track down its Ten Most Wanted Fraudsters in the UK.
As the Founder and Chairman of the Trustees of Crimestoppers, which remains the only charity in the UK seeking to solve crime, I am wholeheartedly behind this campaign. It attempts to tackle the current estimated £38 billion annual fraud bill in the country.
Incredibly, the ten individuals on Crimestoppers’ Most Wanted Fraudsters’ list are believed to be responsible for more than £200 million worth of fraud: on average they have swindled more than £20 million each from society.
Fraud is not a victimless crime, even for those who are not directly targeted. Every one of us pays higher taxes, bank charges and insurance fees because there are people out there cheating the system. As a crime, fraud costs every one of us in the UK more than £700 a year.
The amount of fraud from the public purse is currently running at around £27 billion a year. To put it into perspective, that is equivalent to 30% of the annual education budget for 2011/12. Since education is a subject dear to my heart, it pains me to think how many new schools could be built and equipped with the money that fraudsters cheat from society.
For those in the dark, I should explain how Crimestoppers came about. In October 1985, PC Keith Blakelock was brutally murdered during the Broadwater Farm riots. The crime sickened me: here was a 40 year-old father of three carrying out his duties on the streets of north London when he was set upon by a mob and hacked to death.
Initially, I wanted to put up a substantial reward for information leading to PC Blakelock’s killer, or killers. When this was not considered necessary (because police were close to arrests and charges), my attention turned to discussions over how the police might offer rewards for information that led to arrests and convictions.
I met Sir Kenneth Newman, then the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, and explained how, during my time living and working in America, I had come across an interesting initiative. It enabled members of the public to help prevent and solve crimes by providing information via a special telephone number. Sometimes the informants received a modest cash reward for their efforts.
Both Sir Kenneth and his successor Sir Peter Imbert (now Lord Imbert) were enthusiastic about the project. After a great deal of hard work behind the scenes by many people, Crimestoppers was launched in the Metropolitan Police area in 1988 (then, however, the charity went under a different name: Community Action Trust).
Anonymity was, and is, the key to the success of the scheme. Callers are not required to identify themselves, their calls cannot be traced and individuals know they will never be forced to appear as a witness in a trial.
This meant that those with knowledge about crime were suddenly willing to share it with police. Crimestoppers tries to break down the wall of silence that surround most crimes and which the criminals exploit to avoid arrest.
Crimestoppers relies on a three-way partnership between the business community, the police and the media. Businesses put up money to finance the scheme, the police are willing to act on information from the public and the media highlight the charity’s work.
Among the co-founding trustees was the late Sir Denis Thatcher, whose bugbear was the effect that crime had on the average, law-abiding citizen. Denis loved the fact that Crimstoppers gave the man in the street the means to fight back.
After its initial successful launch in the Met area, Crimestoppers spread, region by region, throughout the UK over the next four years. A mixture of paid officials and an army of volunteers have established Crimestoppers as one of the UK’s biggest charity success stories of the last quarter of a century.
The statistics tell a remarkable story. Since Crimestoppers was launched, it has received more than a million actionable calls, resulting in more than 108,000 arrests and charges. More than £115 million worth of stolen goods have been recovered and more than £213 million worth of drugs have been seized. Crimstoppers makes communities safer by operating a 24/7 telephone number – 0800 555 111 – which anyone can use to pass on information. The public can also access the charity’s ‘giving information’ form through its website; www.crimestoppers-uk.org.
I want today’s launch to be yet another overwhelming success story in the 23-year-history of Crimestoppers. I would urge everyone to look at the details of the eight men and two women who feature on today’s Most Wanted Fraudsters list. The full list can be accessed on: www.crimestoppers-uk.org/fraud.
I hope that all ten of these suspects are arrested and charged in the near future and that Crimestoppers will continue to do what it does best – solving crime – for many, many years to come.