Offending patterns of those involved in serious organised crime

This study explores the key characteristics and offending behaviour of people involved in serious organised crime.

4. Details of the offenders

This section sets out the key demographic characteristics of those 235 of the 490 (10%) sample) who had committed at least one offence in 2013-14 in terms of age, gender, residence (by local authority area) and socio-economic background (based on employment status and type, and analysis of residence by SIMD). Although, it is important to bear in mind that there may have been other offending that was not identified or reported to COPFS by the authorities. Limited information which exists on ethnicity is discussed although it is recognised that this is an area which requires further investigation.


The average age of the SOC nominals who had been reported for at least one crime in the study year was 34. As demonstrated in table 1, the highest proportion were aged 21-30 (40%) followed by 31-40 (33%). A minority were aged twenty or under (4% of total accused). A similarly small proportion were aged over 61 (1%). This echoes findings from a Home Office report (2015) which found that small minorities were aged under 17 (1%) or over 61 (3%) and that the highest proportion of individuals involved in organised crime were aged between 26 and 35 (36%) [19] . This provides tentative support to the finding that, in relation to serious organised crime, it may take longer for individuals to become involved – or for their involvement to be identified as SOC-related by police or other agencies, compared with other serious offences [20] .

Table 1: Age breakdown of offenders in 2013/14 [21]

Age cat. ≤16 17 – 20 21 - 30 31 - 40 41 – 50 51 - 60 ≥61 Total
No. of accused 2 7 93 78 39 14 2 235
% 1 3 40 33 16 6 1 100


Of the accused 210 were men (89%) and a small minority, 25, were women (11%). This reflects patterns of crime more generally, with men much more likely to be recorded as perpetrators than women ( SCJS 2014/15).

Examination of charge data by gender revealed that male offenders on the mapping system were responsible for 738 charges. On average, men within the sample each typically committed 2 offences (median figure), although the number of offences committed by men ranged from 1-26 [22] . Women on the mapping system were less prolific in their offending. They (11%) were responsible for 61 charges in total and each offender typically committed 1.5 offences (median figure), with the number of offences ranging from 1-11 [23] .


Information on the accused ethnicity is not always recorded in police reports and may be based on the assessment made by the police after arrest ( i.e. is not information actually given by the accused). A lack of consistency was found in terms of classification, 'Scottish' was recorded for the majority of offenders (176) but without further specific detail ( e.g. in terms of ethnicity: White, Mixed, Asian, African, Caribbean or Black or other Ethnic group). Similarly nine offenders were recorded as 'British, White', while other categories were broad and non-specific ( e.g. a small number of offenders were recorded as Asian, Caribbean or African without further detail). Without greater consistency and standardisation in recording of this data in line with individuals' ethnic group and cultural background [24] , it is not possible to draw conclusions.

Employment status and type

Employment status is recorded by the Police on the report submitted to COPFS. It will relate to the status at the time of the arrest of the report and is normally based on information provided by the accused, or sometimes by other witnesses in the case. At the time of the offence, the majority (54%) of those who had offended were recorded as being unemployed [25] . Forty-three per cent (102 people) were recorded as employed, and 2% were recorded as either students or retired. Table 2 shows the broad employment types of the offenders sampled.

Table 2: Employment types of offenders in 2013-2014 [26]

Major Group Type Number of SOC offenders % Total
Major Group 1: Managers, Directors and Senior Officials 18 17
Major Group 2: Professional Occupations 3 3
Major Group 3: Associate Professional and Technical Occupations 3 3
Major Group 5: Skilled Trades Occupations 31 30
Major Group 6: Caring, Leisure and Other Service Occupations 3 3
Major Group 7: Sales and Customer Service Occupations 12 12
Major Group 8: Process, Plant and Machine Operatives 16 16
Major Group 9: Elementary Occupations 16 16
Total 102 100

Those who said they were employed provided a basic description of their occupation. These occupations ( e.g. shop-keeper, factory worker) were cross referenced with the Office for National Statistics ( ONS) Standard Occupational Classification 2010. This classification system enables all types of occupation to fit into 9 major groups. Within this system are 25 sub major groups, 90 minor groups and 369 unit groups. For the purposes of simple comparison, only the major group occupations are provided and discussed here.

