Detective Chief Superintendent Ken Farrow is working against enormous odds. His under-resourced economic crime unit can only scratch the surface of the huge amount of fraud committed in the City of London. He tells Ruth Prickett why a little more co-operation from the Square Mile's typically reticent business community will help the police to track down the missing cash.
They say that crime doesn't pay. Whatever the truth in that, it certainly costs. Fraud alone lifts about 14 billion [pounds sterling] a year from the UK economy, according to a study for the Cabinet Office in 2002. Ken Farrow, head of the economic crime unit at the City, of London Police, reckons that's a conservative estimate. What's more, although policing budgets are constantly strained, it's businesses and consumers who pay for financial crime through taxes, insurance premiums and higher prices. One estimate puts the weekly price of crime at 30 [pounds sterling] per household in the UK, 22 [pounds sterling] of which comes from fraud. That's before you start counting the cost to the victims.
Farrow's team, which is responsible solely for policing the Square Mile, is the only one in the UK that counts fighting financial crime as its top priority. Of its 115 officers, 80 are in the fraud squad and the rest are divided between the cheque and credit card unit and the financial investigation unit, which is funded by the banks and is a joint initiative aimed at tackling organised credit card crime. Given that there are only about 600 police dedicated to tackling fraud nationwide, and that only two-thirds of those are available at any one time because many are transferred to work on other serious crimes, this is a large proportion of the national force.
To some extent, Farrow's message is bleak. "You cannot prevent top-level boardroom fraud. You can talk corporate governance until the cows come home, but you won't know until the company collapses or a bank can't get its money," he says. "There is nothing the police can do if the directors are determined to rip off the company."
Yet he is not about to give up and go home. For one thing, he believes that people in the industry do usually know if something odd is going on--even if they don't know the details and would be reluctant to blow the whistle. Unfortunately, while suspicious onlookers can be understandably reticent, the victims can be even more so.
"The biggest frauds come out because eventually the bubble bursts," Farrow...