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A Useful Example of a ‘State Crime’ – The British Government’s Illegal Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia

The British government has been accused of breaking international law by selling weapons to Saudi Arabia.

A recent report by the International Relations Committee (made up of members of the House of Lords) has concluded that it’s highly likely that British Weapons are the cause of significant civilian casualties’ in Yemen, where Saudi-backed forces are fighting Houthi rebels.

A few stats on the Saudi-Yemen conflict and Britain’s role in it…

  • Britain has sold £4.5 billion of arms to Saudi Arabia since the conflict in Yemen began in 2015.
  • Independent experts have estimated that around 150 civilians died every month in autumn 2018 as a result of Saudi airstrikes.
  • 85 000 children have died of famine or disease since the conflict began, and a further 14 million people are at risk of famine.

The report concluded that the UK government is just on the wrong side of international humanitarian law, because on balance of evidence it believes that the Saudis are using British weapons to kill civilians.

The report recommends that the UK government should be making independent checks to see if UK- arms are being used illegally by the Saudis, instead relying on ‘inadequate’ investigations by the Saudis themselves.

Germany and Norway have already banned arms sales to Saudi Arabia, based on their own independent assessments of the Saudi’s killing of civilians in Yemen.

Relevance to A-level Sociology

This is a contemporary example of a state crime – the UK government selling arms to a country which then uses them to kill non-combatant civilians, which is in breach of international humanitarian law.

It’s also a good example of how ‘money trumps human rights’, or at least how it trumps the human rights of the 100s of civilians being killed each month in Yemen. £1 billion a year in arms sales is a LOT of money, it represents a lot of UK jobs, and a lot of tax revenue for the UK government.

It’s also a good example of selection-bias on the part of the UK government – they choose not to listen to certain independent reports of Saudi Arabia’s illegal use of UK weapons, because then it makes it possible to carry on profiting from selling them arms.

It’s also worth pointing out how agenda setting in the media works to keep the Yemen tragedy out of the news – this is largely a conflict which is hidden from view. To give you some idea of how long this has been going on for, Dianne Abbot pointed the illegality of the conflict back in 2016!

Finally, it’s evidence of the continued importance of nation states in our globalised world… Saudi Arabia depends on the UK government to legitimise its war in Yemen.

 

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What to do about Shamima Begum?

Shamima Begum was just 15 years old when she left her home in Bethnal Green, London, to join Islamic State in Syria. Now, four years later, she has witnessed two of her children die of illness and malnutrition, and fears for the life of her third child, born in a refugee camp in Eastern Syria, from where she’s requested to return to the UK, having shown no remorse for her dealings with ISIS.

The ‘punishment’, if we can call it that, is to strip of her of UK citizenship, which the Home Secretary can only do in this case because he believes Begum has the right to apply for Bangladeshi citizenship, even though she has never visited Bangladesh.

Interestingly, the UK government isn’t simply allowed to strip an individual of their citizenship and render them stateless, they are only allowed to do so in begum’s case because her Bangladeshi heritage allows her to apply for citizenship there. However, the Bangladeshi authorities say she won’t be allowed in. 

This article in The Conversation provides an accessible insight into the legality of revoking citizenship.

Even if the UK government is legally allowed to strip Begum of citizenship, this still feels like the UK government is somehow denying responsibility for Begum – surely it would be more appropriate to bring her back to the UK, put her on trial, and actually punish her as the UK citizen she really is, rather than trying to revoke it.

The argument that she’s ‘our responsibility’ is rooted in the fact that she was radicalised in the UK and managed to leave without any effective ‘safeguarding intervention’.

What the UK government’s response shows is just how difficult it is for nation states to deal with such international criminals…. Maybe it’s because we’ve got no long-term solutions? Maybe the government doesn’t want to bring her back because the population would be so against it, as 78% of the population believe she should have had her citizenship revoked.

Shamima Begum

This could very well (probably is) an example of popular punitiveness, despite the fact that she’s not really being punished as such!

However, just passing the buck onto another country because of a legal technicality doesn’t seem right, and what kind of message does this send out about how to deal with international criminals more generally?

