I was shocked to learn this week that the police and other public authorities are legally allowed to use children as spies. I only found out because the Government wants to change the rules, so that rather than authorising a child to spy for only one month at a time, they can be authorised for a whole four months.
I want to state this very clearly, because most people won’t know: children are being used by the State to infiltrate criminal groups and do dangerous police work. The Home Office Minister has linked child spies with terrorism, gang violence, child sexual exploitation and “county lines” drug rings, and appears to have suggested that the impact on the child spies can be outweighed by the benefit to potential victims.
To me, this is shocking. But it becomes even more shocking when you realise how little safeguarding is in place for the affected children. The authority using the child spy has to conduct a risk assessment, and then consider whether it is “justified” to expose the child to the identified risks. Then there has to be someone in charge of the day to day welfare and monitoring of the child spy – but we already know how badly police have failed in these duties in the past. Highly trained undercover police officers have formed sexual relationships with women in campaign groups and even fathered children, before disappearing, never to be seen again. If the supervision and monitoring of professional police officers can go so badly wrong, then how on earth are we supposed to trust the police to look after child spies whom they are recruiting and putting in danger?
I want to know the following:
How many child spies have been deployed under the power in Section 29 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (2000)
What assessments have been conducted of how effective child spies are, what dangers they have been exposed to, and what tangible results were obtained by their deployment.
What rights and remedies do child spies have if something goes wrong or if they feel that they have been let down by their police handlers.
I think that most people would be shocked to learn that children are being used as spies and I doubt that it leads to any serious results in terms of fighting crime, while exposing children to unimaginable risks.
This is yet another example of the inhumanity at the heart of our country.