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Officials estimate that there are 38,000 organised criminals active in Britain working in 6,000 groups

A record £161m worth of assets, including sports cars, watches, diamond earrings, designer clothing and fine china was recovered from criminals in Britain last year.

The Home Office disclosed the figure, the highest since the introduction of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, as ministers prepared to publish their new strategy to tackle organised crime. They said a further £49m of assets was returned to victims, while £831m of cash and ill-gotten gains such as seized illicit drugs were denied to criminals during 2010-11.

It is officially estimated that there are 38,000 organised criminals active in Britain working in 6,000 groups involved in the drugs trade, human trafficking, child exploitation and cybercrime as well as more traditional areas such as armed robbery and organised vehicle theft. Ministers have complained that too many of them regard themselves as “untouchables”.

It is also estimated that organised crime costs the UK £20-£40bn a year in social and economic costs.