Paying snitches is repugnant but necessary
The chief constable of Northumbria knows he took a huge risk in paying a convicted child rapist £10,000 to inform on a paedophile gang. But he insists he would do it again – and quite right too, says Sean O’Neill. The payment has horrified many people – the NSPCC said it “beggars belief” – but how else do these critics think crime-fighters gather intelligence? Bugging phones and emails only gets you so far “in a world where everyone’s phone has sophisticated encryption, and criminals are forensically aware”. You need human intelligence of a sort that “is not routinely available from churchwardens and lollipop ladies”. Drug squad officers get it from drug dealers; MI5 “turns” terrorist sympathisers. Between 2011 and 2016, 43 police forces in England and Wales handed over a total of £20m to registered informants. Of course, evidence from such dubious sources must be painstakingly cross-checked before it is relied upon, but it can be invaluable. In this case, officers in Northumbria took a bold decision that was by far the lesser of two evils, and “it paid off”.