Whatever your opinion on the Shamima Begum case, it certainly illustrates a the problems of dealing out justice where international crimes which cross boarders are concerned, and maybe suggests that nation states are too small to deal with such criminals?

Maybe we need to take a lesson from Escape to LA? Rather than nation states dealing with them in country of origin, we just put by stateless regions on earth, and build a wall round them, and see how they get on…?

We could also film it with drones and turn it into a form of entertainment….. the scary thing is this doesn’t actually sound that far-fetched, I can actually see most people getting on board with the idea!

 

 

 

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Jailing Drill Musicians – justified, or a moral panic?

In January two ‘drill’ musicians from the Brixton group 410 were effectively jailed for playing a particular song: ‘Attempted 1.0’. Two artists from the group, Skengdo and AM, both received 9-month suspended sentences for performing this song.

Here it is with lyrics:

It’s still up as of 20th Feb…. I don’t how much longer it will remain up, but while it does it’ll give you a pretty good idea of what the authorities may have deemed to offensive: the strap-line for a start… ‘attempted… should’ve been a murder’ and then all the various references to guns and people getting knifed.

The problem is, by performing this song 410 weren’t technically engaged in an illegal act. The laws preventing inciting of violence only apply to specific acts, and this is not the case with this song.

The two artists were actually found guilty of breaking a criminal behaviour order (CB0) that had forbidden them from mentioning death, injury or rival drill crews in their songs. The nine-month suspended sentence is for breaking the CBO not inciting violence, which they weren’t technically doing by performing their song.

The authorities have criminalised this non-criminal act for these particular artists.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This is a good example of a ‘right realist’ policy in action – In fairness to the authorities, there has been a recent increase in knife crime, and this is all part of the response to that. I imagine most of the public would agree with this harsh treatment.

And it’s fair to say that some Drill songs which have been put up on YouTube do have specific references to gang’s ‘score cards’ and specific knife and gun and attacks. So there is a real basis for all of this it’s not just hyperreal. 

Moral Panic Drill.png

However, it also relates to the labelling theory of crime – here we have a legal act (performing a song) which is turned into an illegal act for this specific band by the actions of the authorities. Maybe this is an unnecessary moral panic about this form of artistic expression?

What ‘blaming Drill’ for the increase in knife crime fails to take account of is all of other underlying factors which result in inner city violence – such as funding cuts, relative deprivation, poverty, and structural inequalities which stretch back to the 1980s. 

This is also a new development in the censorship of particular cultural forms: using ASBOs to effectively restrict certain forms of freedom of speech. What’s next I wonder:

– Banning violent video games?
– Preventing campaigners discuss poverty and inequality?
– or climate change?

It’s highly unlikely that Criminal Behaviour Orders are going to be used to stop people spreading Fake News or Politicians lying to us.

Sources

The Guardian

Vice – A nice article on the moral panic over Drill. 

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Tax evading millionaire footballers – nice evidence for the Marxist view of crime

Jose Mourinho, the ex-Manchester United manager, recently pleaded guilty to tax fraud in Spain, and accepted a 2 million Euro fine. He was also sentenced to 12 months in jail, but as part of a deal made with the prosecutors will not actually serve any time.

He had used offshore companies to disguise his earnings from image rights evading 3.3 million Euros in tax.

Elite tax evasion.png

Mourinho is not the only footballing celebrity to have face tax evasion charges:

In January, Cristiano Ronaldo was fined 18.8 million Euros in a similar case, again paying to keep himself out of jail.

Lionel Messi was fined just under 2 million Euros back in 2016, for tax evasion dating back to 2007-9.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This is a straight forward example which supports the Marxist view of crime… Marxists state that all classes commit crime (here the ‘celebrity class’, and they also state that there is not equality before the law… and here all three effectively buy themselves off a jail sentence.

Although TBH I’m not sure how courts in other countries would deal with poorer tax evaders, maybe this type of crime is always dealt with so softly.

