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  • Police “grass” secrecy goes up in smoke

    Posted on March 11th, 2009 admin No comments




    The Information Commissioner has ruled that Northumbria Police should disclose how much it paid informants, known in police-speak as “covert human intelligence sources” - for each of the last five years.

    Police forces around the country could now be forced to reveal how much they pay “grasses” for information when investigating crimes. 

    Top officers had opposed more openness saying that it could stop informants coming forward and it might also spark attacks on people suspected of being “grasses”.

    The matter was decided after an appeal under the Freedom of Information Act was ruled on by the Information Commissioner. He said the reasons put forward by the police to keep the data secret did “not carry significant weight”.

    The Commissioner said the force’s attempt to have the information remain under wraps has failed because S.38 (health and safety) was not engaged. He also said the public interest test was in favour of disclosure in relation to the argument that the information was covered by S.30 (investigations).

    Despite police forces turning down a string of requests for informants’ costs under the Freedom of Information Act for data about these payments have been uncovered in the past. The Commissioner made refererence to the fact that some of this information had already leaked out in the past when people, often journalists, used their rights under the Audit Commission Act to view police accounts. Last year a reporter uncovered the fact that the Metropolitan Police had paid £2,131,786 in rewards for information in a single year.

    Editor’s note: Although this topic has been something of a hot potato for journalists and the police it would appear the Commissioner was underwhelmed by the arguments on both sides. He stated that the public interest case for releasing the information were “not overwhelmingly strong” but that the case for refusal was even worse, describing it as “not carrying significant weight”. On the balance the pea outweighed the feather. Expect a flurry of requests from reporters wanting to know how much police cash has found its way into criminals pockets.

    Read the decision notice HERE.

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