Police intelligence reports and details of operations were deleted by corrupt serving and former police officers, according to a secret report that has been passed to the Leveson Inquiry.
The eight-page report by the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) was written in 2008 and detailed how private investigators with links to crime gangs tried to discover the identities of informants and witnesses under police protection.
Corrupt officers and former officers were used by the private detectives, who the SOCA report warned "threaten to undermine the criminal justice system".
The report, which was seen by Channel 4, analysed five police operations and stated: "Four of the operations provided examples of corrupt individuals including serving and former police officers, a bank employee, employees in a communications service provider, a public service employee, and a HM Prison Service Employee. All of these were used by private investigators to facilitate access to information."
Bob Quick, the former head of anti-corruption at the Metropolitan Police, told Channel 4 News: "There were occasions where cases involved officers removing evidence, destroying evidence. This was infrequent but when it occurred it was serious. There were indications that that relationships existed with private investigators and ex-police officers who were suspected of corruption."
In two operations analysed by SOCA it was found that activities by private investigators, or people acting for them, included accessing the Police National Computer, making unauthorised checks on vehicles, accessing details of criminal investigations, and attempting to track down witnesses.
Keith Vaz, the chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, told the programme he hoped to call Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary in 2008, to ask if she was aware of what was going on.
He also wants to call SOCA and said: "If they knew that there was this widespread deletion of information, and the connection between private investigators and police officers who were involved in inappropriate action, it's very important that they come before the committee and explain themselves."
The uncovering of the report, which was excluded from Freedom of Information requests, raises the question of whether the private investigation industry should be regulated. In 2001 the government gave itself the power to license the industry but has not acted on it, although the Home Office said last night that it was under consideration.
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