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GAMBLERS ANONYMOUS

Gary Mason talks to a former officer who has become a national expert on the often hidden link between crime and addictive gambling. He has set up a scheme to provide Liaison and Diversion staff with a tool for identifying problem gamblers in police custody and offering them treatment.

GAMBLERS ANONYMOUS

Date - 12th December 2020
By - Gary Mason

Brian Faint is a former Cheshire detective and a Gambling Harm Programme Manager with the Beacon Counselling Trust which is supporting the national strategy to reduce the harm caused by gambling disorder.

During a 27-year career he worked within intelligence in the National Crime Squad and then the National Crime Agency around mapping organised crime. But he first came across the link between gambling and serious crime when he finished his secondments and went back to Cheshire working in the fraud unit. He discovered that a number of the investigations were linked to problematic gambling and the amount of money involved was significant, often stretching to hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Almost all the early cases Brian worked on involved fraud of some description by people who were often placed in positions of trust in companies or other organisations and therefore had access to large amounts of money. There were also some police officers identified as having gambling addiction. “The difficulty with gambling is that it is a hidden addiction,” he says. “It doesn’t show physically.”

In Brian’s experience when an addictive gambler is arrested they are often “relieved” because they convince themselves they will be able to pay the money back and the arrest process reveals that as a delusional hope. “When you look at all the bank accounts involved and the enormity of the offending this hits home,” he adds. “They are using an app to gamble very easily and they have lost all sense of reality around money.”

A wider issue is that problem gambling doesn’t just affect one individual; It typically impacts six to 10 others often family members who might be victims of theft or financial coercion or controlling behaviour. 

But when he looked around at what sort of diversionary remedies police forces were providing compared to other forms of addiction linked to criminal behaviour, the cupboard was bare.

The additional opportunities for police forces that this work provides is that “If you could get a conditional caution of community resolution for drugs and alcohol at a low level of offending the option should be there for problematic gambling,” he says. Brian stresses he is not on a crusade to help people with gambling disorders but the parallels with other forms of problem addiction behaviours were obvious for him.

The gambling companies provide money for treatment and awareness training. They give the money to the Gamble Aware organisation who fund GamCare to provide a network of treatment services across the country of which the Beacon Counselling Trust is one example in the North West.   

It didn’t take long for Brian to discover this and he made contact with Neil Platt, the Clinical Director at the Beacon Counselling Trust.  The Trust also provide their services free of charge which Brian thought was a “no-brainer” for forces who deal with repeat offenders with gambling problems.

“There was already a screening tool in place so why wouldn’t people use a free service to refer people into treatment?” he says. “Also it wasn’t just for problem gambling there was comorbidity [the presence of more than one disorder in the same person] including drugs, alcohol and mental health. Whichever is the most acute will always takes priority.”

Brian now firmly believes that the earlier you get people into treatment the sooner you can start the rehabilitation process but he says it does not need to be viewed as a soft option. “If they need to go to prison, they need to go to prison,” he stresses. “Sometimes the volumes of money are very high £700,000 or £800,000 is not unheard of.”

Working with Neil Platt at the Trust he developed a Pathway using a screening tool which is used by Liaison and Diversion staff working in police custody suites. He says Cheshire lead the way across the United Kingdom for gambling related harm pathways.

The initial assessment of cases can be done within two days and offenders can be diverted into a treatment with a plan within a week of coming into custody

It eventually led to Brian winning a policing award from the Howard League for Penal Reform for the initiative. The Howard League has now started a three-year commission into the link between problem gambling and crime.

The Pathway screening programme was initially piloted in five police forces in June this year   - Lancashire, Cheshire, Merseyside, GMP and West Midlands. 

Brian also put in a Freedom of Information Request to all UK forces around the issue of problem gambling and crime. Forty-five forces responded and it was clear that awareness of the issue and diversionary treatment was very low with only nine able to make any reference to gambling addiction in their liaison and diversion processes in custody he says.

ACC Matt Burton sits on a special commission reviewing the link between problem gambling and crime 

The NPCC lead for problem gambling, Cheshire ACC Matt Burton who Brian had worked with closely in Cheshire and at the National Crime Squad also became involved in the programme which has led to five other forces taking up Pathway scheme  - Humberside, West Yorkshire, Cleveland, North Wales and Cumbria. ACC Burton also now sits as a Commissioner with the Howard League Commission on problem gambling and crime a role which has seen him receiving evidence from  MPs, experts in the field, victims of problem gambling and those that have committed crime as a result of gambling addiction.

The focus remains on increasing awareness among Liaison and Diversion staff at the point of custody but there is potential to develop this further at the lower offending level with two-tier criminal justice attached to conditional cautions or community resolution. 

“There is a need to intervene at a much earlier stage before the offending gets too severe,” says Brian. Hypothetically cases could start with a criminal damage case at a bookmakers where a frustrated gambler smashes up gambling machines after being banned from the premises.

But it also needs to address the cycle of offending to fund their gambling disorder and involve rehabilitation being offered for someone who has come out of prison having served a long sentence for committing serious crime linked to their disorder.

Brian interviewed one offender with a “lived experience” who had been in and out of prison eight times over a 25-year period and throughout that time he had received no treatment for his gambling disorder.

He says the screening, diversion, referral and treatment pathway should be available for every person entering custody or voluntarily attending a police station across the United Kingdom. This would provide persons presenting with a gambling disorder with parity for their root causes of criminality as for those presenting with a drugs, alcohol and mental health disorder.

The recommendations from this criminal justice gambling related harm programme are a real opportunity for all police forces across England and Wales, to get free awareness training, a screening tool and first class treatment at no cost. They conclude that:

  1. All police forces should undertake police system keyword searches regarding the impact of gambling related harm to the police. The use of these keywords namely Gambling, Betting and Casino will identify the prevalence of crime and gambling in their respective force.
  2. The adoption of best practice and processes by police forces for community resolution and conditional cautions for gambling related harm should be a priority based on effective screening and localised pathways for diversion into treatment.
  3. The learning from interviewing persons with a lived experience is invaluable for the Criminal Justice teams and Healthcare Managers, to fully understand the persons presenting before them with a gambling related harm and use their experiences to work with others identified with a gambling disorder.
  4. The development of the treatment pathways with National Probation Services, Community Rehabilitation Companies and Court staff.

Contact details for further infromation: Brian Faint/Neil Platt

Criminal Justice - Gambling Related Harm Programme Manager.

Email: brian.faint@beaconcounsellingtrust.co.uk

Email: neil.platt@beaconcounsellingtrust.co.uk -    +44 151 226 0696                                                                            

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