Having worked in the arena of law enforcement for over 43 years and IP enforcement for over 20 years, both in the public and private sectors, I have witnessed first-hand the amazing work that dedicated Trading Standards professionals carry out on a daily basis to tackle serious and sometimes organised IP crime, as well as to perform other regulatory duties including enforcement of the Hallmarking Act 1973.
However, in recent years, severe government cuts and some bizarre restructuring of many Trading Standards departments have led to a massive reduction in experience, knowledge and capacity to deal with the types of insidious crimes that impact greatly on legitimate businesses and consumers alike.
Whilst areas such as Cheetham Hill in Manchester are seeing real buy-in from the Police under Operation Vulcan in partnership with Trading Standards, the Intellectual Property Office (IPO), industry and other agencies, other areas such as Camden and Southall — which host both retail and wholesale counterfeiters, as well as other types of fraudsters — are left to cobble together resources and logistics, heavily reliant on industry resource and financial support.
That has always driven us at WRi Group to provide as much support as possible to assist Trading Standards. We do this predominantly through IP investigations, training via our superb Academy, and sponsorship of awards and events such as the CTSI Hero Award for IP, the CTSI Intelligence and Investigative Principles (IIP) academic award and branch events.
However, more recently we have also entered the world of non-compliance of the Hallmarking Act, seeing first-hand how rogue trading practices can place consumers and legitimate retailers at risk of harm and financial loss.
As a multi-award winning company, we have a proven track record of delivering high-quality and cost-effective services to both private and public sector agencies. Our focus has always been on protecting the vulnerable in society from harm and chasing down criminals who exploit failings in the legal infrastructure to make enormous amounts of money, much of which funds associated, violent criminality.
Boots on the ground
Examples of that support can be evidenced through our joint initiatives and engagement on Operation CLEAR UP and Operation STAMPING IT OUT!
Operation CLEAR UP focuses on the removal of counterfeit goods from the 20 or so retail shops on Camden High Street, which sees high volumes of domestic and international consumer footfall every day.
Retail traders there act with impunity, selling a wide array of fake goods, making millions of pounds each year, ripping off consumers and brands, and taking much-needed revenue out of the public purse.
This joint initiative to remove the visibility of counterfeit goods from the high street brings together Camden Trading Standards, WRi and our partners at Back Four Brand Protection and Lighthouse Security. It has led to some real successes already, with major counterfeiters raided and over £5m worth of illicit goods seized.
Whilst seizures are important, so is the message to the criminal community that their actions will no longer be tolerated. With limited funding, Trading Standards is not able to prosecute all offenders, so WRi Group — in partnership with Lighthouse Security and a specialist IP legal team — is taking forward private criminal prosecutions (PCP) on behalf of clients. These prosecutions against prolific offenders result in convictions that are then handed over to Trading Standards to conduct POCA investigations and achieve potential confiscations.
At the end of November 2023, one such PCP saw a retailer from Camden High Street sentenced at Wood Green Crown Court to 12 months community service, 150 hours unpaid work, disqualification from being a company director for three years and forfeiture of the seized goods — a real deterrent to others in the area, and all at no cost to Trading Standards, who will hopefully benefit from POCA revenues as a result.
These are not hidden shops but retailers out in the open touting their criminal wares; some even have cashpoint machines and Bureau de Change facilities in their stores.
This isn’t rocket science. Whilst industry have a responsibility to support the authorities, it’s time for real investment from government, not just on the consumer awareness side but financial support for Trading Standards to enable them to grab these issues by the scruff of the neck and close the shops down for good, using Operation Vulcan’s methodology of change and re-generation.
Going for gold
Operation STAMPING IT OUT is a pilot project funded by the London Assay Office (LAO) and the British Hallmarking Council (BHC), who have contracted us to lead on an awareness, intelligence and enforcement program to better understand the threat to legitimate retailers and consumers from breaches of the Hallmarking Act 1973.
In 2022, we were honoured with a Special Recognition Touchstone Award from the BHC, Assay Offices of the UK and the National Association of Jewellers for the ‘most effective initiative undertaken in relation to hallmarking enforcement’.
Operation STAMPING IT OUT is the follow-on from that work and sees my team join forces with Trading Standards in London and the South East. We identify and visit retailers to offer advice, guidance, information, and support to ensure their compliance with the legislation.
Those that fall foul of the legislation will receive follow-up inspection visits, fully supported by WRi and LAO.
We are also monitoring the online space to assess, identify and report infringers, and to raise awareness amongst enforcement, industry, and consumers of the threat they face from this type of crime.
The initial pilot has been supported by many within the Trading Standards profession, including Ealing Trading Standards, Camden Trading Standards and Tower Hamlets Trading Standards. It has also been supported by the National Trading Standards Intelligence Team and London Trading Standards Intelligence Team.
With thousands of jewellers and precious metal retailers across the country, and many more online, Trading Standards hasn’t the capacity to manage this issue on its own. But with our support and that of the LAO and BHC, this growing threat can be managed and reduced.
As a full CTSI member myself as well as a Corporate CTSI member with a history of promoting and supporting the Trading Standards profession, you can count on WRi to assist you in any way possible.
Public and private sector agencies can work together effectively to tackle all forms of crime, but particularly IP crime and hallmarking issues. It should also be noted that the lawful sharing of intelligence is permitted for the prevention and detection of crime.
If you are looking to initiate or require support in any aspect of an investigation, or training in any aspect of the criminal justice system, then please get in touch on 02921 202597 or at firstname.lastname@example.org; www.wri-group.com