Police for hire: Judge hits out at Met's agreement to aid Virgin Media in a private prosecution

Deal raises fears of 'creeping privatisation' of the police

The UK's most senior judge has criticised a deal that saw the Metropolitan Police agree to help Virgin Media in a private prosecution of a gang of fraudsters in exchange for a share of the compensation, it was reported.

News of the agreement also prompted opposition politicians to raise concerns about the “creeping privatisation” of the police and the idea that wealthy companies and individuals might be able to “buy more justice than if you are poor”.

In a judgement, Lord Thomas, the lord chief justice, said the arrangement between the company and the Met “did in fact provide an incentive for the police to devote resources to assisting Virgin in their claim for compensation and gave rise to a perception that their independence was being compromised”, The Guardian newspaper reported.

He called for Government and the police to give “very urgent consideration” to the situation, adding that there had been “an increase in private prosecutions at a time of retrenchment of state activity”.

Virgin Media estimated it had lost £144m a year because of the fraud, which involved selling 400,000 set-top boxes over three-and-a-half years that gave access to its television shows.

It decided to bring a private prosecution, got help from the Met for arrests and search warrants, and later entered into an agreement that it would give the force 25 per cent of any money that was recovered. One fraudster was jailed for eight years and two others were convicted.

Virgin subsequently dropped its bid to get compensation, but paid the Met £4,000 towards the cost of police overtime.

Tom Watson, a Labour MP, said the deal sounded like the emergence of “two-tier policing, where corporate interests can buy the time of the police, leaving those who can't offer remuneration losing out”.

He added: “This is creeping privatisation with big business hiring police powers.”

And Jenny Jones, London assembly member for the Green party, said: “I hate the thought that if you are rich you can buy more justice that if you are poor.

“It's private policing. Paid work could take priority over other very important crime. Police were not out catching other criminals.”

In a statement Virgin Media said: “The courts have upheld both the conviction and the right to pursue confiscation proceedings. The court recognised there was no evidence of any abuse of process.”

A spokesman for the Met said: “We will examine the judgement and carefully consider its contents.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...