Police refuse to reveal to taxpayers the cost of informers

Police forces across Britain have been asked to reveal how much public money has been paid to informers. Seven police forces rejected requests from the BBC, made under the Freedom of Information Act, to reveal how much taxpayers' money was paid out.

The Liberal Democrats and campaign groups have expressed concerns about public money being spent without any accountability. In September a man jailed for life for two murders was revealed to have been on Greater Manchester Police's payroll.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg said: "The refusal of police forces to provide basic information on the use of taxpayers' money is difficult to understand. It is not as if we have been asking for operational details on the informants used by the police which, understandably, should remain as confidential information. But surely the public is entitled to a rough idea on the amount of public money spent on informants, in the interests of transparency"
BBC News Interactive approached the Metropolitan Police, the Police Service of Northern Ireland and forces in Greater Manchester, Strathclyde, West Midlands, South Wales and Essex but all refused to supply any information, claiming there was an exemption under the Freedom of Information Act.

Maurice Frankel, from the Campaign for Freedom of Information, said the forces' responses had been "not very impressive" and he said they should explain why they could not provide the figures rather than just throwing a "blanket of secrecy" over the whole subject. He said: "It's quite likely that the spending is going up as the police become more focused on organised crime and terrorism but you just don't know. Even if there is a trend the question is: 'Are they getting value for money for that spending?'"

John Toker, the government's chief spokesman on counter-terrorism, told the BBC: "It is part of the government's over-arching policy not to discuss the details of such matters." On Friday a Home Office spokesman confirmed the policy was unchanged since Jacqui Smith took over from John Reid but he pointed out the number of covert human intelligence sources used for law enforcement had fallen from 4,980 in 2004/5 to 4,373 in 2006/7.

Call to reveal cost of informers (BBC website, 23 July 2007)