GANGSTER landlords are being stripped of their licences in a major crackdown on underworld money-laundering property empires.

A dozen suspected criminals, including people traffickers, have already lost the right to rent out homes in a major attack on the soft underbelly of organised crime, The Herald can reveal.

Others now face new tough checks on whether they are "fit and proper persons" to hold a landlord registration, whether for a single home or scores.

Police Scotland's new chief constable, Phil Gormley, pictured, has singled out the scheme - currently being pioneered in North Lanarkshire - for praise amid calls for a nationwide roll-out.

HeraldScotland: Phil Gormley, Police Scotland’s new Chief Constable

The Lanarkshire landlord crackdown is the latest "legally audacious" ruse by police to use non-criminal bodies - such as alcohol or taxi licensing authorities or security or fishing regulators - target suspected gangsters.

Under such schemes police share their secret intelligence on underworld figures, meaning bodies such as councils can judge individuals'' merits for a licence on the civil proof of balance of probabilities rather than the criminal one of "beyond reasonable doubt".

Legally audacious: how police stopped suspected gangster holidaying in America.

The new scheme also underlines the sheer importance of property letting to organised criminals - as opportunities for money laundering or brothel-keeping add to the existing allure of buy-to-let profits.

In recent years mortgage fraud has become one of the most common charges made against gangsters.

Police Scotland's long-standing Operation Thero focuses on deep links between organised crime groups and the private rental sector.

Assistant Chief Constable Ruaraidh Nicolson, pictured, stressed sharing intelligence with landlord registration officials was part of a wider trend.

HeraldScotland: Police Scotland assistant chief constable Ruaraidh Nicolson

He said: "This is another example of the multi-agency approach Police Scotland and partner agencies adopt in tackling serious organised crime.

"Police Scotland will continue to work with local authorities and other partner agencies to target Organised Crime wherever it impacts on the communities of Scotland."

North Lanarkshire Council has been sharing details of its landlords with police for four years and has previous stripped criminals, such as people with assault convictions, of their registrations through a "fit and proper person review panel".

HeraldScotland: North Lanarkshire Council boss suspended pending investigation

Chief Constable Gormley, in a report to his ruling board the Scottish Police Authority, this was now being extended to "those involved in serious and organised crime and human trafficking".

Mr Gormley said 31 landlords under the process had been referred to the council's licensing committee. He added: "Nine have been removed and three voluntarily removed themselves from the landlord register and a further nine are awaiting a committee hearing."

"Lanarkshire is the first division to make use of an expert witness to

give evidence in respect of objections at a licensing committee and this individual also offers bespoke intelligence awareness training to the committee."

Labour MSP Graeme Pearson - a veteran detective who led the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency - urged other councils to work with the police on similar schemes.

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Mr Pearson, pictured above, said: "I welcome this imaginative approach. Such steps, lawfully taken in the interests of public safety and thereby creating problems for organised crime figures is of itself a good thing.

"They also help prevent vulnerable tenants from coming under the influence of the unscrupulous

"Other local authorities would do well to examine the value of this approach for their areas."

The scheme is also generating intelligence for the police on the scale of organised crime in the region, with information passed on through the panels from the council itself, housing associations and letting agents.

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Helen McKenna, North Lanarkshire Council’s convener of Environmental Services, said: "We share intelligence and data with police and this is clearly paying off."

"We recognise the important part private landlords play in providing good quality housing accommodation and as a council we are here to support these landlords; but what we will not tolerate are landlords who are not fit and proper and where these are identified we will take action to stop them from letting out property within North Lanarkshire."

The Scottish Association of Landlords welcomed the crackdown. Its chief executive, John Blackwood, said: "We support any measure that ensures that criminal landlords are removed from the sector.

"We have long since been critical of the apparent lack of enforcement of landlord registration schemes in Scotland. This news highlights the importance of appropriate enforcement action employed in North Lanarkshire Council."

Background: Just how many Scottish businesses are crime fronts?