The Guardian view on police and child spies: ends don’t always justify the means

Undercover Spy Hidingsource: The Guardian
published: 20 July 2018

Downing Street tells us that child spies are used very rarely by British police and intelligence agencies, and only when it is judged really vital. How reassuring. We would not know they were being used at all were it not for government plans to relax the controls on their use.

The House of Lords committee on secondary legislation has revealed that children are being used in covert operations against terrorists, gangs and drug dealers, and child sexual exploitation (and in doing so, incidentally, demonstrated parliament at its best and most useful, in a week where it has often looked at its worst).

Home Office correspondence suggests children are not merely giving police information, but are actively assigned to collect it. In the case of 16- to 18-year-olds, approval from a parent or guardian is not required. Under-16s cannot be deployed to obtain evidence against a parent – but presumably can against other family members; and there appears to be no such control on those aged between 16 and 18.

The authorisation process does not appear to include social workers or other relevant agencies, raising questions over how it fits with the government’s own guidance on safeguarding children. And as the committee notes, the offences under investigation are “serious, violent crimes and we have grave concerns about any child being exposed to such an environment”.

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