Protection for police whistleblowers

POLICE OFFICERS who inform on dishonest colleagues will be offered witness-protection safeguards, including safe houses and a transfer to a new job, under a major anti-corruption campaign.

Undercover detectives, random integrity testing and confidential telephone hotlines will also be offered as part of the national initiative to be launched by chief constables in October. The package of measures, revealed to The Independent, will form the basis of the new drive against corruption within the police service.

Chief constables believe one of the best methods of exposing "bent" officers is to persuade honest colleague to turn them in. Until now it has been extremely difficult to persuade a significant number of officers to speak out and risk retaliation or being ostracised by other detectives. For the past 12 months, the Association of Chief Police Officers' (Acpo) presidential task force on corruption has been investigating methods of tackling wrongdoing among police officers.

John Evans, the chairman of the task force and Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall, said his announcement in October would include a series of measures to encourage more police whistle-blowers and to break the "canteen culture" of secrecy. Scotland Yard is currently prosecuting about 50 allegedly corrupt officers, several of whom are accused of having links with powerful criminals. Some cases only came to light after accused officers turned "supergrass". The West Midland and Merseyside forces are also running anti-corruption campaigns.

Mr Evans said: "We have to break this culture of closing ranks and not informing on colleagues. We must give every protection and welfare support. We must make it clear that it is the right thing to do. It's a cultural thing - it may be that they fear the isolation that could follow. It's a culture in the service we must break." Police officers who report a colleague will be offered protection and, in extreme cases where they fear for their lives, could be moved with their families to safe houses, said Mr Evans.

"We may move them to a different location of work. It could mean moving them to a different section of the force or a different force," he said. "Most forces have witness-protection schemes. There's no reason police officers could not come under the protection of that scheme."

Forces will also set up more confidential telephone hotlines on which officers can give information about colleagues, anonymously if necessary. In addition, there will be greater use of integrity testing, both targeted and random.

In these cases, officers are tested to see whether they are honest; this can include leaving money lying around or under-cover officers offering bribes. Research showed that whistle-blowers felt they received little support from their force or police association, said Mr Evans.

He argued that, all too often, chief constables are told after one of their officers is convicted of corruption "that everyone knew he was a `bad un'."

Mr Evans, who was attending the Acpo summer conference in Manchester, stressed that while only a tiny minority of officers were corrupt it was vital to "stamp out the cyclical nature of corruption. There is no room for complacency."

He added: "The vast majority of police officers and support staff are honest, brave and professional."

He said that in January there were 331 officers suspended - just 0.24 per cent of the total strength in England and Wales.

Mr Evans, who takes over the presidency of Acpo in October, said corruption and ethnic diversity were his two key priorities for the year.