BRITAIN'S biggest police force has insisted it has several trained finance investigators after statistics it earlier released suggested the numbers had dwindled by around two-thirds over the last decade.
Earlier this month Essex News and Investigations revealed Met Police figures, released to us under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI), which said the force currently had just 30 specialist finance investigators, who investigate fraud, a slump on the 91 it had in 2007/08.
The apparent reduction was over the same period when fraud had ballooned to become the single biggest crime type seen in the UK.
It came as Ben Russell, deputy director of the National Crime Agency National Economic Crime Unit, warned one in ten of us will be victims of a serious scam within six years if police don't start taking the growing menace of fraud more seriously.
Mr Russell said fraud has become the biggest single crime facing the UK, but it is way down on most police force priority lists.
He said: "Fraud is over a third of crime in this country and less than one per cent of our response.
WARNING: Ben Russell fears one in ten of us could become victims of major fraud (NCA)
"If we continue to do nothing different by 2026, there will be over five million frauds happening in the UK, that's effecting one in every ten people."
However, the force has since been in contact to say its FOI response did not accurately reflect its true capacity to investigate fraud and other financial crimes.
In June 2019, the Economic Crime Command was created within the force by merging the criminal finance teams and the reactive fraud investigation resources from its former Operation Falcon team which specialised in fraud and linked online crime.
Instead of just having 30 finance investigators, the new command has 161 officers involved in financial investigations.
This includes 14 entry-level financial intelligence officers (FIOs), 56 more senior financial investigators (FIs) and 91 fully-trained confiscators who specialise in restraining the funds of suspected criminals.
There are also 31 civilian financial investigators with limited police powers.
Across the whole Met the figures are even higher with 113 FIOs, 128 FIs and 144 confiscators.
However, the Met was unable tom provide figures for earlier years so it is not clear if its financial and fraud investigation abilities have dropped over the past decade as has been claimed and as they original FOI response suggested.
They are all trained through an NCA accredited programme.
RESOURCES: The Met led by Cressida Dick has a new Economic Crime Command
The Met has no target of how many more finance investigators to employ.
A Met spokeswoman said: "There has been no agreement as to numbers of financial investigators to be employed from the current/future recruitment drive.
"While the new officers will not be immediately deployed as FIs some should in time be deployed in that role."
Asked why the new statistics differ so much to the original FOI response, the spokeswoman added: "Essentially I think the data has been extracted in a way which hasn’t taken into account the new structure of the fraud investigation teams so it has not captured all those as part of it.
"We’re not entirely sure, we think the data has been misinterpreted by the team who extracted it and there was not an understanding of the different level of officer described above.
"The figures quoted in your article from that FOI are inaccurate. The way the data has been extracted from the FOI team does not accurately represent our fraud investigation capability at all."
Essex News & Investigations Opinion
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), it seems, is not always the best way to get the full picture.
Often public bodies' press departments will fob off journalists by not responding to questions, and instead, telling them to submit an FOIA request.
This could be in the hope that they may not bother, or that it will delay the release of information, or even prevent it.
In this case, we first approached the Met Police press bureau to ask for the number of finance investigators it currently has, and the amount it had in 2007/08, before the cuts, after getting a tip off from a retired officer that they had been drastically reduced.
After chasing the enquiry, the press office said it would have to be done through the FOIA.
The FOIA request was responded to, and the information provided, which led to the publication of our original story.
This was picked up the following day by The Times newspaper.
The press bureau then contacted Essex News & Investigations to say the figures in its FOIA response were wrong and it had many more financial investigators.
The bureau initially claimed that we had previously been sent the correct figures, before the FOIA response, but this was not the case.
It later provided what it said was a more accurate picture, hence this new story.
However, it was unable to say if there had been a fall in numbers over the past few years as claimed.
The moral of the story is the press office should just have responded with the correct figures at the time, rather than passing us to the FOIA department.