Luke Johnson: Criminals have moved online but the police aren't following them

Cops need to get online and tackle cyber-crime.

by Luke Johnson
Last Updated: 31 Jul 2014

A marvellous new book called The Fourth Revolution by The Economist intellectuals John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge should be required reading for all those who care about the future of Britain. Its subtitle is 'The Global Race to Reinvent the State' and it discusses the problems facing 21st-century government and proposes solutions.

I spend quite a bit of time interacting with various arms of the state, for example, education via my involvement with Career Colleges, healthcare through chairing the Institute of Cancer Research and public libraries because I sit on an official committee considering their future.

One branch of the public services that needs dramatic reform is law enforcement. According to the British Crime Survey, virtually all forms of crime have been falling steadily in recent years. Statisticians say crime has halved since its 1995 peak. At the extreme end, the number of bank robberies has fallen from 847 in 1992 to just 66 in 2011. Car crime, murder and burglary rates are all dramatically lower than they used to be.

But until recently the number of police officers had risen steadily, to a peak of over 140,000. Uniformed officers cost an average of £54,000 a year each, including pensions. Yet they continue to devote the vast bulk of their energies to 'traditional' crimes.

That is understandable in the case of violent offences, which can really ruin lives. But too often one gets the impression that investigating fashionable crimes such as phone hacking absorbs disproportionate amounts of taxpayers' money in order to make the police look busy.

Yet the one sort of crime that has truly ballooned is cyber crime, including intellectual property theft, industrial espionage and online fraud. According to a Cabinet Office report in 2012, it costs Britain £27bn a year. I know about the vast amount of attempted and actual digital crime aimed at financial institutions, as I sit on the board of a bank.

Despite this having become almost certainly the most expensive category of crime of all - compared with, say, burglary, which is estimated to cost £5.3bn a year - the resources of the police directed towards prevention, detection and prosecution of online crime is pathetic. Moreover, I do not believe the substantial majority of the police are even remotely qualified to tackle online cyber crime.

Society needs to address this challenge. Police forces should hire many more online security experts, take the threats from cyber crime much more seriously and adapt swiftly to changing circumstances.

One way or another, this type of criminality costs British citizens around £400 a year each and this figure is rising fast. Only by catching and jailing the villains will it be stopped, which will also help the cops restore their reputation for competence and productivity.


Business should not be a sentimental undertaking. But we are all emotional creatures at heart, and even the most financially driven entrepreneurs like the occasional memento from their previous adventures.

I have a shelf in my study where about 20 Perspex tombstones sit: transparent blocks encasing miniature announcements that commemorate acquisitions, sales or flotations of companies where I've been involved. They are a little reminder of companies that absorbed years of my life and made (and in some cases lost) me lots of money.

I deliberately retain some tiny souvenirs of projects that didn't work so well - an equally potent hint that we are all fallible. Investment bankers possess dozens of such trophies, mostly gathering dust in glass cabinets somewhere in their office. They are the personal museums of capitalists.

Of course, all careers are really about the journey rather than the destination. One should savour the experience at the time and not focus too much on the past. In fact, business is especially brutal at forgetting history: companies are bought, sold and dismembered, products dropped, plants closed and new inventions adopted. Entrepreneurs in particular live in the present and the future and I suppose I am no exception.

Despite that, a little while ago I commissioned a triptych of oil paintings of various restaurants I owned at the time: Rocket, Patisserie Valerie and Giraffe. Sadly, the last of these has now been sold. And I've also commissioned a few watercolours of the buildings of institutions that I've chaired, such as the RSA.

I suppose they are all the equivalent of the classic retirement present of a watch, except I gave them to myself. The best parting gift I ever received was a specially made spoof tape from Channel 4 when I stepped down after six years.

I do have a set of plates from The Ivy, which I use for dinner parties, and a handy knife with the Strada logo on it. And I was recently presented with a hefty glass block from the London Stock Exchange, celebrating the flotation of Patisserie Holdings. But I think perhaps my favourite remembrance from my business career is a photo of me at 19 in my first venture, DJing in a nightclub in Oxford.

These are all but tiny fragments. No matter how many assets one owns in life, everything is temporary: becoming too possessive, especially towards material things, is always a bad idea. As the Bible says in 1 Timothy 6:7, 'For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.'

Luke Johnson is chairman of Risk Capital Partners. Follow him on Twitter: @LukeJohnsonRCP

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