Did corrupt private detectives infiltrate the Metropolitan Police witness protection programme? That was the claim made by Tom Harper of the Independent on 26 June, citing a 2008 report by the Serious Organised Crime Agency.1
The eight-page Soca memo referred to intelligence that PIs were employed by the “criminal fraternity” to “frustrate law enforcement”. The Independent understands that the same corrupt investigators have also worked for the News of the World. The Soca report includes intelligence that crime bosses were hiring PIs to access “internal police databases, including those containing serving officers’ private details” and “deleting intelligence records from law enforcement databases”.
The most shocking practice, however, involves attempts to trace protected witnesses. Soca noted that PIs often had an “abundance of law-enforcement expertise either through corrupt contacts or from a previous career in law enforcement”, and they were “attempting to discover location of witnesses under police protection to intimidate them”.
A redacted version of the full SOCA report is now available on the website of the Home Affairs Select Committee, which called in the agency's leadership last week.2
Remarkably, as Tom Harper reports in a follow-up story, SOCA Director-General Trevor Pearce contradicted the agency's report when he was asked about witness intimidation, stating "Other than seeing the media reporting, I have never heard anything formally; as a law enforcement officer who has had significant engagement with the undercover world, I have not heard of that before."3
The issue of witness intimidation is particularly troubling given that at least one corrupt detective linked to the News of the World was a former member of the Force Research Unit, the covert army unit implicated in the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane.