Bedfordshire’s PCC, Kathryn Holloway, has succeeded in her latest bid to gain bespoke funding from the Home Office - winning over £2m in her latest Special Grant for police to target the criminal masterminds behind Organised Crime Groups across the county.
The funding will allow Bedfordshire Police to focus on Organised Crime Groups after new leads emerged as a result of the National Crime Agency’s Operation Venetic, which managed to crack the encryption of the network EncroChat, used by such groups to manage their criminal trade in drugs, weapons and people.
This latest funding takes the total funds won by the Police and Crime Commissioner to £17.5m over the last three years after persuading the Home Office to change the criteria for Special Grants specifically to tackle violence, exploitation and organised crime in Bedfordshire.
“Previous Special Grants have allowed me to help Bedfordshire Police to target the foot soldiers involved in gang, gun and knife crime at street level, though Bedfordshire’s specialist team known as Op Boson and to double the size of that team so that it has units for both the north and south of the county.
“Now we’re going after the Mr Bigs who are running these operations higher up, with the help of the information provided by the National Crime Agency.
This £2.1m is invaluable as we are aware of multiple crime groups where intelligence concerning each one can ferociously absorb Bedfordshire’s very limited police resources. For example, the early intelligence concerning each group is so vast that the initial investigative process to get to the stage of warrants, raids and arrests can take between eight to 12 weeks on a full-time basis which is the equivalent of between 640 and 960 hours for each crime analyst and Field Intelligence Officer.
“The Policing Minister, Kit Malthouse, asked when he visited me and the Chief Constable last August why we couldn’t have one major crackdown on Organised Crime and he’s put his money where his mouth is and provided the funds to let us get on with the job and we’re very grateful indeed. We want to make Bedfordshire a deeply hostile environment in which to run a crime network,” said PCC Holloway.
The Policing Minister has written to the PCC to confirm that he will give the force a £2.1m Special Grant to cover 85 per cent of the costs of running Bedfordshire’s Serious Organised Crime crackdown this year.
Operation Costello is the name of Bedfordshire Police’s response to its most serious criminal gangs following the National Crime Agency intelligence which is giving its detectives unprecedented insight into the highest levels of organised crime operating in Luton.
Multiple criminal networks have been discovered and major operations launched as part of Operation Costello, with officers making dozens of arrests and seizing large quantities of drugs and firearms.
Between July and February. Bedfordshire Police carried out 83 warrants under Operation Costello, resulting in 44 arrests, 15 people being charged and the seizure of firearms and other weapons, approximately six kilos of Class A and B drugs, as well as around £580,000 in cash,
More than £1 million in assets have been seized in total under the operation, including cash, jewellery and property.
“Bedfordshire Police has been extraordinarily successful in 2020 in following the new intelligence where crime bosses have made sophisticated efforts to avoid detection including laundering cash through rental properties and relatives but we know where they are and we’re coming after them,” said Commissioner Holloway.
“As I reach the end of my term and step down as PCC in early May, I’m incredibly proud of bringing more cash to fight serious crime to Bedfordshire and that I’ve won another battle to win a fourth Special Grant for this incredibly hard-working and deserving force. It is more than Bedfordshire Police has won for more than 20 years previously and it’s what I came here for,” she said.
Special Grants are typically only awarded in extraordinary circumstances outside ‘business as usual in policing’ to cover the costs to local forces of major events occurring on a single day, such as terrorist attacks.
Commissioner Holloway’s lobbying efforts persuaded the Home Office that her rural force has faced unprecedented demand outside the usual business of a rural force on low funding and she has secured unparalleled investment into local policing and partners. As a direct result, the force’s Boson guns and gangs team has been backed with Special Grants worth £4.571m, £3m and £2.9m respectively over the past three years, due to the scale of the challenge in Bedfordshire as well as the latest £2.1m grant.
Additional Home Office ‘surge funding’ money of £1.38m last year and £908,000 this year has been used to run enforcement activity to tackle Serious Youth Violence, while annual grants of £880,000 have been awarded to the PCC to fund Bedfordshire’s Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit for the past two years and again for at least a further 12 months.
When the PCC and Bedfordshire Police hosted Mr Malthouse last year, they gave him presentations on the work of Boson as well as Operation Costello, with two Special Grants having been awarded to the force since this visit.
The PCC has also bid for similar government funding to run Operation Costello for the next two years, beyond her term, as the force looks to mount its largest ever assault on organised crime.
The Eastern Region Special Operations Unit has also run a number of major operations targeting organised crime in Bedfordshire and across the region as part of Operation Venetic. The regional unit’s work in Luton has resulted in the seizure of 90 kilos of Class A drugs, seven firearms, around £40,000 in cash, as well as jewellery worth in the region of £250,000.
The diversionary work and police enforcement collectively have meant a nine per cent reduction in Serious Youth Violence in Bedfordshire between March 2019 and March 2020, which equates to around 200 fewer victims who are alive or living without life-changing injuries.
In addition, there were no reports of firearms discharges or incidents of serious violence directly attributed to Bedfordshire’s Organised Crime Groups or gangs between August and January.
“This is an extraordinary achievement for Det Supt Julie Henderson and her team and to bring home the truth of this, when I came to Bedfordshire as PCC in May 2016, we were fifth among all 43 forces in England and Wales for gun crime,” said PCC Holloway.
Detective Superintendent Julie Henderson, who is leading Operation Costello, said: “The intelligence and investigative work under this operation has given us a once in a generation opportunity to dismantle the organised criminal gangs blighting lives and communities in Luton.
“These gangs prey on and exploit children and vulnerable people to make their money, plain and simple. You can help us shine a light on this exploitation. If you think someone has money, property or expensive possessions beyond what they could realistically pay for, this could be a sign they are involved in organised crime. Have no doubt – you will be making your community safer if you report these concerns, to either ourselves or Crimestoppers.”
Anyone with any information about drug dealing and organised crime can report it via Bedfordshire.police.uk/report
Alternatively the public can contact Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111 or by visiting their website. All of these totally anonymous reports which cannot be traced back to the source are fed into police intelligence systems and can help police build up a better picture of organised crime, even if officers are not able to proceed to an arrest straight away.
For more information visit this landing page on the Crimestoppers website.