The PSNI spends more on informants than almost every other police force in the UK, it was revealed today.
For the first time ever the amount of money that police forces spend on informants has been released with payouts topping £6m across every police force.
The PSNI bill for people with information on criminal activity in the past year was £299,000 — more than every other force except the Metropolitan and Greater Manchester.
The figures will reignite the debate over the use of the controversial police tactics as well as accountability.
A spokeswoman for the PSNI today said that the police force “does not discuss intelligence matters”.
But Sinn Fein Policing Board member Daithi McKay MLA said he was concerned about the revelations and added that more accountability is needed from the PSNI on the issue.
“There is too much focus being placed on gathering intelligence and information in this way.
“The PSNI want to solve crimes such as drug dealing and anti-social behaviour which is a big concern for communities, particularly in working class areas, however they need to gather the confidence of such communities to get them engaging with police, rather than resorting to tactics, like paying touts, who will often have their own agenda,” he said.
“Obviously we all know the stories about informers in the north before and their agendas. It is not the way we want to go forward in terms of community policing.
“We do not need policing based on paying people off to inform on communities and gather intelligence on communities. This is something we have raised at the Policing Board in the past and will continue to do so.”
SDLP Policing Board member Dolores Kelly MLA said the wider question is how the informants are being managed.
“Because of the history of the past in Northern Ireland this is something that the SDLP is very vigilant on.
“It would be very naive of me to say informants were not used in any democratic society by the police. It does depend on how then they are managed and that they do not get a carte blanche in terms of their own criminal enterprises.”
According to the information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, other forces with large bills for “covert human intelligence sources” — as informants are officially termed — include the Metropolitan Police, which spent £1.8m in 2008/09, Greater Manchester Police, which spent £329,497 and West Midlands Police, which spent £291,780.
The Association of Chief Police Officers said the system was “vital in bringing offenders to justice”.
Patricia Gallan, Assistant Chief Constable of Merseyside Police and chairman of ACPO's National Source Working Group, said the use of informants had proved essential in cases ranging from serious organised crime to burglary. “Each force is audited on their use of informants and is subject to a robust annual inspection by the Office of Surveillance Commissioners to ensure compliance with the law. They are a valuable source of intelligence and their use is justifiable and proportionate when set against other police tactics,” she told BBC 5 Live.
One of the most notorious police touts in Northern Ireland is Mark Haddock, one-time leading member of the UVF.
Haddock worked as an informant for the RUC’s Special Branch during the Troubles.
He was last week charged with the murder of John Harbinson, who was beaten to death in the north of the city in 1997.