Campaigners warn that any use of targets for more teenage spies would be “gambling with children’s lives” while insiders allege police are being told to “Get more kids, get them younger”.
BylineTimes has obtained more detail of a sole police whistle-blowing claim, recently raised in the House of Lords, that intelligence handlers have been told to recruit more teens to spy against drug dealing ‘County Lines’ gangs.
“Get more of them, and get them younger,” is the police target according to allegations made to Baroness Jenny Jones, who secured an agreement from the Home Office last month to probe the claim.
17 informants under the age of eighteen have spied for police or public authoritiesIPCO – Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office,
Jones was told that informant-handlers have been instructed to look for children or teens that might be connected to the County Lines gangs, and to approach those teenagers to assist the police against those networks.
Campaigners against organised crime warn that such a tactic puts all children exposed to County Lines activities at risk, as gangs will increase their use of blackmail and intimidation to hold the omertá.
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A Government Surveillance watchdog, the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office (IPCO), recently reported that, over the past three years, 17 informants under the age of eighteen have spied for police or public authorities. The youngest was 15, the rest were over 16.
Police management allegedly regarded this as “not many” juvenile informants and that they should recruit more against County Lines gangs.
Hitting the Target
‘Frank Matthews’, a witness protection expert and former source handler for the Met Police told Byline Times: “Management could use any target as a means of perversely saying ‘I’m doing better than you’. This sounds ridiculous, I know. But I wonder if anyone from the police has done an evaluation of the overall worth of this sort of deployment.”
Many children exposed to County Lines are looking at a life or death situation already.SPACE spokesperson
Even imposing a target could put drug-exposed teens in a more dangerous situation, campaigners warn. “This is going to impact on every single child involved,” warns Neil Woods, an ex-undercover officer who now campaigns for drug legalisation with Law Enforcement Action Partnership UK (LEAP UK).
After years working undercover in addicts’ communities and against drugs gangs, Woods drew the conclusion that the gangs’ use of violence or intimidation against their members is a “direct response” to police tactics.
He fears that gangs could react aggressively to teens before any public authorities are aware of police targets to recruit them: “When police handlers start speaking to these children and trying to recruit them, for every one that they successfully recruit, they will get ten who say ‘fuck off copper’. And those will feed the information back to the gangs.”
Woods adds that “children have already been pictured in various compromising sexual positions to blackmail them”. He believes “the situation will only get worse” if the police try to ramp up an intelligence war in this way.
Children are Dying
A non-profit grass roots organisation Stop & Prevent Adolescent Criminal Exploitation – SPACE – liaises with families impacted by ‘County Lines’. Their spokesperson told Byline Times that children are ‘dying’ in County Lines gangs, and recruiting children to spy “literally is gambling with their lives, sadly.”
“Many children exposed to County Lines are looking at a life or death situation already,” the SPACE spokesperson said. “There will be very few gains, if any, which will trump the children’s safety and well-being.”
“To add additional risk factors to their vulnerability and safety would, one would hope, need to be an exceptionally compelling case as a minimum starting consideration, and properly assessed against proportionality.”
The gangs’ use of violence or intimidation against their members is a “direct response” to police tactics.Neil Woods
A spokesperson for IPCO told BylineTimes that the ‘Covert Human Intelligence Source’ code of practice “requires public authorities to ensure that an appropriate adult (usually a parent or guardian) is present at any meeting with a CHIS.”
“The recently published statistics of 17 juvenile CHIS since January 2015 includes those which were currently active.”
The Home Office has been approached for comment.