A legal challenge against the Home Office concerning the use of children as ‘spies’ by the police and other investigative agencies will be heard in the High Court today. The legal charity Just for Kids Law will argue that the use of children as spies is ‘exploitative’, puts them at risk of physical and emotional harm and contravenes human rights laws.
The group cites a case revealed in the House of Lords in October last year concerning a 17-year-old girl recruited by police to spy on a man who had been sexually exploiting her. While she was deployed as a covert informant, she continued to be exploited by him, and was even coerced into being accessory to murder.
According to the group, children used as spies under powers contained in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 lack even the basic safeguards afforded to children questioned by police in connection with offences such as access to an appropriate adult.
‘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, CEO of Just for Kids Law. ‘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.’
Neil Woods, a former police officer with many years’ experience of handling covert human intelligence sources in drugs enforcement, said that it was ‘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,’ Woods said. ‘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.’