HOME Office rules governing the treatment of informants – specifically aimed at ensuring the integrity of criminal prosecutions – were ignored from the outset in the handling of supergrass Karl Chapman.
When Chapman first began to co-operate with detectives he was classed as a resident informant – a criminal who had admitted his involvement in serious crime but had yet to be sentenced.
The sole benefit he was entitled to was a reduced sentence and a Home Office circular made clear that although a resident informant was likely to spend extended periods of custody with the police rather than in prison their treatment should remain as if they were in jail.
The circular stipulated transparency was a key requirement, with comprehensive records kept of “every aspect of the informant’s treatment while in the police station.” Custody officers were meant to endorse the custody record at the end of each day to confirm they had read and understood all the relevant instructions.
All the protections were in place to reflect the key principle that “... care must be taken to ensure that no privilege is allowed the informant which could prejudice any prospective criminal prosecution by giving rise to allegations that improper conduct had occurred or inducements given”.
During Chapman’s classification as a resident informant, he enjoyed trips to pubs, trips to officers’ homes, heroin and alcohol in his police cell and began a relationship with a female police officer.
In December 1996, West Yorkshire Police changed Chapman’s status to a registered informant – “a person who provides information... for money or for some other advantage”.
Again, Home Office rules, supplemented by national guidelines from the Association of Chief Police Officers, set out the importance of tight controls.
The force’s own policy, built on the formal guidelines, included how important it was to “never allow an informant to become your friend” as “familiarity breeds contempt.” Informants should never be invited to an officer’s home and any evidence of a registered informant committing a crime should result in him being charged like any other criminal.
In addition, payment could only be made if informants had not been involved in the crimes concerned.
But investigators found that several cash rewards had been provided on the basis of information on crimes for which Chapman was either involved or an accessory to.