What these case studies certainly do suggest is that the law in Europe offers no real deterrent to evading tax – Mourinho only had to pay back 60% of the amount he evaded, for example. It seems that if yer rich, the criminal justice system makes it rational for you to have a go at evading tax… you’ve literally nothing to lose if you get caught.

Maybe what the law around tax evasion needs a proper does of right realism… mandatory jail sentences? Or maybe the right realist tough on crime approach is only supposed to apply to the poor?

 

 

 

 

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The nationwide expansion of drug gangs

Drug gangs are expanding their operations from large city centres such as London, Birmingham and Manchester into smaller towns and rural areas. To do so they are using a new business model referred to as ‘county lines’ – dedicated mobile phone drug deal lines which local drug dealers in smaller towns can use to order drugs from the suppliers in the city centres. According to a recent report by the National Crime Agency, there are over 1000 established county line networks which are each capable of making profits of £800, 000 a year.

These lines are so profitable that gangs increasingly resort to violence to protect them, so this county line model of drug gang expansion probably goes a long way to explain the 50% increase in knife crime since 2015. In fact, a spike in knife crime in a small town or city is believed to be an indicator that a new drug line has been opened up.

How county lines work

Drug gangs in larger cities establish branded mobile phone lines using ‘burner phones’ which are disposable and anonymous, and these are then used to send out group messages to the local dealers around the country offering what drugs are for sale, which is mainly heroine and crack cocaine. Frequently there are special offers such as two for the price of one deals. The drugs are delivered by runners who also collect payment from the local dealers.

Children and drug lines

School-aged children, typically aged 15-17, but as young as 11, are usually used to deliver the drugs and collect payment. The charity Safer London estimates that 4000 children from London are involved. Sometimes these children might stay away in a drug-hub for an extended period, which is known as ‘going country’ or ‘going OT’ (out there).

county lines.png

The children recruited are usually vulnerable, having been excluded from school or from broken families, and many are drug users themselves. They are roped into the gangs by the lure of financial reward, or some might be debt bondage because of their drug habits. Once in, they are exposed to a violent lifestyle and effectively take all the risks for the upstream dealers.

NB – from a legal perspective, the use of children as drug mules now counts as child trafficking, so anyone caught being involved in this is likely to get a very lengthy spell in jail.

Cuckooing

A particularly insidious aspect of these drug networks is a process known as cuckooing…. Where a new local recruit’s house in a rural or coastal taken over by a drug dealer from one of the main centres and that house is turned into a local dealing hub, used to store and possibly manufacture drugs, and sell drugs.

One way this can escalate is that the local dealer is allowed to get into debt, and then has their house taken over as a means to repay this.

Such victims will often be drug addicts with mental health issues and are also likely to be in poverty.

Countering the problem of drug gangs and drug lines 

This is an enormous problem, and its growing fast: 75% of police forces believed new lines had been opened up in 2017 and it’s estimated that the 1000 lines in existence are worth £500 million a year. With that kind of coverage and that amount of money involved, tackling this isn’t going to be easy!

A new National County Lines Coordination Unit has recently been established so the 43 police forces in England and Wales can easily share information, and the police are using anti trafficking and anti-slavery laws to punish the dealers.

In a week of raids in January police arrested 600 people and referred 600 children and 400 adults to safeguarding authorities. More than £200 000 in cash and 140 weapons were also seized.

drug gangs.png

Relevance to A-level sociology

This is obviously highly relevant to the crime and deviance specification. Probably the most obvious links are to right and left realism, and to my mind it’s a great example that proves the limitations of the right realist approach – the nature of this crime is that it’s hidden, and so right realist crime control techniques will probably be ineffective in controlling it.

It seems to offer support for left realism – relative deprivation and marginalisation are the root causes, and maybe addressing these are the only way we’re going to see a reduction in drug related crime in the future?

Sources

NCA 2018 report on drug gangs

NCA county lines report 2017

The Week, 9th Feb 2019

 

 

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Victimology

Victimology is the study of who the victims of crime are, why they are victims, and what we can do about this.

 

Victimology is a relatively recent edition to the A-level sociology Crime and Deviance specification, and is mainly addressed through applying the sociological perspectives.

