The money spent on informers by Scotland's two largest police forces has soared in the last eight years, according to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act (Scotland) and passed to SACC.
In financial year 2008/2009, Strathclyde Police say they paid £221,598.24 to "covert human intelligence sources" – more than six times as much as they paid in 2000/01. Lothian and Borders Police gave £75,274 to informers in 2008/09 – almost three times as much as in 2000/2001.
Undercover officers claiming to be from Strathclyde Police were in April this year caught on tape trying to recruit as an informer an activist from "Plane Stupid", a campaigning group opposed to airport expansion. Officers suggested to the activist that she could receive tens of thousands of pounds to pay off her student loans in return for information.
The new figures update the figures obtained by the Guardian newspaper from Strathclyde Police in the wake of the "Plane Stupid" debacle and show that Lothian and Borders Police isn't far behind Strathclyde in its spending on informers, once allowance is made for the smaller population that it serves.
Scotland's other police forces have refused to disclose their spending on informers, citing an earlier ruling by the Scottish Information Commissioner that upheld their argument that, for these smaller forces, there was a risk that spending details could be linked to specific operations and could therefore undermine informant confidentiality and could also provide useful information to criminals.
The figures released by Strathclyde Police and Lothian and Borders Police include operations authorised under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), which covers investigations relating to counter-terrorism and national security, as well as operations authorised under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act, which covers investigations in Scotland relating to ordinary crime and public order. Police have refused to provide a breakdown that separates ordinary investigations from counter-terrorism investigations, saying that this could aid terrorists.
The figures don't include any payments made by MI5, which has a responsibility along with police for matters relating to national security and counter-terrorism.
According to the Guardian, assistant chief constable George Hamilton of Strathclyde Police said that operations like the attempted infiltration of "Plane Stupid" were carried out under RIPA. If correct, this means that the operation was classified by police as "counter-terrorism."
Police have no business spying on legitimate campaigning groups like "Plane Stupid." And they certainly have no business protecting such spying from public scrutiny on national security grounds.
Ministers in the Scottish Government have the last word – if they choose to use it – on investigations that fall under RIPSA. The Act gives them the power to prohibit particular uses of covert human intelligence sources and/or to impose requirements, in addition to those provided under RIPSA, that must be satisfied before an authorisation for an intelligence operation of this kind can be granted.
The use of police informers creates all kinds of difficulties, even when it is directed against people suspected of real crime rather than against political activists. It raises potentially serious evidential and ethical issues. It carries with it the risk of entrapment, and the related risk of aiding and promoting serious crimes. The rapid rise in money spent on police informers in Scotland should ring alarm bells.
Total annual amounts paid to covert human intelligence sources by Strathclyde Police
2000/01 £35,634.72 2001/02 £41,120.66 2002/03 £39,980.81 2003/04 £68,854.57 2004/05 £146,198.28 2005/06 £170,455.85 2006/07 £222,727.85 2007/08 £223,079.11 2008/09 £221,598.24Population served (according to the Strathclyde Police website): nearly 2.3 million
Total annual amounts paid to covert human intelligence sources by Lothian and Borders Police.
2001/02 £25,5512002/03 £27,9912003/04 £33,6572004/05 £47,5712005/06 £45,8302006/07 £48,4702007/08 £54,1742008/09 £75,274Population served (according to the Lothian and Borders Police website): 880,000
- Police force paid informants £750,000 in four years - The Guardian, 8 May 2009
- Police caught on tape trying to recruit Plane Stupid protester as spy - The Guardian, 24 April 2009
- 'UK plc can afford more than 20 quid,' the officer said - The Guardian, 25 April 2009
- 'We work for the community intelligence section' - The Guardian, 24 April 2009
- Decision of the Scottish Information Commissioner -31 March 2009, Payments made to police informants and the reasons for payment
- Time for Police Spooks to be reined in - SACC statement, 26 April 2009
- Plane Stupid - bringing the aviation industry back down to earth
- The new spies - by Stephen Armstrong, The New Statesman, 7 August 2008 (Caution: claims about the extent of infiltration that are sourced from current and former state and private spies should be treated with care).