POLICE Scotland has spent nearly £400,000 on informants, fuelling calls for the chief constable to reveal if environmental protestors, trade unionists and members of pressure groups have been paid to spy on their colleagues.

The force shelled out around £16,000 a month in its first two years to confidential sources at a time when officers across the UK are facing questions about undercover practices.

However, the force is refusing to say how many individuals have been paid.

Paying informants – or Covert Human Intelligence Sources (CHIS) as they are officially known – is standard police practice. The practice can lead to officers gaining vital information about criminals and securing evidence for convictions.

However, in 2009 the legacy force in Strathclyde infamously tried to lure a campaigner to inform on her colleagues for money

Officers tried to recruit Tilly Gifford from environmental group Plane Stupid, but the campaigner declined and recorded the approach.

The tape revealed she would get money tax-free if she played ball. One officer said: "We are not concerned about Plane Stupid. We are concerned about individuals within Plane Stupid. That's where the difference is."

They also claimed "thousands" of informants across the UK fed back information about a variety of groups.

An officer explained how other informants co-operated and continued with their lives: "They then go home to their families. They go home to husbands, wives, children….That would be exactly the same with you. You would still have your life.”

Gifford explained at the time her reasons for taping the officers and exposing their activities: "Recording them seemed like the obvious thing to do. I was keen to find out what they had to offer, what they wanted to find out, and feed that back to the group in case other members of Plane Stupid were approached."

The Metropolitan Police has been engulfed by the scandal of undercover officers infiltrating protest groups - in some cases having sex with people they targeted - but campaigners believe the preferred approach in Scotland has been to pay informants.

Police Scotland paid £205,551 in financial rewards to CHIS in 2013/14 and £183,600 twelve months later.

The force could not provide a figure for 2015/16, as the financial year is not at an end, but if the amount is similar to previous years it would mean around £600,000 has been spent in total.

However, Police Scotland declined to reveal how many CHIS it has on its books on the grounds that the information may help organised crime groups.

Labour MSP Neil Findlay, who has campaigned for transparency in the operation of undercover policing, said:

“In light of this new information on paid informants, Police Scotland should now advise whether or not they have paid people within the environmental or trade union movement, pressure groups or political organisations to inform on their colleagues.”

HeraldScotland: MSP Neil Findlay

Picture: Neil Findlay MSP

Cat Boyd, a Holyrood candidate for RISE, called for the Pitchford Inquiry - set up to look at the use of undercover policing - to be extended to Scotland.

"Police Scotland and Chief Constable Gormley need to be transparent on the payments of informants within Scottish protest movements and the use of undercover policing in general in relation to political campaigns," she said.

Dr Richard Dixon, the Director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “Terrorists and organised criminals are one thing but spying on legitimate protest groups is an affront to democracy. Ordinary people come together to oppose fracking, to show their concern about air pollution or to call on pension funds to get out of fossil fuels. They shouldn’t have to worry that the police might be bribing members of their group for information. Police Scotland need to explain themselves if they have been paying informants in campaign and protest groups."

MSP John Finnie, a former police officer, said: "Whilst policing has always relied on information from various sources, including from within the criminal fraternity, I am concerned about the significant sum involved, particularly against a backdrop of crime falling.

"We need to understand whether the exposed practice of officers acting as agent provocateurs within legitimate protest groups continues and what portion, if any, of this significant sum of money has been police financial inducements paid during those operations."

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “In common with all other UK law enforcement agencies Police Scotland does not comment on payments made to Covert Human Intelligence Sources (CHIS).”


POSTSCRIPT: Have you ever been approached by the police about becoming an informant to pass on information about a protest group? I would like to hear from you and can be reached at paul.hutcheon@sundayherald.com