The fundamental practical question in the Newcastle child grooming case that the police have to answer is this: was it, as the police maintain, absolutely necessary to use a convicted paedophile in order to put the dangerous and vile individuals who were convicted of rape and other serious offences against young girls behind bars.
Northumbria Police could not be more adamant that it was indeed essential. Their source was the “jumping off point” for the investigation, and was not, the police assert, involved in illegal activity himself. The police also deny that the informant was taking girls and young women to so-called parties. There seems to be no suggestion on any side that the man was some kind of agent provocateur.
Of course it is a hypothetical question, and what was going through the minds of the police officers concerned can only be speculated upon. Perhaps they felt that the investigation would be smoother, and the evidence collected more damning if such an agent was used.
They may have feared that a high-profile prosecution of a large gang might have collapsed embarrassingly if the evidence was somehow thought to be unreliable or patchy. This is especially a danger in child abuse cases because of the trauma victims suffer, and the wrenching effects on their families and friends. The motivations of the police, in other words, may have been quite sound, even honourable, from a practical point of view.
Newcastle convictions: ‘The idea of the police paying a child rapist may appear morally repugnant’
Even so, there have been many other cases – too many – in other towns and cities across the UK where such tactics didn’t have to be used, and a more conventional type of police work led to convictions. In some cases, such as Rotherham, it was a journalist – Andrew Norfolk of The Times – who persevered and gathered the material that, eventually, led to action. So it is not always necessary or essential to have a central informant as such, still less to pay a substantial amount of money to one.
Even if it were conceded that the use of informant “XY” was practically essential, was it morally right? This is a tough call, and one where it is wrong to have individual police officers or chief constables making a call. The Home Office, in consultation with the Association of Chief Police Officers and the children’s charities, for example, should draw up some guidelines about where such subterfuge should be deployed. Many…