Patterns of Victimisation

The risk of being a victim of crime varies by social groups.

  • Social Class – The poorest groups are actually more likely to be victims of crime. The Crime Survey of England and Wales shows us that crime rates are higher in areas of high unemployment and deprivation.
  • Age – Younger people are more at risk of victimisation – those most at risk of being murdered are infants under one (infanticide), while teenagers are more vulnerable than adults to assault, sexual harassment, theft and abuse. While older people might be abused in care homes, this is something of a media stereotype, in general the risk of victimisation declines with age.
  • Ethnicity – minority ethnic groups are at greater risk than whites of being victims of crime, as well as of racially motivated crimes. In relation to the police, ethnic minorities, the young and the homeless are more likely to report feeling under-protected and over controlled.
  • Gender – Males are at greater risk of being victims of violent attacks, about 70% of homicide victims are male. However, women are more likely to victims of domestic violence than me, sexual violence, people trafficking and rape as a weapon of war.
  • Repeat Victimisation – There are a few people who are unfortunate enough to be a victim of crime many times over. According to the Crime Survey of England and Wales, a mere 4% of people are victims of 44% of all crimes in any one year. In contrast, 60% of people experience no crime in any given year.

Evaluation – Where do these statistics come from?

The most representative Victim Survey is The Crime Survey of England and Wales. This covers approximately 35 000 adults in England and Wales in private households. The survey asks about crime the individuals have been victims of within the last year, and asks whether they reported these crimes to the police.

A problem with this survey is that certain aspects of victimisation are absent:

    • Some people are missing from it – such as children and the homeless
    • Some crimes are not asked about – e.g. corporate crimes
    • Some crimes even if asked about might still be under-reported (e.g. domestic violence because of the setting)

Sociological Perspectives applied to Victimology Positivist Victimology

  • Mier’s (1989) defines Positivist victimology as having three main features:
  1. It aims to identify the factors that produce the above patterns in victimisation
  2. It focuses on interpersonal crimes of violence
  3. It aims to identify how victims have contributed to their own victimisation.
  • Earlier Positivist studies focussed on the idea of ‘victim proneness’, seeking to identify the social and psychological characteristics of victims that make them different from and more vulnerable than non-victims. For example, Von Hentig (1948) identified 13 characteristics of victims, such as that they are more likely to females, elderly and ‘mentally subnormal’. The implication is that the victims in some sense ‘invite’ victimisation because of who they are.
  • An example of positivist victimology is Marvin Wolfgang’s (1958) study of 588 homicides in Philadelphia. He found that 26% involved victim precipitation – the victim triggered the events leading to the homicide, for instance, being the first to use violence.

Evaluations of Positivist Victimology

  1. It is easy to tip over into ‘victim blaming’.
  2. Positivism tends to focus on ‘traditional crime’s – it doesn’t look at green crime and corporate crime for example.
  1. It ignores wider structural factors such as poverty and powerlessness which make some people more likely to be victims than others.

Critical Victimology

Critical victimology is based on conflict theories such as Marxism and Feminism. From a critical point of view the powerless are most likely to be victimised and yet the least likely to have this acknowledged by the state (this is known as the ‘hierarchy of victimisation’).

victims grenfell tower
Victims of the Grenfell Tower Fire, June 2017.