Given the small sample size, and the even smaller sample size of offenders who said that they were employed, there are limits to the generalisability of these findings. In addition, information on employment status was reliant on the offender disclosing that he or she was in employment at the time of the offence; it is possible that not all offenders disclosed this information accurately, which may potentially skew the results.

While it is difficult to draw firm conclusions from the data provided in the table, the data presented suggest that these offenders were represented in all but one of the major groups, and as such held a wide range of occupations. The table shows that 12% of offenders held occupations in in group 7: Sales and Customer Service Occupations and that equal proportions 16% respectively were employed in groups 8 or 9: process, plant and machine operatives and elementary occupations. The highest proportion of offenders were employed in occupations within Group 5: skilled trades occupations (30% of the total). Further, just under a fifth (17%) held occupations within Group 1: managers, directors and senior officials. Data from the table also indicate that fewer proportions of offenders worked within the professional, associate professional and technical and caring, leisure and other service occupations (Groups 2, 3 and 6), and that no offenders captured in this sample held administrative and secretarial occupations (Group 4). It is worth noting that these findings are also likely to be reflective of the gender composition of the offending sample (89% of whom are men), and patterns of occupational gender segregation more widely, with men more likely to be employed in skilled trades than women, and less likely to be employed in caring and administrative and secretarial occupations [27] .

Bearing in mind the limitations, the data suggests that offenders are employed in a broad range of occupations. This perhaps reflects the dynamics of SOC groups and that, according to recent Police Scotland Management Information, an estimated 66% of SOCGs are involved in seemingly legitimate businesses. The most common business types were identified as licensed premises, restaurants, building/construction companies, shops, garage repairs and vehicle maintenance, taxis and nail bars [28] . However, it is not possible to say, without further investigation, what proportion of the accused have connections to serious organised crime through their employment.

Residence of offenders by local authority

Analysis of the postcode of offenders by local authority provides some indication of the spread of SOC offenders across Scotland. However, some caution should be attached to these findings given that postcodes were not available for just under a fifth of the sample [29] . For those offender records where postcode was available (table 3), analysis showed that SOC offenders within the sample were drawn from 25 local authorities across Scotland. The highest proportion of offenders, just over a quarter (26%), resided in Glasgow, followed by Edinburgh (12%) and Fife (11%). These proportions may partly reflect the concentration of the population in the cities, but also SOC activity and operational policing. Combined, 13% of offenders came from North and South Lanarkshire, while other local authority areas comprised less than 5% of the total (including Aberdeenshire, Dundee city, Highland and West Lothian). These patterns broadly reflect the location of charges by local authority, which suggests that offenders may be particularly active in the local authorities where they reside (see table 8 for further detail).

Table 3: Local authority residence of offenders

Local authority No. %
Aberdeen city 8 4
Aberdeenshire 0 0
Angus 2 1
Argyll and Bute 0 0
Clackmannanshire 1 0.5
Dumfries & Galloway 5 3
Dundee city 5 3
East Ayrshire 0 0
East Dunbartonshire 4 2
East Lothian 3 2
East Renfrewshire 1 0.5
Edinburgh, City of 23 12
Eilean Siar 0 0
Falkirk 1 0.5
Fife 21 11
Glasgow 50 26
Highland 6 3
Inverclyde 1 0.5
Midlothian 3 2
Moray 4 2
North Ayrshire 3 2
North Lanarkshire 14 7
Orkney Islands 0 0
Perth & Kinross 3 1.5
Scottish Borders 0 0
Shetland Islands 0 0
Renfrewshire 5 3
South Ayrshire 3 1.5
South Lanarkshire 12 6
Stirling 2 1
West Dunbartonshire 4 2
West Lothian 6 3
Total 190 100

Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation

Analysis of offenders' home postcodes provides an insight into the proportions who are drawn from areas of multiple deprivation. Although again, some caution should be attached to these findings given that postcodes were not available for approximately a fifth of the sample. The Scottish index of multiple deprivation ( SIMD) provides a relative measure of deprivation and is based on indicators from a number of domains (income, employment, health, education, geographic access, housing and crime). Deprivation decile 1 represents the most deprived 10% within a population, while decile 10 represents 10% of the population in the least deprived circumstances.

