The Government's Approach to Crime Prevention - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 215-236)



  Q215  Chairman: Good morning. I would refer everyone present to the Register of Members' Interests, where the interests of all members of the Committee are registered. This is an inquiry into crime prevention. We are looking at the Government's initial phrase: "Tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime," and we are assessing what the Government has done in respect of crime prevention over the last 13 years. Welcome to Sebastian Conran and Jack Wraith, both of whom are involved in this area. We have looked at the intervention by the state. Your role today is to give us evidence about other aspects of crime prevention, specifically designing out crime, and we are hopeful that you will give us particular examples of what you have done to try and design out crime. I will start with a question to both of you. Are there examples of areas where crime can be designed out, therefore ensuring that the opportunity to commit crime is not before those who wish to become criminals?

  Mr Conran: Without a doubt. When designing products and designing services and the way things work, we can put in anticipatory features, with benefits and consequences, at an early stage of their conception.

  Q216  Chairman: Are the benchmarks cost benefits? Are they linked to statistics or figures which show there has been a reduction of crime in a particular area? How do you know that what you are doing in designing out crime is successful?

  Mr Conran: There will be evidence. We are halfway through a process where we are analysing where the problems are, gathering information, understanding what the problems are, synthesising concepts for dealing with those problems and then looking to implement them. We have some early examples to demonstrate how this works, if you would be interested.

  Q217  Chairman: Thank you. We will certainly look at those examples as the session progresses.

  Mr Wraith: To give you a comparison: in the late 1990s we had handsets which contained security aspects which could very easily be manipulated by just about anyone; today we have handsets which make that manipulation, not impossible, because of the way the unit is designed, but certainly a lot more challenging technically. As you will see as we go on during the morning, we have introduced a number of security measures within the handset, based around something which is called the International Mobile Equipment Identity number, or IMEI, and it is the IMEI which gives the unit a unique identity. The UK have very much led this particular initiative in getting both the handset manufacturers and the GSM Association, both global organisations, to make the IMEI as robust and as secure as possible, thus enabling us on the backend of that to be able to do security types of activity against those particular units.

  Chairman: Thank you.

  Q218  Martin Salter: In your view where does the current risk lie in terms of products or services that are most vulnerable to criminal exploitation? Is it credit cards? Is it accessing details online? I have had my credit card skimmed twice now: once as a result of a purchase online and once as a result of a purchase at a garage. Is it copying, for example, with innovative products immediately being sent across to China, or wherever, to be copied and then flooded back into the market? Which are the most vulnerable areas of which we should be most aware?

  Mr Conran: Identity theft is a key area. About 800,000 phones a year are stolen, and 80% of users carry personal information on them and 18% keep their bank details on them as well. This highlights the focus on mobile phones. We are looking at quite a few non-technical areas, like alcohol-related crimes, and at fairly low-tech things, like designing safer kitchen knives, and at setting standards of best practice in housing design as well. The high-tech hot product area is an opportunity for crime that we should anticipate, but it is just one of five streams that we are looking at.

  Mr Wraith: My answer would be: all of the above. There will always be theft and there will always be people who will target items which they can sell on or use in an illegal way. It is very, very difficult to prevent that. The position the industry has taken is to accept that will happen and to see what we can do after that event to mitigate the impact of someone losing the phone or someone losing the credit card. Most of the procedures and the processes that we have put into place are geared towards that. Education of the consumer is a very important area which is often overlooked. We have seen consumers change their attitude quite significantly over the years. The current economic climate has seen a change in the way people treat their personal possessions. They are more likely to take much more care, consciously, of their mobile phone than they would have done, say, five or six years back. There has been a change in attitude since we have introduced the smart phone. As Sebastian has indicated, there are phones now which are holding a lot of personal details, and people are conscious of that. They are conscious of the various adverts, the educational aspects of identity theft. They have made them aware, and in fact sometimes have gone a little too far and put them in fear. There is always this balance of trying to educate people without making them too fearful of using the product, and so getting the best out of the product as it was designed to be.

  Martin Salter: Thank you, Chairman.

