Poor response hinders research into organised crime behaviours

HMRC has pulled the plug on a research project intended to examine the motives and behaviours of individuals who become involved in organised crime, due to a lack of participants, but is still planning to source insight in this area

The research, which was commissioned from an external consultancy, foundered because of challenges centred on sample size and the recruitment process.

It was originally intended that a sample of seven offenders would be interviewed, and purposively selected for a range of characteristics, in order to achieve diversity of motivations, views and experiences.

However, the research agency, NatCen, which worked closely with both HMRC and Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) was only able to identify four participants, which meant the sample size was too small.

The work was designed to investigate how individuals became involved in organised crime and their perceptions of risk and profit, and aimed to help HMRC tailor activities and associated sanctions more effectively to maximise their deterrent effect.

Specifically, researchers planned to look at how organised criminals assess risk and how this is balanced against potential profit from the crime; whether attitudes vary by the type of organised crime; the activities and penalties that are most effective in deterring organised criminals; and whether and how deterrent approaches could be effectively tailored in relation to the type of organised crime.

The small sample size meant HMRC decided not to proceed further but it has now published a short paper on the project’s findings. 

This shows that several factors made recruitment highly complex, including the need to liaise with a number of different agencies working with each offender, which could be a slow and disjointed process, and the time taken to contact individuals, which slowed momentum.

The report also noted a high number of opt-outs from individuals who were identified as potential interviewees. The reasons for this included a lack of incentive payment, the perceived risks of discussing their illegal activities, and being discouraged by others. Some withdrew shortly before interviews that had been booked with them.

It concluded that when carrying out further research on this topic, thought should be given at the earliest stage to sampling and recruitment, to give the best possible chance of achieving sample quotas.

It also recommending considering whether primary data could be gathered from other sampled groups – for example, HMRC staff and inspectors, members of the judiciary, police, probation and prison staff – saying this would broaden the range of views and capture different perspectives on the issue, to supplement offenders’ accounts.

Understanding organised criminals’ behaviour and perceptions of risk and profit

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