Home > Community experiences of serious organised crime in Scotland.

Guiney, Ciara (2019) Community experiences of serious organised crime in Scotland. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 70, Summer 2019, pp. 11-12.

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In June 2018, a report that examined community experiences of serious organised crime (SOC) in Scotland was published by the Scottish Government.1 The study aimed to examine three areas:

  • Relationships that existed between SOC and communities in Scotland
  • Experiences and perceptions of the scope and nature of SOC among residents, stakeholders, and organisations
  • Impact of SOC on community wellbeing, and whether harms linked to SOC can be alleviated. 


This study drew on a qualitative approach and involved four stages. Overall, data were collected from 188 participants.


Stage 1: Site selection

The site selection was based on community experiences of organised crime, interviews with key stakeholders (e.g. police, statutory and voluntary agencies), police intelligence, and analyses by the Scottish Community Development Centre.


Stage 2: Case study fieldwork

Qualitative interviews, focus groups and observations were carried out between February and November 2017 with community participants and agencies using two research teams. This was to minimise harm and to ensure anonymity and confidentiality. The themes addressed in the interviews included perceptions of community; meanings associated with ‘organised’ crime; experiences of victimisation and/or crime; and changes over time (p. 19). A thematic interview template was utilised in interviews. Questions were modified according to respondents, experiences, and community. Young people (n=16) and teachers (n=2) from three secondary schools took part in focus groups (n=5). Table 1 shows the demographic profile of the community participants.

Informal interviews and observations were carried out in local business premises (n=12). These interviews explored the advantages and disadvantages of doing business in these areas; security; victimisation; relationships; and perceptions of organised crime. To ensure anonymity, no demographic details were recorded. Interviews with key stakeholders (n=52) explored the nature and patterns of organised crime, changes over time, interventions, and success and failures (p. 20).


Stage 3: Triangulation

A data calibration exercise detected two gaps in the data collection. Hence, two more data-collections were carried out:

  1. Interviews and focus groups were carried out with individuals with a lived experience of organised crime (n=12).
  2. Interviews were carried out with community and statutory agencies who were engaged in crime of a more diffuse nature (n=14, p. 21). 

Stage 4: Data analysis and community co-inquiry

Following data analysis, the findings were presented to a subsample of participants (n=33) at ‘co-inquiry events’ (p. 22). These events involved a two-stage process. Participants were first asked to discuss whether the findings were or were not in alignment with their experiences. Then they were asked to consider changes in practice, policy or community responses that could stop crime, address social determinants, and address the impact of crime in the community. The outcomes of this process informed final conclusions and recommendations.



The main findings were categorised into four themes: community experiences; narratives; emergent and diffuse organised crime; and service delivery and community response.


Community experiences

Organised crime was identified as a prevailing and routine aspect of normal everyday living in local communities. It was believed that firms, families and ‘faces’ involved were ‘local’ (p. 3).2 The most prominent crime visible was street crime, such as drug dealing and theft. However, it was acknowledged that most SOC crimes were not visible to the public. The main impact of SOC in Scotland was believed to be the result of the illicit drugs market, which results in harmful outcomes for users, their families, and community as a whole.



A range of narratives emerged across case study sites relating to the push and pull factors that led to organised crime involvement, such as:

  • Poverty and inequality
  • Family, mentoring and recruitment
  • Boredom and excitement
  • ‘Flash cars’ and ready cash. 

Emergent and diffuse organised crime

While it was evident that the nature, form, and extent of SOC today was similar to previous generations, there was evidence to suggest that new trends were emerging in relation to youth crime, drug distribution, and market diversification (p. 45). Advancements in technology played a part; for example, it was no longer vital to be part of a gang, recruitment could easily occur via social media as and when needed. Mobile flexible markets have become common in smaller locations where a SOC presence was not evident; they operated differently to those elsewhere. For example, mobile criminal actors were known to take over premises by taking advantage of people with vulnerabilities, such as age, addiction, or mental health (p. 48). Occasionally, these mobile networks worked with local crime groups and were known to collaborate on other criminal offences (p. 49). The ability for SOC offenders to set up legitimate businesses in order to launder and invest money was viewed as a real threat to the community. No links were shown between organised crime groups and migrant communities; however, similar to other vulnerable cohorts, there was some evidence to suggest that they were vulnerable to labour exploitation and human trafficking.


Service delivery and community response

The presence of SOCs was considered a challenge for services and its delivery. By their very nature, extensive resources are required to address the problems that arise along with their associated effects on the community. In addition, other obstacles, such as stigma, fear and mistrust, existed between communities and services as well as reduced responses by service providers to poverty and social exclusion. Existing levels of austerity further exacerbated these issues.


Conclusion and recommendations

Recommendations were put forward to address the four main themes that emerged in the course of the study:

  • Developing resilient communities: The existing SOC strategy, framed by four strategic principles – Divert, Deter, Detect and Disrupt – should be extended to include an additional D – Develop, which should be aimed at addressing harms connected to organised crime.
  • Changing the narrative: Narratives should be challenged at a national, community, and individual level.
  • Addressing vulnerability: Strategies are required to prevent the exploitation of individuals that are vulnerable.
  • Broadening community partnership: In order to develop cohesive interventions and responses, it is important that police, community, and statutory organisations work in partnership. 

This is the first study to investigate community experiences of SOC in Scotland. It has extended knowledge and understanding of organised crime within Scottish communities in locations where SOC is embedded and where mobile forms of SOCs are present. As acknowledged by the authors, ‘only by shining a light on an issue that is often in the shadows, or is disordered through the glare of media glamourisation and dubious forms of celebrity, can real and effective responses be formulated’ (p. 79).


1    Fraser A, Hamilton-Smith N, Clark A, Atkinson C, Graham W, McBride M, et al. (2018) Community experiences of serious organised crime in Scotland: research report. Edinburgh: Scottish Government. Available online at: https://www.gov.scot/publications/community-experiences-serious-organised-crime-scotland/

2    Scottish Government (2018) Community experiences of serious organised crime in Scotland: research findings. Edinburgh: Scottish Government. Available online at: https://www.gov.scot/publications/community-experiences-serious-organised-crime-scotland-research-findings/

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, International
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Intervention Type
Crime prevention
Issue Title
Issue 70, Summer 2019
September 2019
Page Range
pp. 11-12
Health Research Board
Issue 70, Summer 2019

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