DURHAM police took cash and assets worth more than half a million pounds out of the hands of criminals last year.

To prevent people reaping the benefits of a criminal lifestyle, courts can use sentencing powers to hand down confiscation orders, while authorities can also use civil powers to deprive offenders of the proceeds of crime.

Home Office figures show Durham Constabulary collected proceeds of crime worth £506,200 in 2020-21.

Of this, £273,000 was obtained through confiscation orders, with officers deploying civil powers to take another £233,200 in cash and assets away from offenders.

The total collected by the force under the Proceeds of Crime Act was down from around £1.4million the year before – a 63 per cent drop.

Police forces in England and Wales collected around £96 million in 2020-21, down from £101 million the previous year.

Read more: Half of serious offenders in Durham are prolific criminals

The use of civil powers to seize cash and assets increased while there was a sharp drop in the amount paid via confiscation orders.

The overall amount collected by police and other authorities in confiscation order receipts was at its lowest level in six years, with increased amounts seized via forfeitures reflecting a widespread shift from the use of criminal to civil powers.

But experts say significant disruption to the criminal justice system due to the coronavirus pandemic also contributed to the national drop.

Jury trials were halted and many magistrates' courts closed due to pandemic restrictions, leading to a reduction in the number of orders made.

Courts also prioritised trials for the most serious offences, meaning fewer acquisitive crime cases were heard last year.

A Home Office spokesperson said more than £1.3 billion had been recovered from criminals since 2015 and that work was underway to improve operational responses to asset recovery and to ensure the Government delivers on its pledge to put 20,000 additional police officers on the streets by 2023.

The spokesperson added: “Criminals should not be able to profit from their illegal activities and that is why we are cracking down on them hard through our world-leading legislation and strengthened law enforcement response.

"We are determined to ensure police have the resources they need to keep the public safe."

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