NORTH Sea oil companies are being warned of the threat from organised crime as they cut costs after the crude price crash.

Police are approaching major operators amid concerns that gangland front companies in waste or security industries will try to undercut legitimate businesses in the sector.

North Sea oil and gas firms have been laying off thousands of workers and looking for deals on contracts ever since the oil price started plunging last year.

However, detectives stress that the sheer scale of the industry – one of Scotland's biggest involving global businesses – does not make it immune from the underworld.

Chief Constable Phil Gormley said the main industry lobby was being formally warned of the dangers it faces.

In an official report, he said: "An initial approach has been made to Oil and Gas UK to discuss potential threats to the energy industry from serious organised crime."

Chief Inspector Kevin Wallace, of Police Scotland's North East division, clarified that the industry was being advised about gangland contractors.

He said: "Serious organised crime targets legitimate businesses across a wide variety of industries, which impacts on communities throughout Scotland.

"Police Scotland will be meeting with Oil and Gas UK to ensure legitimate businesses can understand how serious organised crime attempts to target them and how they can work with law enforcement agencies to prevent criminals procuring services connected to the North Sea industry."The Herald: The North Sea oil and gas industry saw a substantial drop in revenues in 2015

Police have increasingly been working with Scotland's business community in its attempts to disrupt underworld front companies. Sources stress that criminal gangs are especially interested in accessing industries with key infrastructure, such as ports, ships, transportation. This includes the oil, fishing, warehousing and trucking industries.

Background: The Herald's Mark Williamson on North Sea oil cost-cutting.

Graeme Pearson, a Labour MP who previously ran the now abolished Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, stressed that the underworld always knew when an industry was vulnerable.

He said: "This is exactly the time when is going to make its move when companies are trying to lower prices.

"Companies might think they were getting a good deal but they are not going to get a good service

"The truth is - and I have repeated this over and over again - that organised crime wants to get its grip on legitimate businesses when they are at their weakest.

"So they are going to offer great deals for getting rid of waste, for example.

"They don't just want the contracts for cash, they want access to services. And once they get a grip, they don't want to let go.

"The famous example of this is New York City, which cut its cost for refuse when times were bad.

"The Mafia moved in and it took decades to get rid of it."


The Herald: GRAEME PEARSON: 'Tackle problem early'Mr Pearson, pictured above, underlined that even the very biggest companies were capable of being infiltrated by gangsters or coming under the influence of underworld figures.

He said: "They don't try to eat the elephant all at once. They do so bite by bite.

"All they need is one official in a position to influence, say contracts. So it is not about the scale of the industry."

Dr Alix Thom, of Oil & Gas UK, said: "We are in regular communication with Police Scotland via the Energy Industry Liaison Unit and our Security Committee.

"Serious Organised Crime is one of the issues which is discussed from time to time."