Police have warned they don’t have to prove people are criminals to take away their ‘proceeds of crime’ jewellery after officers used special court powers for the first time.
The warning comes after Nottinghamshire Police seized a gold watch and bracelet, with a combined value of around £6,000, during a fraud investigation.
The items, which were later made the subject of a listed assets forfeiture order, were found in a Nottingham hotel room along with 20 different bank cards and more than £6,000 in cash.
A 20-year-old man was arrested in September 2019 on suspicion of fraud and money laundering but could not be charged because no victim could be identified.
Unwilling to let the matter lie, financial investigator Stuart Rhodes turned instead to civil legislation that allows officers to go after jewellery, precious metals and gemstones – items that are often used by criminals to launder money.
He conducted a forfeiture investigation into the matter before submitting an application to magistrates under the Criminal Finance Act 2017, which empowers police forces to go after suspects’ assets before, during or after the conclusion of a criminal investigation.
Previously under Proceeds of Crime legislation only cash could be made the subject of a civil forfeiture order.
Seizures dealt with under the act require a lower burden of proof and can only be dealt with by an accredited financial investigator.
Crucially officers only need to provide evidence that, on the balance of probability, items had been obtained through unlawful conduct.
This was the first successful listed assets forfeiture order made by Nottinghamshire Police after the conclusion of criminal proceedings.
Detective Inspector Nikki Smith, of Nottinghamshire Police, said: “This was a frustrating case for officers because we were unable to find a victim, and without a victim we could not bring a successful prosecution.
“However, the investigation revealed that this young man had no discernible legitimate income despite being in possession a very large quantity of cash, high-value jewellery and multiple bank cards.
“We strongly believed these assets were obtained through unlawful activity and financial investigator Stuart Rhodes worked extremely hard to ensure they were recovered. All credit to him for being the first in our force to be successful in such a forfeiture application.
“Stuart built a solid case and because of the weight of evidence the suspect made no effort to contest our application. Stuart was then able to demonstrate to the magistrates that these items were purchased with the proceeds of the suspect’s unlawful conduct and successfully argued that he should be deprived of them.
“Obviously the court agreed and the jewellery will now be sold at auction and the profits added to the seized cash in order to support victims of crime.
“I have been a police officer long enough to know that that the one thing criminals really hate is not the loss of their liberty through prison sentences – it is the loss of money and the various other trappings of their criminality. So this was a great result for us and a bad result for the individual in question – even though he avoided a criminal conviction on this occasion.
“This was the first time we have used this legislation in this way and I can safely say it won’t be the last because it gives us another opportunity to take the benefit out of crime.”