30 Mar 2012

New police corruption alleged in secret report

Home Affairs Correspondent

Exclusive: Corrupt police officers are accused of deleting intelligence reports from the national police computer on the orders of criminal gangs in a secret report passed to the Leveson inquiry.

The confidential report produced by the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) in 2008, found that private investigators, linked to organised criminals, used corrupt serving and former police officers to delete intelligence records from law enforcement databases and access details of police operations. The report has been seen by Channel 4 News Home Affairs Correspondent Andy Davies.

The eight-page report, which has been passed to the Leveson inquiry into police corruption and media ethics, warns of “rogue” private investigators “providing organised crime groups with counter-surveillance techniques” and attempting to discover the identities of informants and witnesses under police protection.

The details in the report entitled “Private Investigators: The Rogue Element of the Private Investigation Industry and Others Unlawfully Trading in Personal Data” have never been disclosed publicly before, because the report is labelled “exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act 2000”.

Soca analysed five UK Law enforcement operations leading up to 30 September 2007. The report says: “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.”

The former head of anti-corruption at the Met Police, Bob Quick, 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.”

“If police operations against serious criminals are being undermined then that’s very significant for justice and safety in this country.”

It is not clear what action has been taken in the wake of these findings. The Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, Keith Vaz MP, told Channel 4 News on Thursday: “What we will have to do, and I will discuss this with colleagues on the committee, is to call in the then Home Secretary (Jacqui Smith) to ask whether or not she knew about what was going on, and certainly ask Soca to come in because this is signed off by Soca – they’re supposed to be there to protect us from serious and organised crime. “

“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, as a matter of urgency.”

The confidential Soca report details illegal acts by (unnamed) private investigators which go far beyond the sphere of privacy, describing how criminal gangs used private investigators to access police computers, enabling them to see – and even delete – evidence linked to live cases.

Under the heading Perverting the Course of Justice, the report records two operations providing:

"examples of private investigator activities which threaten to undermine the criminal justice system, as follows:

a. accessing the Police National Computer to perform unauthorised checks;

b. accessing internal police databases including those containing serving officers' private details;

c. unauthorised checking of details of vehicles involved in surveillance on PNC (Police National Computer);

d. accessing details of current investigation against a criminal or criminal group;

e. checking premises and vehicles for technical equipment deployed by law enforcement;

f. identifying current law enforcement interest in an organised crime group;

g. deleting intelligence records from law enforcement databases;

h. providing organised crime groups with counter-surveillance techniques;

i. accessing their own or associates' recorded convictions;

j. attempting to discover identity of CHISes (Informants)

k. attempting to discover location of witnesses;

l. attempting to discover location of witnesses under police protection to intimidate them;

m. accessing DVLA databases."

Currently there is no regulation of the private investigation industry, despite the fact that the Private Security Industry Act 2001 allowed specifically for licensing to be introduced. Anyone can undertake private investigative activity regardless of skills, experience or criminality. No one knows how many private investigators are operating in the UK. Estimates vary between 2000-10,000.

Soca warned the Home Office in its 2008 report: “The ability of the investigators to commit such criminality is supported by the absence of regulation in the industry, an abundance of law enforcement expertise either through corrupt contacts or from a previous career in law enforcement, easy access to specialist experts and abuse of legally-available technology.”

A Home Office spokesperson told Channel 4 News: “We are considering whether to regulate private investigators. In the meantime they are subject to the law on intercepting communications like everyone else.”

It is not known what Lord Leveson intends to do with this report of much wider police corruption than he is currently investigating.