Pay­ing snitches is re­pug­nant but nec­es­sary

The Week Middle East - - News - Sean O’Neill The Times

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”.

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