WEST Midlands Police spent £20,000 on a single tip from an informant – and would regularly turn a blind eye to serious crime to protect their sources.
These are just some of the shocking revelations from a former undercover cop who has spilled the beans on the murky world of the snitch.
Ronnie Howard spent 23 years as an undercover detective working for West Midlands Police and the National Crime Squad.
A tough, no-nonsense, old school copper like Gene Hunt from TV’s Life On Mars, he took on pushers, pimps and fraudsters and, at the peak of his career in Birmingham, would run between 15 and 20 informants at a time.
For the first time the Sunday Mercury can reveal how the police worked with the criminal underworld in order to get the job done.
“All the top criminals will have a cop they are talking to all the time,” says Ronnie. “It’s an insurance policy for them in case anything goes wrong.
“I admit there were plenty of times we turned a blind eye to crimes because they were being carried out by informants – that was common practice.”
He reveals that, although top cops in the command chain regarded informants simply as “flies on the wall” privy to the gossip of the underworld, they were almost always shadier characters than that.
“The management at the top used to have the wrong idea,” he says. “They thought of them just as flies on the wall but the truth is that they couldn’t have known the things they did if they weren’t criminals themselves.
“The top brass used to kid themselves that this wasn’t the case. They were too afraid to admit that the police allowed certain crimes to go ahead in order to solve others.
“There was one top informant, for example, who blew the lid on a cannabis importation gang, even though he was a top drug dealer himself.
“We allowed him to carry on dealing because he helped us smash the scam and we recovered a ton of cannabis.
“Without him we would never have been able to pull that off. It just proved how important informants are to the police – they are crucial.”
Last week, it was revealed that West Midlands Police paid out nearly £300,000 to informants in one year alone.
And for the first time ever the amount of money that the cops spent on snitches was revealed to top £6 million across every police force in Britain.
The Metropolitan Police spent most – more than £1.8 million – Greater Manchester Police spent £329,497 and the Police Service of Northern Ireland £299,000, while West Midlands police spent a total of £291,780.
It doesn’t surprise Ronnie, who reveals how the process worked before he retired just a few years ago.
“First of all you wait until you’ve locked them up and charged them,” he says. “It’s only then that you approach them and ask them if they would consider being an informer.
“If they proved to be reliable, and gave good quality information on a consistent basis, I could help them get a third off any sentence they may have received for other offences.
“And depending on how good the information was they could get anything from £100 a tip to thousands of pounds.
“In my time it was customary to give informants in drug busts up to 10 per cent of the value of the drugs seized.
“In one case I paid a drug dealer £20,000.
“Often I would be simply handing out £100 or £500 at a time for good info. If an informant delivers the goods on a regular basis he can make a living out of it – and many of them do.”
Ronnie points out, however, that he didn’t tolerate any nonsense from his underworld snitches.
“It takes time to establish a good informant,” he says. “You’ve got to build a relationship with them based on trust – and you can’t do that overnight.
“At first I wouldn’t trust them one bit, and lots of them would try to take advantage of the system. That was a big mistake on their part.
“I had to arrest a top source who had led us to a huge haul of ecstasy. He was at the scene and, when he was searched, he had a load on him.
“He knew the risks, he knew the law – and I made sure he went down for that.
“I had one paedophile who was nothing but a wind-up merchant and never came up with anything concrete.
“He never got paid so it was pointless.
“Sources could often be slippery, difficult characters, who would build you up and then disappear, but it was all worth it.
“They knew that if they overstepped the mark they were going to get busted – and I’ve done that many times.”
Even though Ronnie admits the system was sometimes flawed, he argues that the network of informants was the most effective way to crack crime. Now, he fears detectives have become bogged down in bureaucracy.
“The process of running informants changed about eight years ago in a bid by senior management to sanitize the process,” he explains.
“In my opinion this is one of the worst things that has ever happened to policing in Britain.
“Yes, the old system was open to abuse, and some cops did skim the top off some of their informants’ payments, but at least it was effective.
“You meet so-called detectives these days who don’t have any informants, and have no relationships with their sources.”
Ronnie reveals that a good relationship can help bring about good results.
“I once took down one of Britain’s most dangerous and wanted men – a guy called John McPhee – based completely on a tip-off from a trusted source,” he recalls.
“No-one in Britain had any idea where this guy was but I had built up such a good relationship with an informant that the source wasn’t scared to let me know where he was.
“That’s how much they trusted me."
“This guy was a cold-blooded killer, but they trusted me enough to let me know where he was.
“It turned out he was dealing cocaine from a Birmingham hotel.
“We got down there and I arrested him on the spot. We found cocaine worth more than £100,000 in his room.
“That was all from one phone call.
“But that happens less and less nowadays. I doubt whether I could be half as successful as a cop these days as I was back then because of the way they use informants now.
“At least 40 per cent of my arrests came from my informants throughout my career.
“And when I was a drugs squad officers that rose to 100 per cent because there was no other way to do it short of going undercover yourself.
“These days detectives spend most of their time behind their desks counting their crime beans.
“It’s all about the figures – and that really is criminal.”
Monday, August 10, 2009
Ex-Undercover Pig Dishes on UK Informant Scene
This is a massive article detailing some grit in Britain's rat rosters. It is an interesting read, and gives enough insight to be worthwhile for readers internationally. From the Sunday Mercury: