A Freedom of Information (FOI) request by the University of Portsmouth journalism department has revealed that Thames Valley Police spent almost three quarters of a million pounds in the past five years on paying informants.
The precise figure of £749,853.26 makes Thames Valley the third highest spender on police informants in England, behind the Metropolitan Police and West Midlands Police.
Informants are used by the police to find out information on criminal activity such as murder, burglaries and drug rings.
There has long since been a question mark over the morality of paying for information, which was alluded to when we put the figures to Aylesbury Vale District councillor Robin Stuchbury, who said:
“I would hope that the police have got a good audit trail for this spending of public money.
“I would also say that everyone that I grew up with, if they'd seen a crime they would automatically report it to the police as they are law-abiding citizens, so by its very nature having to pay for information, well I'm not a lawyer but wouldn't it affect the case when it comes to court?
“I have no knowledge of police procedures but what's important above all else is that the police can demonstrate the use of this money has produced credible results.”
Speaking to the University of Portsmouth, Neil Wood, a former undercover policeman, said in his experience about “90% of informants are used in drug-related offences”.
We asked former drug policy reform campaigner Danny Kushlick about this. He responded:
"Anyone who pays tax in Thames Valley should severely question any and all drug enforcement spending, because attempts to stop illegal drug supply are futile.
“The trade thrives because of its illegality, and any supply route that is halted will be replaced within hours by someone else looking to make money from dealing drugs.
“The only way to significantly reduce illegal activity in the drugs market is to bring supply under government control through doctors, pharmacists and licensed retailers."
We asked Thames Valley Police for more detail on how their informants money is spent but they told us this would require a further FOI request.
A Thames Valley Police spokesperson provided the following statement:
“The percentage of spending on informants in Thames Valley Police in 2018/19 was 0.038% of the total budget. Paying informants is just one of the tools that police have to gain information and is a very cost effective tactic.
“It would be inappropriate for Thames Valley Police to comment on other forces’ spending because we don’t set their priorities and manage their budgets.”
Out of 45 police forces in the UK, 27 responded to the FOI request.
The responses showed that police forces across the whole of the UK have spent at least £13.6 million on informants in the past five years.