Three top police informers killed

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THREE of Scotland Yard's most valued informants are believed to have been murdered by professional hitmen hired by underworld criminals, the Independent on Sunday has learnt.

The killings, which deliberately have been not been made public, have shocked senior police officers. The informants had been given new identities and moved to secret locations in Europe at public expense, yet the killers were able to track them down. Senior officers are deeply worried that the valuable pool of informants will dry up as it becomes known that the police can no longer guarantee the safety of those who agree to supply information about dangerous criminals.

Detectives maintain that security procedures surrounding the resettlement of informants are watertight, but they say that criminals placed the contracts because police were forced by judges to concede publicly the existence of the informants by dropping prosecutions rather than revealing their sources.

'Unless the rules are changed more informants will die,' said a senior Scotland Yard detective. 'If the police walk out of a case to maintain their obligation not to reveal informant identities, unfortunately that still enables the criminal to put two and two together and start looking for anyone who has not been seen around for a while.'

The murders are the most serious repercussions of scores of failed prosecutions of suspected serious criminals; at least 50 occurred in London and the South-east last year.

Each of the dead informants had a long history of passing intelligence to detectives. Sources have refused to give details of the murders. It is believed, however, that all three were shot with hand guns by different paid killers at close range. In the first case, in October 1990, the informant, ironically, had told police about a planned contract killing and the would-be hitman was arrested.

Before the case came to trial the judge accepted the defence's argument that it needed access to police information which had led to the arrest. Detectives knew this could disclose the identity of their source and decided to pull out of the prosecution.

The informant, by this time resettled with a new identity in a German town, was murdered shortly afterwards. A senior Scotland Yard detective, who assisted German police, concluded that it bore all the hallmarks of a London-inspired execution.

The two other executions followed similar patterns. One was in Amsterdam and involved a man who had given police information about a gang of international drug traffickers; the third, which occurred within the last few months, was in Ireland and involved a man who had informed about a series of crimes involving drugs and violence.

'In all three the existence of the informant was acknowledged by the withdrawal from the prosecution. That seems to have been the spur to exacting revenge. Clearly some will leave clues as to their whereabouts,' said the senior detective.

Top-grade informants are logged in the central register at Scotland Yard, accessible only to the most senior ranks.

Informers are moved if the Yard considers their efforts worthwhile. The average relocation cost is about pounds 100,000.

New names, passports and driving licences are obtained for the informant and immediate family.