The Home Office is endangering children as young as 15 by allowing them to be used as informants on drugs gangs and terrorists, a court will hear.
High Court judges will today (June 11) consider a judicial review brought by children’s charity Just for Kids Law accusing the Home Office of exploiting children by allowing them to be used as spies.
The case comes after it was revealed during a House of Lords debate in October last year that a 17-year-old girl was recruited by police to spy on a man who was sexually exploiting her.
While deployed as a covert informant, she continued to be exploited by him and was even coerced into being an accessory to murder.
Government figures reveal that at least 17 children, in 11 local authorities, have been recruited as spies since January 2015 – one aged just 15.
But Security Minister Ben Wallace insists that child informants are used “very rarely” in accordance with a “strict legal framework” where the welfare of the young person is “the paramount consideration”.
“The children at the heart of this case are among the most vulnerable in our country and it is vital that they are protected and kept safe from harm,” said Enver Solomon, the charity’s chief executive.
“When the police identify a child who is being exploited, their first response should be to safeguard that child and help them to get out of that situation rather than put them at great risk of further exploitation and abuse.
“The government must act urgently to introduce the safeguards that would protect children from severe physical and emotional harm.”
The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 currently allows for children to be used as “covert human intelligence sources”, namely spies, by the police and other investigative agencies.
Just for Law Kids argues that, under this legislation, the children lack basic safeguards – such as access to appropriate adults and may be being used without their parent’s knowledge.
It hopes that the case will force the government to amend the law by introducing appropriate safeguards to protect children from harm.
The charity’s legal costs have been financed through a crowdfunding campaign.
Neil Woods, a former police officer with many years’ experience of handling covert human intelligence sources in drugs enforcement, said: “In my experience, it is common for criminals to resort to extreme levels of brutality to deter informants, contributing to a cycle of ever-increasing violence among drug gangs.
“I have also seen first-hand how the need to maintain a lie for long periods can cause severe long-term damage to mental health, especially for vulnerable people who are most likely to be used as informants.
“Children recruited as informants are also highly likely to end up getting drawn back into criminality and feeling trapped in their situation.
“It is completely inappropriate for children to be put in danger in this way.”
What Does The Government Say?
Security Minister Ben Wallace said: “Juvenile covert human intelligence sources are used very rarely and only ever when it is necessary and proportionate and when there is no other less intrusive way to get the information needed to convict criminals or terrorist suspects.
“This could include helping to prevent and prosecute gang violence, drug dealing and the ‘county lines’ phenomenon all of which have a devastating impact on young people and local communities.
“Their use is governed by a strict legal framework and is overseen by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner.
“Throughout any deployment and beyond, the welfare of the young person is the paramount consideration.
“In March, the Commissioner has been clear that since January 2015 there have been 17 Covert Human Intelligence Sources(CHIS) authorisations relating to juveniles that have been approved – one of these individuals was 15 and the others were 16 or 17.”