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CROOKS' GREAT ESCAPE; Criminals get away without paying millions in compensation.

Byline: PAUL MALLEY

CROOKS are laughing at the law because court orders designed to seize their ill-gotten cash and property are not being enforced.

Latest figures show pounds 3.3 million worth of assets belonging to Midland criminals, including drug traffickers, were subject to confiscation orders.

But just pounds 474,000 has been collected by enforcement agencies - a meagre 14 per cent.

A Home Office spokesman last night admitted the figures were poor and said steps were being taken to beef-up collection rates.

Government statistics show pounds 2.74 million of confiscation orders were made by courts in the West Midlands in 2000/2001.

But just pounds 216,105 was collected by enforcement agencies which includes members from the police and Magistrates Courts Committees.

In the West Mercia region confiscation orders totalling pounds 168,113 were made, of which pounds 31,168 worth of cash and goods were seized.

Criminals in Warwickshire were also ordered to hand over pounds 182,336 of assets, yet just pounds 1,180 was collected - less than one per cent.

Only Staffordshire managed to collect on every confiscation order, bringing in cash and property worth pounds 225,739.

Vivienne McGhee, of Warwickshire Magistrates Courts Committee, said tracing runaway crooks was one of the reasons some confiscation orders were not being completed.

She said: 'We have been unable to enforce one order made following a drugs case because the person in question, who owes pounds 10,000, is now believed to be in Argentina.'

It is estimated that dirty money - assets derived from crime - is worth around pounds 18 billion a year. National statistics show 1,200 drug traffickers and around 200 other offenders had pounds 50 million of confiscation orders made against them in 2001. Just pounds 20 million was collected.

A Home Office spokesman said: 'There is quite a discrepancy between the confiscation orders made and the amount of assets seized.

'New legislation in the form of the Proceeds of Crime Act is now being introduced with the aim of ensuring ill-gotten assets are seized.

'One of the main ways this will be done is through a new assets recovery agency. Its main function will be to investigate and recover wealth accumulated through criminal activity.'

The spokesman said the agency should be up and running next year.

As well as enforcing confiscation orders made against convicted criminals, the agency will be able to sue suspected crooks in the civil courts to recover crime proceeds, including houses, cars, jewellery, cash and gifts to friends and relatives.

The agency will only have to prove wealth is generated by a 'criminal lifestyle' not a specific crime.

The Midland bosses behind one of the biggest ever UK homeworking scams could face huge confiscation orders.

Craig Bradley, 36, and Shaun Smith, 37, are believed to have made more than pounds 6 million out of their crooked firm SBS Designs, based in Wheaton Aston, Staffordshire.

The pair, who fleeced tens of thousands of victims, were each jailed for five years last November.

Police are still trying to track down the missing millions which they believe may have been salted away in secret foreign bank accounts.

CAPTION(S):

IN LINE FOR SEIZURE... Shaun Smith (left) and Craig Bradley could face a pounds 6m compensation order including their Porsche and BMW cars for their homeworking scam
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Sep 29, 2002
Words:554
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