Specialist regional policing units dedicated to tackling organised crime across the country made more than 3,000 arrests and seized class A drugs worth over £100 million last year, as they continued to target the UK’s most serious criminals.
Throughout 2022, the nine Regional Organised Crime Units (ROCUs) in England and Wales pursued those behind OCGs involved in the importation of drugs, people and weapons, and other criminal activity.
In addition to huge amounts of cocaine and heroin, units seized firearms, ammunition, and millions of pounds in cash.
In total, 1,046 people were jailed for 4,558 years for offences such as drug importation, human trafficking and money laundering, following investigations across the ROCU network. Many more are still to go through court.
Items seized by units across the country included:
1,575kg of cocaine, with a potential street value of £94,500,000
333kg of heroin, with a potential street value of £19,980,000
More than £5.6 million in cash likely to have been made through criminal activity
332 firearms and 2,444 rounds of ammunition
998kg of cannabis and 16,665 plants
870,900 tablets, including ecstasy and illicit prescription medicine
More than 400 adults and 1,300 children who were vulnerable to being exploited were also safeguarded.
The ROCU Network is a collection of policing units which are dedicated to tackling serious organised crime as a networked response by providing a range of specialist capabilities. These include undercover policing, specialist surveillance, and cyber-crime investigation.
Units can investigate and disrupt organised crime groups operating across police force boundaries, and some provide support to investigations into other types of crime such as homicide and kidnap.
ROCUs also act as an important point of connection between police forces and the National Crime Agency (NCA).
Through the support of the Home Office, Chief Constables and Police and Crime Commissioners, the ROCU network has received an additional 725 officers since 2021. The ambition
remains to have over 4000 operatives dedicated to leading forces response to serious organised crime by 2024.
Chief Constable Trevor Rodenhurst, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for ROCUs, said: “The ROCU network plays a significant role in apprehending dangerous criminals, along with stopping hazardous drugs and weapons from making their way onto our streets and protecting those being exploited as a consequence.
“At the forefront of the network’s activity is protecting communities from the most dangerous individuals. ROCUs consistently target and apprehend the high-level criminals heading up organised crime groups causing untold misery through their own greed, and who often exploit young and vulnerable people to do the dirty work they aren’t prepared to do themselves.
“The work of these units often goes unreported and away from the public eye, however the results from last year show just how significant an impact they are having.
“We will continue to confront criminals and the threat they pose head on, and I would like to thank the people behind these operations who have worked tirelessly and diligently to ensure our communities are safer.”
Results from across the country East Midlands Special Operations Unit A joint operation between East Midlands Special Operations Unit (EMSOU), Northamptonshire Police and Romanian Police, with support from Europol and Eurojust, targeted a modern slavery gang in order to free those under its servitude. 25 properties were entered by police officers over the course of the morning – 12 in Corby and 13 in Romania. Twenty-seven people were safeguarded and seven arrests made. Eastern Region Special Operations Unit In February, a drug courier was identified and observed to travel from Peterborough to Bradford and then back again. On return to Peterborough, he was stopped by officers from ERSOU and found to be in possession of 11 kilogrammes of heroin and two kilogrammes of cocaine. He was charged, remanded, and pleaded guilty. Phone investigation identified the upstream organiser as a significant OCG member in Peterborough. Subsequent enforcement activity has led to more than £200,000 in cash seized, with five suspects later arrested and charged, effectively dismantling the OCG. North East Regional Organised Crime Unit In December, four suspects were jailed for 10 years following an investigation into a group purporting to be police officers who contacted elderly, vulnerable victims via their landline telephones, claiming that their savings were at risk. The caller instructed the victims to withdraw large amounts of cash, which would be collected by a ‘police courier’. On other occasions the victims were instructed to purchase high value jewellery/watches. The ‘courier’, who was part of the criminal group, would attend the home address of the victim and collect the cash and/or jewellery. The investigation identified six victims in the region, with the total losses, including cash and Rolex watches, in the region of £200,000. A fifth suspect is yet to face trial. North West Regional Organised Crime Unit In July, a warrant was executed at an address in the Cheetham Hill area of Manchester. With assistance from GMP, entry was forced into the shop by cutting off the shutters after it became clear the shop was not open for trade. Inside