"Supergrasses" who claim that they have been short-changed in rewards paid for information supplied have no legal right to sue, a High Court judge ruled yesterday.
The judgment came in a case which was launched by the informant Keith Robinson, who claimed £33,574 plus interest against the Commissioners of Customs and Excise for breach of an alleged contract under which he said he was promised reasonable remuneration and expenses.
Mr Justice Douglas Brown held that no contract existed and that in any event, on grounds of public policy, "an informant cannot maintain a claim against the commissioners or indeed a chief officer of police in respect of any reward for information supplied".
Mr Robinson, who ran a vehicle-repair business in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, alleged that his Customs "minders" had promised him he would be "handsomely" rewarded after he agreed to the fitting of a tracking device in a Mercedes van which was stored at his premises by drug smugglers.
In the event, he received a total of £9,150 for information which led, among other things, to the jailing of a drug smuggler for 10 years.
Mr Robinson complained that he had been promised £10,000 for the drugs bust alone and that he was owed far more for the help he gave in relation to an insurance fraud and other drugs offences.
The judge, who described Mr Robinson as "a highly unreliable witness", held he had not been promised "handsome" rewards or promised any specific sums. There was no contract or any intention to create "legal relations".
He was sure that Mr Robinson was told he could not receive a wage as an informant and that he would only be paid through the reward system operated by Customs.
To allow an informant to sue would involve the court in an examination of sensitive matters and the "unthinkable" disclosure of information, normally subject to public-interest immunity, in the presence of a claimant "who was either a criminal or on the fringes of crime".
Unscrupulous informants - not including Mr Robinson, the judge stressed - might bring claims with little or no merit with the object of forcing the authorities to settle rather than reveal sources of information or operational intelligence.
The judge granted the Customs and Excise an order blocking Mr Robinson's claim on the ground that he had no reasonable prospect of success.Reuse content