Examination of offender postcode data for the 10% sample suggests a clear correlation between residing in areas of multiple deprivation and involvement in serious organised crime. Although caution should be attached to this finding as it is based on a relatively small sample (and may also be reflective of police activity in certain areas and the identification of groups which are more visible), research into neighbourhood safety by Sampson and Radenbush found that concentrated disadvantage was the most salient predictor of crime and disorder. However, the research also found that higher levels of collective efficacy, defined as 'linkages of cohesion and mutual trust with shared expectations for intervening in support of neighbourhood social control' were associated with lower rates of crime overall. [30]

Table 4 and chart 1 demonstrate that just over a quarter (26%) of offenders come from the most deprived decile. Fifteen per cent of offenders are drawn from the second most deprived decile, with over half (58%) of offenders being drawn from the three most deprived deciles. Only a small proportion (2%) come from the least deprived decile [31] . Comparison of the proportion of the general working age population by residence in SIMD deciles ( table 5 below) shows that there is an even distribution, with approximately 10% of the population in each decile. This comparison shows that SOC offenders are more likely to reside in more deprived areas than the general population. It also reflects findings more widely on poorer justice outcomes (in terms of the crime and imprisonment rate for the population) and the underlying factors associated with them, which tend to be concentrated in areas of multiple deprivation [32] .

This may possibly be understood in terms of the employment opportunities SOC may offer, highlighted in a Joseph Rowntree Foundation report into contemporary workless families [33] . It found that, in the absence of legitimate employment, and in the face of low qualifications and limited formal education, for some, opportunities to work in the drugs trade were particularly attractive. In addition, a review of the literature on serious organised crime suggested that in Scotland, individuals living in deprived areas or those who may be disadvantaged in other ways are more likely to have been offered illicit drugs, to use illicit drugs and experience drug dependency than those living in less deprived areas [34] . Areas characterised by deprivation therefore not only offer a ready customer base for selling illicit drugs, they also present opportunities for serious organised criminals to take advantage of vulnerable individuals who can be victimised/exploited. That said, offenders were not drawn exclusively from areas characterised by high levels of deprivation, indeed, 20% of offenders were drawn from SIMD deciles 6-10 ( i.e. lesser deprived areas), suggesting that the problem is more widespread.

A review of public attitudes into serious organised crime in Scotland, conducted in 2013, sheds further light on the relationship between deprivation and SOC. It revealed that while just over a quarter (27%) perceived it to be a serious issue in their neighbourhood, those in the most deprived areas, alongside those living in urban areas were most likely to perceive it as a problem (46% and 31% respectively) [35] . This is an area that may benefit from further investigation but these findings suggest that reducing disadvantage and deprivation in communities, alongside developing worthwhile and legitimate job opportunities and building community efficacy, may be key in tackling SOC.

Table 4 – Offender residence by 2016 SIMD decile

Decile Frequency Percentage
1 50 26%
2 29 15%
3 33 17%
4 20 11%
5 18 10%
6 12 6%
7 8 4%
8 8 4%
9 7 4%
10 4 2%
Total 189 [36] 100% [37]

Chart 1 Offender residence by SIMD decile
Chart 1 Offender residence by SIMD decile

Table 5 – Working age population by 2016 SIMD decile

SIMD Decile Working age pop. (2014) % pop.
1 336,884 9.8%
2 341,265 9.9%
3 333,558 9.7%
4 336,059 9.8%
5 343,098 10.0%
6 341,019 9.9%
7 345,804 10.1%
8 351,139 10.2%
9 348,647 10.1%
10 362,381 10.5%


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