  Q219  Mrs Dean: Could you tell us where the demand for designing out crime tends to come from? Is it from the consumer or the manufacturer? Is it from police forces, local authorities, or even the Government?

  Mr Conran: In the case of business, there is a bit of a paradox: if a product is stolen, there is a displacement sale for the business. Although initially business may seem to benefit inadvertently from a theft, the reality is that, as the thief becomes more sophisticated, he will begin to target business itself and so that will be self-defeating. Another issue is that, as people become more aware of the benefits of crime-resistant design, it will become a sales benefit and a feature that people will look for, in the same way that maybe environmental issues have now become features that people are conscious of and for which there is a demand. There is probably a similar paradigm to follow with designing out crime as has happened with the popularity of environmental issues.

  Mr Wraith: It comes from two main areas. One is the consumers themselves, who are looking for an article or an item or a product which they feel they can operate in a safe environment. It also of course comes from the manufacturers, who are looking for that niche market in order to get ahead of the competition. We have seen a move within the market-place of using safety as a marketing tool, where, again, if one goes back ten or 15 years that was never the case. People would never mention the safety; it would be at the back of the pamphlet, in annex whatever. There is now much more encouragement to put that upfront and to say what the security aspects of the item are. If one takes the iPhone as an example, one can set the iPhone up so that if it is illegally accessed a number of times it will automatically wipe the information that is therein.

  Q220  Mr Streeter: How do people go about the process of designing out crime? Who do you speak to? Obviously the police, consumers, experts—but would you talk us through the process.

  Mr Conran: The methodology is to identify the problem, either through historical statistics, engaging with law enforcement. We have criminologists. Gloria Laycock—from whom you will be hearing later, I believe—has been identifying crime patterns and trends directly with Merseyside Police, and this seems to have been successful. Also, by anticipating social and technological changes, which are driven by cause and effect, we seek to understand what opportunities there are for the criminal, how the criminal will try to take advantage of these trends, and the ramifications and the issues that arise from them. Then we will seek to engage with experts, with professionals in the field (for instance, communications technologists), and look to develop robust solutions which are also convenient and usable to the customer. We do not want fortress products; we want products which are engaging and useful to use, which people will feel safer with, as Jack was saying earlier. We seek to validate these through testing and quantifying the results, and we then implement action through establishing best practice and policy and inspiring business—both the manufacturers and, most importantly, the retailers, because it is the retailers who will drive the manufacturers.

  Mr Wraith: Over the years, we have tried to listen to the consumer and take on board what the consumer has been telling us with respect to design. This is in all age groups. Over the years, we have held a number of workshops with very young people and we have had some very good ideas in that respect. We have held workshops with people who are directly concerned with the security of the product and we have had feedback in that respect. The challenge is feeding those ideas into the manufacturing chain, because, inevitably, that is outside a national focus. We have had a varying degree of success: what we have wanted to be taken on board has not always been taken on board. That is where market forces come into play. A global market-place, when it comes to mobile phones, is very much where manufacturers want their focus. If it is something which is UK -specific or does not appear to have the attraction in a wider market-place, then it is very difficult to get a manufacturer to take it on.

  Q221  Gwyn Prosser: Mr Wraith, you have told us this morning, in effect, that there will always be theft and there will always be misbehaviour and perhaps the best we can do is to reduce the impact of theft. Does that mean we are never going to be keeping up with the game?

  Mr Wraith: No, I think we are keeping up with the game. The British Crime Survey of last year would show that mobile phone robberies have maintained a very low percentage, as for the previous year, despite a fairly significant increase in the number of mobile phones which are in the market-place. One has to be realistic: there will always be thefts. Whilst there is that level of crime against the person, be it a burglary or be it an individual, the robber is not going to leave a device which will enable the person to alert the authorities of what has occurred, so there will always be that theft. There will always be theft with young people which has a lot more other social aspects to it, in terms of bullying and the like. How do we mitigate that beyond the point of it occurring? That is where the blocking of handsets comes in. That is where the educational aspect for young people comes in. Since 2003, year-on-year, we have had an annual project in conjunction with the police and the Home Office to educate young people within the school environment/within the youth club environment of the dangers of mobile phones and how to be more mature in the use of mobile phones.