  • Critical Criminology focuses on two elements: the role of structural factors in explaining patterns of victimisation and power of the state to deny certain victims victim status.
  • Structural factors are important in explaining why some people are more likely to be victims of crime than others. Factors such as poverty and patriarchy make some people more likely to victims of crime than others.
  • Structural factors are important, because from a Marxist perspective because poverty and inequality breed crime and thus living in a poor area means that you are more likely to be both a criminal and a victim of crime while Feminists emphasise that the structure of Patriarchy perpetuates crimes against women such as sex-trafficking and domestic violence, meaning that women are far more likely to be victims of sex-crimes than men.
  • At another level, global power structures mean that many people are the victims of harms done by Western Corporations and State Crimes carried out by Western World Governments (Bhopal and the Drone Wars are two good examples) and yet victims in faraway places are highly unlikely to see justice.
  • Criminologists who focus on ethnicity and crime would also suggest that Structural Racism means it more likely that ethnic minorities are going to face not only racial crime from the general public, but also discrimination at the hands of the police. Refer to the ethnicity and crime material for more details!
  • To overcome this, critical criminologists suggest that criminologists should focus on ‘Zemiology’ (the study of harm) rather than the study of crime, to pick up on the true nature and extent of victimisation in the world today.
  • The state’s power to apply or deny the label of victim can distort the actual extent of victimisation. From a critical criminological perspective, the state often sides with the powerful, and does not define their exploitative and harmful acts as crimes. Tombs and Whyte (2007) for example showed that employers’ violations of health and safety law which lead to thousands of deaths of workers in the UK each year are typically explained away as industrial accidents, thus leaving no one to blame and leaving the injured and dead workers as non-victims.
  • From a Feminist point of view sexism within the CJS means that most women who are victims of DV and rape fail to come forward, and those who are do are often treated as the guilty party themselves in court, and so are often denied formal victim status and justice.
  • Tombs and White note that there is an ideological function of this ‘failure to label’ or ‘de- labelling’ – by concealing the true extent of victimisation and its real causes, it hides the crimes of the powerful and denies the victims any justice.

Evaluations of Critical Victimology

  • It disregards the role victims may play in bringing crime on themselves (e.g. not making their home secure).
  • Realists argue that it isn’t the job of criminologists to criticise governments and the police, this isn’t the most effective way to reduce crime and thus help victims of ‘ordinary crimes’ such as street violence and burglary.

Sources:

A combination of the main A-level text books were used to write this post.

 

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The Mafia’s increasing involvement in the food business…

Mafia syndicates in Italy have an estimated annual turnover of £150 billion, making it much larger than Italy’s largest holding company (which includes Ferrari).

Increasingly, it is not drugs or people trafficking which bring in the money for the Mafia, but there involvement in agriculture, or basic food production.

Today, the Mafia are invested in Italy’s food industry from ‘Field to Fork’…. their agricultural interests extend to extortion, illegal breeding, backstreet butchering and the burial of toxic waste on farmland.

In 2018 the estimated value of the ‘agromafia business’ stands at £22bn, equivalent to 15% of Mafia revenue. This may seem mundane, but think about it: everyone has to eat, and most people like to eat everyday, so it should be no surprise that this is a growth area… it’s simply where the demand is!

There are all sorts of ways the Mafia can make money out of the food business – the most obvious is counterfeiting, and it is estimated that up to 50% of all olive oil sold in Italy is cut with poorer quality oil. To do this, the Mafia makes use of its global criminal ties… cutting it with lower quality oil from Africa.

The Mafia also rebrand low quality wine as higher quality: they simply change the label.

One of the more unfortunate costs of this whole business is the thousands of workers who are currently being exploited working for Mafia controlled agribusiness. The figures are quite significant:

It’s also estimated that up to 5000 restaurants are controlled by the Mafia, which is useful for money laundering.

Up until quite recently the Mafia also used to lease huge swathes of public land and make a fortune by claiming back EU subsidies on this land, making a 2000% profit in the process: they basically used their white collar connections in local governments to make sure no one else got involved with the bidding process.

However, this final practice has been clamped down on.

Relevance to A-level sociology 

This is a useful update to the globalisation and crime, and especially to Glenny’s work on the McMafia: it shows how the Mafia are ‘evolving’ in their global criminal activities.

Sources:

Agromafia: how the mafia got to our food

Agromafia exploits hundreds of thousands of workers.

 

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The cost of organised crime is now greater than the cost of terrorism, according to the National Crime Agency, according to this BCC News report.

Organised crime involves international gangs who traffic people and drugs and engage in cyber crime. The annual cost to the UK economy is estimated to be around £34 billion a year.

While this might surprise non sociologists, this should be of no surprise to sociology students: while terror attacks are very dramatic, this also makes them very news-worthy, and they do tend to be reported whenever they happen. However, these attacks are relatively rare.

