Police "supergrasses", including members of criminal gangs and drug dealers, were paid more than £660,000 for information last year by the Metropolitan Police.
A total of 249 informers were on the Met's payroll and many received "multiple payments". Payments of more than £2,000 were made to informers for inside knowledge of London's criminal fraternity and details of drug deals, the Home Office has acknowledged.
The scale of the Metropolitan Police's reliance on informers was revealed in a parliamentary reply to Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrats' Home Affairs spokesman.
The Metropolitan Police declined to comment on how its system worked, but insiders said that individual payments of £1,000 to £2,000 were "not unusual" for information leading to a drug bust or conviction. Some criminals on the police payroll have later been convicted of horrific crimes.
The Government acted to curb the practice of paying large sums to secret supergrasses after Kenneth Noye, who had a long career as an informer, was sent to prison for the road-rage murder of Stephen Cameron. Noye is believed to have claimed large sums from the police for information on criminals, some of whom he is said to have wanted out of the way.
Mr Baker said he was "shocked" by the scale of the budget for paying off "grasses", and suggested that police funds could be spent more wisely.
He has written to David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, to ask what are the guidelines for payments to criminals, and what controls exist to prevent abuse. "When people think they are paying for the police, they think they are paying for police on the beat rather than informers," the MP for Lewes said. "If you multiply this sum across the country, you have a very big bill indeed."
Police have been instructed by the Home Office to scale down the "plea bargain" system, in which shorter prison sentences are offered to criminals in return for information on other offenders.Reuse content