  Q222  Gwyn Prosser: Martin Salter mentioned that he has twice had the details of his card cloned or stolen. I have never had that experience, thank goodness, but I once had my mobile phone snatched out of my hand in the high street. In those days—and I speak as a lay person—there was the feeling that, although I reported the theft immediately, the Sim card or the phone itself could be used. There was then a discussion, was there not, between the likes of yourselves and the manufacturers to take on your recommendations for stricter controls? If that were to happen today, what immediate benefit would there be to the person who stole my phone?

  Mr Wraith: If a phone is stolen, once the network is informed—and that is the key: the network must be informed—the Sim card will be disabled almost immediately. Under the agreement we have with the Home Office, that home network has 24 hours to disable the handset on its own network and to pass that information to the other networks for them to be able to action it in the following 24 hours. I personally have the responsibility of running an independent test each year against those networks, to ensure that they meet the criteria which the Home Office has laid down in what is called the Mobile Industry Crime Action Forum Charter, which says that 80% of all phones must be disabled within 24 hours on their home network and within 48 hours on the other networks. You might be thinking, and I would not blame you, "Why does it take so long?" Quite simply, it takes so long because the initial contact with the home network will disable the account, and that is not a problem, but we must then ensure that the IMEI, which we are now going to use in a security function, is the correct one. In order to do that, we must go back into the network to find out what unit was being operated by that Sim card at the time of the reported theft or loss. That may take some time, because the network might not feed that information down to a terminal where it can be fed into for four or five hours. We have to allow that to happen, and, once that IMEI is identified, then the unit, the actual handset, is disabled on the home network and it is that information which is passed, in the case of the United Kingdom, to the other four networks via a central platform which is operated globally by the GSM Association. They will then use that information to populate their own networks, so that within 48 hours that handset will not work. We have found that the mere fact that that is in operation, the knowledge that that is in operation, has cut down on a lot of the types of handset sales that used to go on on a Friday night in the pub or a Thursday night in the pub, because people know that, yes, the phone might work if it has just been stolen outside, but come Monday morning it will not work. We have had that impact. We would like to improve on those times and we are under constant pressure by the Home Office to do so.

  Gwyn Prosser: Thank you very much.

  Q223  Mr Winnick: Would it not be a realistic viewpoint to take that the criminals will always try to increase their game? They will find new ways. Criminal gangs will certainly use all the intelligence that they have—too much on many occasions—to commit the sort of crimes we have been talking about. It is a matter of trying to catch up with them, and minimizing the harm which obviously they do, as well as the tremendous amount of commercial loss involved.

  Mr Wraith: Yes, the criminal will always try to exploit whatever situation, and they are much, much more flexible and have been much more flexible in the past than some of the industries in their response. For example, since the blocking database was introduced in 2003, we have seen a shift in the way mobile phones are disposed of after they have been stolen. We have seen the growing exportation from the UK of mobile phones. This is because the blocking database that we operate is a national database. It only operates within the UK, and the criminal is well aware, as you quite rightly point out, that there is a way of getting those phones out. That has led to a whole set of processes that were not there four or five years ago. The National Mobile Phone Crime Unit, a national police unit which is given a responsibility by the Home Office to address these aspects of mobile phone crime, has developed what is called the Register, which checks the databases in a number of areas of mobile handsets. The National Mobile Phone Crime Unit, in its processes and procedures, has developed checking at points of exit such as Dover, Heathrow, Manchester and the like, pulling passengers who are departing from the UK out of the queue and searching their baggage, and when their baggage has contained a whole handbag full of mobile phones—this is an actual example—those mobile phones have been able to be checked there and then against the blocking database, the stolen equipment database and various other databases, and a number of arrests have been made in that respect. It is this constant change.

  Q224  Mr Winnick: A constant battle.

  Mr Wraith: Absolutely.

