Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Price of keeping a lid on crime gangs

No-one will be surprised that the PSNI has recruited informants to help it combat crime. What is surprising is the amount that is being paid for this tactic - an average of £1,200 a day during the last year, a bill believed to be second only to that of London's Metropolitan Police.

There are two possible explanations for the size of the pay-outs; police here have a lot of informants or they pay them very well. And remember this does not include the payments made to anti-terrorist informants who are handled by MI5.

Bubbling away below the surface in Northern Ireland is a highly organised network of criminal gangs, some 180 according to previous reports in this newspaper, who are involved in counterfeiting, smuggling, human trafficking and prostitution as well as robberies and crimes of violence.

The PSNI has made significant arrests which can be attributed - at least in part - to intelligence gained from informants. In that respect the money paid to them is money well spent.

Of course, given the history of informants in the province - particularly how terrorists were allowed to continue to commit crimes right up to, and including, murder while in the pay of the security forces - there is a residual concern about how informants are handled.

New safeguards and new rules have been introduced and the cross-community representation on the Policing Board means that the use of informants can be more closely scrutinised than ever before.

The use of informants is always controversial, because those who know most about crime are those who are involved in criminal acts or who consort with law breakers. To enable them to gain the confidence of their criminal cohorts they have to be allowed to commit some crimes.

The skill in handling informants is to keep them on a reasonable rein and ensure that they provide credible information which leads to convictions or the frustration of crime. How much they are paid is very much of secondary importance.

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