According to figures revealed by the BBC, various police forces across the country have paid around £22m to informants over the last five years.
Payments to ‘covert human intelligence sources,’ as they are known, were highest in the capital- with the Metropolitan Police paying £5,270,659 from 2011 to 2016. Police forces are not required to reveal how much has been paid to each person, but the amount tends to be in line with the seriousness of the offence being investigated.
The usefulness of informants often hinges on their ability to provide ‘inside’ information. In a statement, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) said that ‘Informants often provide timely and essential intelligence which cannot always be obtained by other means. This tactic can lead to very serious crimes being prevented including, murders, child sexual exploitation, and terrorism.’
Under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, an informant can also be offered immunity from prosecution (though this would happen only in exceptional cases) as well as a reduction in sentence (which is subject to the ‘extent and nature’ of the assistance.)
The BBC report highlights that figures are not available to actually show how many convictions can actually be linked with informant evidence, making it difficult to test the NPCC’s claim that its use is ‘a cost effective tactic.’
The use of informants has often had an air of mystique surrounding it. These figures do little to change that, but this latest release certainly shows that the practice is alive and well.