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Lynda Waltho (Stourbridge) (Lab): I was present when Mr. Colin Baker came here with a delegation from the GMB last month and described that horrific attack. He described not only the physical problems but the effect that the incident had on his confidence and, tellingly, on his family. In fact, they became victims as much as he was. That is a forgotten cost of such crimes.
Mr. Austin: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Anybody who has listened to Colin Baker could not fail to be moved by his experiences and suffering. He was left permanently disabled and unable to work as a result of what happened.
The following is typical of the more violent attacks of recent months. It is a verbatim account from a report provided by Group 4 Securicor following an attack in Birmingham last August. It says:
"The courier was returning to the vehicle with an empty box when the two attackers shouted 'Give me the money'. The attacker with the revolver attacked the courier, dragging him to the back of the van, and the driver heard his colleague say 'Give them the money'. A retired West Midlands Police Detective Inspector came to the couriers' aid. In the melee that followed four or five shots were fired by the attacker with the firearm. The courier was shot in his right foot and the retired police detective was shot in the thigh."
As my hon. Friend said, the physical effects of these attacks on staff and the public are obvious, but the psychological scars of such terrifying ordeals can take
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much longer to heal. Understandably, morale within a depot can be badly affected, and this in turn can compromise the ability to carry out cash deliveries successfully.
The industry has worked hard to make armoured vans as unattractive a target as possible to potential attackers, and £100 million is spent each year on security support. The industry is striving to keep its employees and the public as safe as possible using technologies such as smoke boxes, onboard CCTV, biometrics and dye.
Mr. Michael Foster (Worcester) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend congratulate the British Security Industry Association, based in my constituency, and the GMB union, of which I am proud to have been a member for 20 years, on the way in which they have come together on this campaign to focus on the fact that these crimes that he so graphically describes are indeed crimes against the person, not strictly commercial crimes in which there somehow is no victim? It is that human side that my hon. Friend has described that we need to press on those in authority to do something more about.
Mr. Austin: My hon. Friend is right. It is encouraging to see employers represented by the industry body and the trade unions, which are working so well in partnership.
Mr. Jim McGovern (Dundee, West) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that whereas the trade unions and the employers are frequently portrayed as being on opposite sides of the fence, in this case their aims and aspirations, and I hope the outcome, suggest that they have a similar approach?
Mr. Austin: My hon. Friend is right. We have a great example of trade unions and the industry working in partnership to improve the situation for all those concerned.
The industry has established a national security intelligence unit. It will draw together police and intelligence from throughout the UK to combat CIT crime. In addition, there is security industry authority licensing to standardise security training.
There are deeper ramifications of a single attack that may not be immediately apparent. Money stolen in CIT attacks is a major source of funding for serious organised crime, which reaches into a much wider range of crimes. A recent industry study has shown that one attack can be connected to 15 other offences, often of a serious nature. These can include the violent theft of motor vehicles to use in the attack, firearms and other weapon offences, money laundering and other related crimes. CIT vans are seen as an easy way for gangs to fuel their criminal networks.
My region, the west midlands, is considered by the industry to be one of the areas targeted by these criminals, along with Northern Ireland, Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Greater London and west Yorkshire. There have already been 21 attacks in the region during the first quarter of 2006. The GMB, the British Security Industry Association and Group 4 have been working closely together to bring this problem to our attention, and I congratulate them on their efforts.
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Steps have been taken to deter people from carrying guns. The Government have acted on this. Under the Criminal Justice Act 2003, anyone convicted of unlawful possession of a prohibited firearm will be jailed for a minimum of five years. Further action is required to ensure that this problem is tackled.
While I felt that some of the coverage of the attack on the Tonbridge depot was inappropriately light-hearted, I welcomed the media focus on the violent attacks suffered by the CIT industry and the couriers. Too often the crime is seen as a victimless one, sometimes because of the almost incomprehensible sums of money involved. First, we need the Home Office to recognise the particular nature of this sort of crime.
I believe that CIT crime needs to be classified on a consistent basis by all police forces. We currently have a situation where police forces record the crime in different ways, which is at odds with the industry's unified approach. By achieving consistency across constabularies we would be in a much better position to combat crime throughout the UK.
In addition, there is a need for further thought on classification of the crime to reflect the severe human costs of these horrifying attacks. I would argue that CIT crime is not purely commercial robbery, nor is it personal theft. This classification dichotomy needs to be resolved and I would ask the Minister to give an undertaking to take this process forward.
Departments, such as the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, could look to join up policy on this issue. All too often, couriers are forced to carry out their deliveries in high-risk environments. Stories abound of them having to walk hundreds of yards between their vans and the banks because of the pedestrianisation of high streets, and of having to queue in bank queues, cash delivery case in hand, because there is no special access.
Cutting out these crimes must involve changes to planning laws to engineer in safe cash handling methods in shopping centres, banks and multiple retail outlets. CIT vans must be granted special access through the increasing number of pedestrianised high streets. Why should they not, for example, be given similar access to the emergency services? Will the Minister consider meeting his colleagues within the ODPM to discuss joining up policy in this area? The CIT attack problem demands cross-departmental solutions. I look forward to his comments on how the Government will produce safer environments for the transfer of cash.
High street banks and retail chains also have a role to play to ensure that when CIT crews are operating on their property, risk is minimised. I understand that talks between the CIT industry and the British Bankers Association have already taken place. I hope that further progress can be made on this issue.
Industry experience suggests, unsurprisingly, that CIT attacks can be reduced significantly when they are seen as a high priority by the local police force. Before Christmas, for example, the West Midlands police force operated a system to combat CIT robberies through the shadowing of vehicles. Merseyside police has implemented a similar initiative, known as "Operation Matrix", which also combats these crimes through the overt targeting of suspects and offenders involved in the attacks. That initiative was implemented after the review of gun crime by the chief constable, and it is part
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of a wider strategy to combat serious organised crime in the area. Following its introduction in April 2005, Merseyside police reported a 44 per cent. reduction in CIT attacks in the first six months. Although the success of that operation is encouraging, there is often an inconsistent approach across police forces. Will the Minister agree to attend an industry stakeholder conference to share police and industry best practice on tackling the issue, as the police play a key strategic and operational role in the fight against the crime? The approach by different forces must be joined up, as is the case for relevant Government Departments.
Ed Balls (Normanton) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on raising the profile of the issue, but does he agree that as well as recognising the risk run by those workers, the Government must act to protect them? Members of the GMB, the Trade and General Workers Union and other unions deserve not only protection but recognition of the vital public service that they offer on a daily basis.
Mr. Austin: My hon. Friend is right to say that it is important that we recognise the key role played by those workers, without whom our economy could not function efficiently.
All parties have welcomed the principle of the Serious Organised Crime Agency, which was launched at the beginning of the month. As I have said, money stolen in CIT attacks is a major source of funding for serious organised crime. SOCA clearly plays a role in combating CIT crime, but can the Minister provide further clarification? SOCA's role as a force without borders is particularly important, as gangs often operate in more than one area, especially if one force cracks down on the problem. In such cases, SOCA's expertise is much needed.
I am grateful for the opportunity to raise those issues, and I look forward to the Government continuing to tackle the problem. Every day, thousands of extremely brave men and women drive around the UK in armoured vans, providing an essential service to the public. They are largely unnoticed, but they keep our economy moving. We must prevent cash point or automated teller machine services from being withdrawn from some of our largest cities.
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