the premises were a significant quantity of counterfeit goods including clothing and accessories, watches, shoes, electronics, fragrances, and cosmetics. These were recovered with an estimated loss to industry in excess of £6 million. South East Regional Organised Crime Unit In March and April, three drug smugglers who were living lavish lifestyles received total prison sentences of more than 30 years after fraudulently avoiding the prohibition on the importation of cocaine. During July and October 2021, the trio were responsible for conducting dangerous manoeuvres in the English Channel by sailing close to container ships, with their encrypted messages showing this was to practise obtaining drugs directly from the ships. SEROCU’s investigation uncovered they were involved in a plot to take two tonnes of cocaine on board a £290,000 luxury yacht named ‘Bubble E’ travelling from South America. Working with UK Border Force, their vessel was intercepted on a voyage heading to Falmouth and their encrypted messages subsequently showed they were conducting reconnaissance of exit routes once they had drugs on board. South Wales Regional Organised Crime Unit (TARIAN) Operation Tilbury was a drug trafficking investigation arising from a robbery now known to have been perpetrated within the realms of an OCG flooding South Wales with class A drugs. The criminal investigation was complex and resulted in the conviction of eight people for drug trafficking and robbery offences. Prison sentences were handed down totalling 74 years, with the principal offenders receiving 16 years. Confiscation proceedings thus far have resulted in cumulative benefit from criminal conduct determined at £6,018,395.85 and recoverable assets totalling £267,957.06. The final confiscation matter is pending with an anticipated benefit of £798,928.15 and additional recoverable assets of £264,501.56. Assets identified for confiscation included luxury vehicles e.g. Lamborghini and Range rover and luxury caravans as well as cash. South West Regional Organised Crime Unit SWROCU had several Operation Venetic successes, including a sentence of 26 years handed down to a Bath-based offender who organised the supply of at least £3 million worth of cocaine to the region and boasted to his contacts his gun had “a silencer...the whole shebang”. Five other members of the OCG – from Sheffield, Nottingham, Bath and Cheltenham – received sentences totalling 38 years. A separate investigation led to a 62-year-old man being jailed for seven years and four months, after pleading guilty to arranging the commission of a child sex offence. He had travelled from Manchester to Gloucester with the intention of raping a ten-year-old child and was ordered to serve at least two thirds of his sentence before being considered for release on extended licence. West Midlands Regional Organised Crime Unit As part of an investigation into a network believed to be involved in the large scale supply of class A drugs in the West Midlands region, a number of different capabilities were used to gather evidence against the key subject and a number of associates of their involvement in both large-scale class A supply and money laundering. Enforcement action took place in November, with the key suspect and two associates arrested and charged with offences including conspiracy to supply class A and B drugs plus firearms possession. WMROCU has recovered more than £500,000 in cash, 12 kilogrammes of drugs (with a street value of over £500,000) and a firearm (handgun). In addition to those charged, a further five were arrested.
Yorkshire and Humber Regional Organised Crime Unit
Three men are set to face trial in February as part of an investigation into for the first manufacture and supply of 3D printed firearms between Organised Crime Groups within the UK.
Following the seizure of a viable 3D printed semi-automatic machine gun and ammunition and two partially constructed firearms in May, two men from Bradford were arrested, interviewed and released under investigation.
They were further arrested in August along with a third male from Hull and all three were charged with conspiracy to possess and supply prohibited firearms and ammunition.
In a separate investigation, a drug dealer who used the dark web was sentenced to nine years in prison after drugs worth £1.2 million and cryptocurrency initially worth £5 million, and later increasing to £8 million, was seized.
Intelligence from the investigation was developed and led to the takedown of an illegal cryptocurrency exchange through which the suspect is believed to be involved in large scale money laundering. Assets were seized and retained including money in bank accounts, equity in a property portfolio, two vehicles and crypto currency, with a total worth of at least £1.5 million.
Background on Regional Organised Crime Units
The nine ROCUs in England and Wales are: • East Midlands Special Operations Unit (EMSOU) • Eastern Region Special Operations Unit (ERSOU) • North East ROCU (NEROCU) • North West ROCU (NWROCU) • South East ROCU (SEROCU) • South Wales ROCU (TARIAN) • South West ROCU (SWROCU) • West Midlands ROCU (WMROCU) • Yorkshire and Humber ROCU (YHROCU) In addition, a tri-force collaboration between the Metropolitan Police, British Transport Police and City of London Police plays a similar role in London.