Touting for business: the true cost

Tout ListInteresting article on the BBC News website about investigations into how much cash money police and other agencies give out to paid informers…

Seven police forces rejected requests from the BBC, made under the Freedom of Information Act, to reveal how much taxpayers’ money was paid out.

…Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg said: “The refusal of police forces to provide basic information on the use of taxpayers’ money is difficult to understand.

“It is not as if we have been asking for operational details on the informants used by the police which, understandably, should remain as confidential information.

“But surely the public is entitled to a rough idea on the amount of public money spent on informants, in the interests of transparency”

…Police forces, MI5 and HM Revenue and Customs are all believed to have increased their use of covert human intelligence sources (CHIS) in recent years as they seek to combat terrorism and organised crime.

In 2005 the government introduced the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act, which encourages using such people to bring down criminal gangs.

But some lawyers and civil liberty campaigners fear there is insufficient scrutiny of payments to informers and a lack of public accountability.

Rodney Warren, of the Criminal Law Solicitors Association, said the use of registered police informants was widespread and he said he knew about a case in which the Court of Appeal had ordered a retrial, at huge public cost, because the prosecution had failed to disclose that a key player in the case had been on the police payroll.

He said: “That highlights the dangers there are when an informant is paid for information.”

BBC News Interactive approached the Metropolitan Police, the Police Service of Northern Ireland and forces in Greater Manchester, Strathclyde, West Midlands, South Wales and Essex but all refused to supply any information, claiming there was an exemption under the Freedom of Information Act…

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