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Europe: The Final Countdown

Do People Actually Want to Move to the UK to Commit Crime?

We asked a few former criminals to find out if there's any truth in the EU Referendum Leave camp's claims.

by Nick Chester
Jun 21 2016, 4:45pm

Some young men with guns in Birmingham. Photo: police handout

This post originally appeared on VICE UK.

Stay in the EU, say many from the Leave camp, and the UK is opening itself up to a wave of foreign criminals hopping over here to do all their crime on British soil. The tabloids have been warning of the same thing for years, of course, pre-EURef, pre-migrant crisis, back when all they could freak out about were the small group of Romanians camping out in central London, who were maybe linked to pickpocketing gangs.

While it's true that some people from poorer countries do travel to Britain to commit crime, there's little evidence that this marauding horde of foreign thieves have pitched up quite yet. So what's the deal? Surely the tabloids aren't just exaggerating to sell papers? Surely Leave luminaries like Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson don't just have outdated ideas about foreign people? Is Britain actually an attractive place for foreign criminals to come and commit crime?

I figured the best way to find out was to ask some people who would know for certain: some former criminals from countries outside of the UK.

FRANÇOIS TROUKENS

François, from Belgium, used to be involved in robbing vans used for transporting funds, but after being arrested in 2004, he left crime behind.

VICE: During your criminal days, would you have considered the UK to be an attractive place to commit crime in?
François
Troukens: I had a company in the UK, which allowed me to hide out there. I never committed crimes there, though.

Did you encounter anyone who traveled to the UK to commit crime?
Yes. We scouted for banks and vans transporting funds to rob there, and also airports from which currency and valuable goods were transported. However, we abandoned these plans, because your currency isn't easy to exchange, your camera network is quite effective, and other countries were more interesting.

If you'd been looking for a foreign country to commit crime in, how highly do you think the UK would have ranked in the list of possible locations?
It's a relatively attractive country to launder money in, but not to commit crimes in.

What do you make of the narrative that criminals travel to other countries specifically to commit crimes, rather than for economic reasons or to improve their quality of life?
Traveling overseas is often a way for a person to put distance between himself and a country in which he is wanted. It's more difficult to carry out a robbery abroad, but the advantage is that once someone has committed the act, investigators will have no local trail to follow.

CARLOS PEREZ

Carlos and a piece of his art

Carlos, from Guatemala, used to be a member of the vast 18th Street Gang. When his mother died of cancer, he reevaluated his life, left the gang, graduated from the Academy of Fine Art in Vienna, and has embarked on a career as a visual artist.

During your criminal days, would you have considered the UK to be an attractive place to commit crime in?
Carlos Perez: I knew gang members who had been deported from Los Angeles and New York, but never Europe. London's known for its hooligans and skinheads—its street life is different from Latin America's.

Did you encounter anyone who traveled to the UK to commit crime?
No.

If you'd have been looking for a foreign country to commit crime in, how highly do you think the UK would have ranked in the list of possible locations?
If I had to place it in a numerical list, the US would have been number one, then maybe Spain. Then London might have been number three.

What obstacles do you think might prevent criminals from Guatemala from committing crime in the UK?
When someone is accustomed to committing crime, they'll always find somewhere to do it, because they always know where to strike and who to turn to, irrespective of the country or city.

ANDREW GASON

Andrew, from New Zealand, was involved in crimes ranging from shoplifting to weapons and drug smuggling. He left it all behind because he'd been "living on the edge for too long" and now runs a nonprofit organization called New Civilization Builders.

During your criminal days, would you have considered the UK to be an attractive place to commit crime in?
Andrew Gason: No—there are many more lucrative markets in other countries.

Did you ever encounter anyone who traveled to the UK to commit crime?
No.

So if there was a list of the most desirable countries to commit crime in, where would the UK rank?
Low.

BILLY FOURIE

In his old gang, Billy—from South Africa—used to move drugs and other items between cities and countries, until he had a religious experience and decided to leave crime behind.

If you'd been looking for a foreign country to commit crime in, how highly do you think the UK would have ranked in the list of possible locations?
Billy Fourie: That decision would have been based on the answers to the following questions: "How easily and inconspicuously can I get access to the underworld in the UK?" "Are there gangs that are the same or similar to mine?" and "Can this improve my underworld image and ranking?"

If you had come to the UK to commit crime, what kind of obstacles might you have faced?
Not knowing who runs what part of the city, which areas of the market are still open and which are taken.

So it's unlikely criminals are going to want to leave their home country to start committing crime in the UK?
They might do it to expand their current markets. However, without a trusted contact on the other side who is entrenched in the markets and who knows all the other necessary contacts, it wouldn't enter the mind of even the dumbest South African criminals.

ROGER ANTOCHI

Roger, from Australia, was jailed for armed robbery after his 18th birthday, and later arrested again for the same offense. He now manages a foundation called Talent Rise, which aims to support disadvantaged youth across the world by inspiring them to get involved with the technology and IT sector.

During your criminal days, would you have considered the UK an attractive place to commit crime?
Roger Antouchi: There was no need to travel overseas to commit crime, because there was plenty of opportunity to commit crime in Australia.

So you didn't know anyone who moved to the UK to commit crime?
No.

If you'd been looking for a foreign country to commit crime in, how highly would the UK have ranked in the list of possible locations?
It wouldn't have been on my radar.

Why's that?
The UK has its own established criminal syndicates, which means Australians wouldn't last long.

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