Calls for transparency over £250,000 police handouts to informants

Police insiders say good informants are "worth their weight in gold"

CRIMINAL informants are being paid at least  £250,000 a year by Scotland’s police forces, new figures reveal.

In the past two years alone, Strathclyde police have handed out more than £400,000 to informants – without having to account for a penny spent.

Senior politicians and taxpayers’ groups last night demanded transparency over the cash handouts to criminals insiders.

The extent of the spending is controversial because crime rates are dropping and force chiefs are currently overtime and slashing jobs in a desperate bid to save millions.

Critics also point out that many informants pass on information to police simply to get their rivals out of the way.

Figures released under Freedom of Information legislation reveal Strathclyde spent £411,824 in the past two years on informants.

Over the past five years, Lothian and Borders detectives handed over £255,191.

The two forces – which cover a third of Scotland’s population – paid £2,014,179 over the past decade. But the average spend increased to 266,884 over the past five years.

Neither force would give any details of how much money was paid to individuals or details of convictions resulting from the handouts.

Labour’s shadow justice secretary, MSP Johann Lamont, said police relied on informants but it was vital the spending was transparent.

She said: “With figures of this scale, and with these kinds of cuts in public spending, the police must give an indication to the relevant authorities of the results they’re achieving through such spending on informants.”

Robert Oxley, of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: “Paying informants can be a tool in combating high-level crime.

“But transparency remains key. Taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being spent as long as it doesn’t directly jeopardise individual cases.

“Paying informants can’t be a default option for police forces – it’s costly, often unclear and there will always be question marks regarding the eventual destination of the money.”

Last year Strathclyde Police said it was seeking to reduce its civilian staff in a bid to rein in a projected budget shortfall of about £128.5m by 2015.

And last month it was revealed that Lothian and Borders Police cut overtime costs by more than £1million.Meanwhile, figures for throughout Scotland have indicated that the crime rate has fallen to its lowest level for 40 years.

But a senior police insider insisted good informants were “worth their weight in gold”. “Some informants can be paid thousands of pounds if it’s for something really major,” said the source.

“Sometimes it’s somebody caught for a minor crime, who wants to do a deal. He says: ‘If you don’t lock me up I’ll give you some information’. But some informants are extremely manipulative. That’s why all the checks are in place now.

“Some are in it for the money. But some are in it for the power it gives them over the futures of their criminal associates or for personal vendettas.”

Scotland’s six smaller forces have all refused to reveal details of their spending on informants. They claim that by divulging figures they could endanger those involved.

Lothian and Borders and Strathclyde police both refused to comment.