Child spies are being used by police and security services in operations against terrorists, gangs and drug dealers, the Home Office says. The use of children to infiltrate gangs has been criticised by a House of Lords Committee. Particular concern was expressed for the welfare of youngsters employed in this way. Lord Trefgarne, Chairman of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, has written to Ben Wallace MP, Minister of State for Security and Economic Crime at the Home Office, stating his reservations.
“We are concerned that enabling a young person to participate in covert activity for an extended period of time may expose them to increased risks to their mental and physical welfare,” the letter says. He sought specific clarification that sufficient safeguards had been put in place to monitor the children’s welfare. “I cannot hide from you the Committee’s considerable anxiety concerning the principle of employing young people – sometimes very young people – in this way,” he says.
The use of spies – known as Covert Human Intelligence Sources (CHIS) – under 18 is not new. The committee acknowledged that sources under 16 must have an appropriate adult “qualified to represent the interests of the source” present at any meetings with their handler, but asked “How are the interests of 16-18 year olds, to be protected?”. Responding to the letter, Mr Wallace said: “CHIS have a vital role to play in investigations by public authorities and can provide crucial evidence that cannot be obtained by any other means.”
“Much as investigators would wish to avoid the use of young people in such a role, it is possible that a carefully managed deployment of a young person could contribute to detecting crime and preventing offending.”
“It can be difficult to gather evidence on gangs without penetrating their membership through the use of juvenile CHIS,” the Minister said. “As well as provide intelligence dividend in relation to a specific gang, juvenile CHIS can give investigators a broader insight into, for example, how young people in gangs are communicating with each other.”
The Security Minister said amendments would be made to The Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Juveniles) Order to strengthen the protections for young people used as sources