  Q225  Chairman: I am a bit concerned and I think the Committee is that crime prevention is not the priority that it ought to be. If you buy a house after 1 January the vendor has to provide you with an Energy Performance Certificate. There is a huge concern about the environment, an important concern about the environment. As far as business is concerned, should there be more responsibilities put on business to ensure that they have buildings that will prevent crime occurring? Should there be much more of an onus placed on them by the Government to make sure that this happens?

  Mr Wraith: I believe that is an unfair comparison. If one is buying a house, one is spending hundreds of thousands of pounds. If one is buying a mobile phone, one might only be spending £30 or £40.

  Q226  Chairman: I am not talking about mobile phones, but the cost to the taxpayer of crime runs into billions, does it not?

  Mr Wraith: Yes.

  Q227  Chairman: Do we know what the figure is? It runs into billions. Should we not be doing more? Mobile phone crime is just one aspect.

  Mr Wraith: The cost of the unit and the competitiveness which there is in the global market-place means that—

  Q228  Chairman: But I am not talking just about mobile phones. I am talking more generally here, away from mobile phones to the general point that the cost of crime is enormous. Should there be a greater onus on business to be more responsible?

  Mr Conran: As we heard the other day, the cost of fraud against the Government is £17 billion a year. That is not overall fraud; that is just the cost to government and the taxpayer. Housing is a very good point. You have picked up on a pet subject. In the HIPs report we had been working with CABE on looking at exploring the design and layout of new housing and housing developments to optimise safety and security. There are issues of security: too much security can compromise fire safety and exits and things like that. As I have said, we are working with the Committee for Architecture and the Built Environment to establish standards of best practice.

  Q229  Chairman: Is there any research that suggests that a burglar alarm in a house or in a business is likely to deter somebody from breaking in? If you have a functioning burglar alarm, is it more likely that people will not try to break into your house? Is there any research that supports this?

  Mr Conran: There is research. I do not have access to it at this very moment.

  Q230  Chairman: What does the research tell us?

  Mr Conran: Without a doubt, that having a functioning burglar alarm and one that is linked to the police response system will reduce your likelihood of being burgled. We have been lobbying to have a Home Security Assessment as part of the HIPs Report. The resistance, rather unbelievably, has been that if criminals come across this they will be able to access, through estate agents, which houses are vulnerable, and so we have to overcome that sort of resistance.

  Q231  Chairman: You have some examples, I understand, of simple measures that people can take in order to reduce the level of crime.

  Mr Wraith: Yes. I would like to draw your attention to a number of things. First of all, I have this particular pamphlet. When we started this campaign back in 2002/2003, the challenge was to educate the consumer.

  Q232  Chairman: The leaflet will be passed around. Are there other examples?

  Mr Wraith: There is also this item. When we started to educate the consumer on the importance of the IMEI number—which is contained within the mobile phone, normally underneath the battery and normally in very small print—we provided this type of item, in order for them to be able to magnify that number and read it off. It was another process of education.

  Q233  Chairman: This is publicity material.

  Mr Wraith: It is publicity and educational material. I will give them all to you.

  Q234  Chairman: These are all leaflets, but are there any examples you can give us?

  Mr Conran: Perhaps I could put a focus on violent crime. There are 87,000 violent incidents involving glass each year. The cost to the NHS for dealing in hospital with alcohol-related harm, including assault, is £2.7 billion a year. One issue is that current beer glasses are used as a weapon.

  Q235  Chairman: Those in pubs and clubs, you mean?

  Mr Conran: Yes, and bottles.

  Q236  Chairman: You have one that is already broken.

  Mr Conran: We have one here which is made of glass. It has been broken. It has an encapsulating film, so that the shards are contained and there is less likelihood of serious injury. We have been working on another one, which works a bit like a car windscreen, which will break into very small pieces.

  Chairman: That is very helpful. It would be very useful for us have a look at that glass. Mr Conran and Mr Wraith, thank you very much for coming in to give evidence to us this morning. It has been extremely helpful. If there are any aspects of your evidence that you want to expand on, or any further information you want to provide, please do so before the inquiry is concluded.

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