In comparison, the kinds of crimes which organised crime gangs are involved in are more hidden, more low-key, and, frankly, more day to day. This is because these gangs may be organised on an international (or possibly regional?) level, but they have networked into various local neighborhoods in Britain’s towns and cities, linking the small scale local drug deal to the large international drug-cartel.

Having said that, the National Crime Agency deals with A LOT of different types of crime: as outlined below…

Thus IMO it’s not really fair to compare the cost of ALL of these to the costs of just terrorism.

HOWEVER, if we forget (the rather silly) comparison mentioned in the news what the NCA’s 2018 strategic assessment document (I can’t link to it because, ironically, my PC thinks the NCA’s web site is insecure!?!) shows us is the truly global nature of seriously organised crime.

For any student wishing to understand more about the scope of global crime, and why it’s so difficult to police, you should check out the work of Misha Glenny.

 

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Why is Crime Increasing Again?

The latest crime figures show an increase in the overall number of crimes committed in England and Wales, for the year ending March 2018. The overall numbers of crimes have increased from approximately 5.8 million in 2016-17 to 6 million crimes in 2017-18 (excluding ‘computer misuse’).

While this may seem like a relatively small increase, this follows a 7 year downward trend in the overall crime rate. And if we drill down into different types of crime, we find that some crime categories have seen dramatic rises in recent years: Robbery is up 30%, and knife crime is up 16% for example.

These figures are taken from the Crime Survey of England and Wales, a victim survey which is widely regarded as having greater validity as a measure of crime compared to Police Recorded Crime Statistics.

As you might expect, the mainstream newspapers have been all over this. Typically the press blames the move away from more authoritarian forms of crime control associated with Right Realism and blames soft-touch Left Realist style policies for the increase in crime.

The Daily Mail has recently reported on how rural crime, as well as urban crime is spiraling out of control. The Sunday Telegraph has blamed the government’s ‘too soft’ approach to crime control, which focuses on rehabilitation rather than punishment. The Independent commented that the Tories might be blame for this increase in crime because they have cut funding to the police, resulting in fewer officers.

However, the theory that ‘soft touch’ approaches and fewer police officers may well be insufficient to explain why crime is increasing. For example, police numbers have been going down for years, while crime has also been going down:

The truth is probably more complex: it might just be that there are different causes of crime in different areas, and different causes of different crimes…. so perhaps we should steer clear of over-generalizing!

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Britain’s recent involvement in torture – a good example of a ‘state crime’

Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee It’s been 15 years since allegations first emerged of Britain’s involvement in the torture of those suspected of the 9/11 terror attacks, and earlier this month (July 2018) an official report has finally been released which reveals the ‘true’ extent of Britain’s compliance with the USA’s programme of torture.

uk torture

According to Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), Britain’s involvement amounted to at least 13 occasions of British agents witnessing suspects being mistreated and having been informed (but done nothing about) of mistreatment by their foreign counterparts or detainees more than 150 times.

The report found that British agents weren’t directly involved in torture themselves, but the strategy of British intelligence was to ‘outsource’ the interrogation process to those who they knew used ‘enhanced techniques such as stress positions, sleep deprivation and beatings.

The British effectively turned a blind eye to the fact that the USA was in breach of the Geneva Convention on Human Rights. They were so ‘blind’ in fact that they ignored the fact that at one detention centre detainees were kept in containers so small that they could neither stand or lie down, getting around this particular breach of human rights by simply building interrogation portacabins which were large enough to comfortably accommodate the prisoners.

So why did this happen?

Following 9/11 the security and intelligent services were under intense pressure to find and prosecute those responsible, but also to find information which might prevent future terrorist attacks. The problem with using such techniques, however, is that they might well just serve to increase recruitment to the same terrorist networks the authorities are trying to quash.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This seems to be a good example of Britain being involved in a ‘state crime’, also a good example of the extent of barriers to researching powerful actors: it’s taken 15 years for this official report to be conducted, and even this doesn’t tell us the whole story: Theresa May refused permission for four key officers to give evidence on national security grounds, so the true extent of Britain’s complicity in state crime may not surface for many years to come!

Sources: