Secret Plans To Turn Staff Into Police Informers

Council workers, charity staff and doctors will be required to tip off police about anyone whom they believe could commit a violent crime, under secret Home Office plans.

Civil liberties campaigners last night said that the proposal raised the prospect of people being placed under surveillance and detained even though they have committed no offence.

And a senior Whitehall official, who leaked the plans to The Times, said that it would entail a mass of personal information, including sensitive medical records, being passed around many different agencies — even if there was no firm evidence of any potential risk from an individual.

The draft set of proposals on “multi-agency information sharing” was circulated around Whitehall by Simon King, head of the violent crime unit at the Home Office. The document states: “Public bodies will have access to valuable information about people at risk of becoming either perpetrators or victims of serious violence. Professionals will obviously alert police or other relevant authority if they have good reason to believe [an] act of serious violence is about to be committed. However, our proposal goes beyond that, and is that, when they become sufficiently concerned about an individual, they must consider initial risk assessment of risk to/from that person, and refer [the] case to [a] multi-agency body.”

It suggests that two new agencies — one for potential criminals, the other for potential victims — might be created to collate reports from the front line and carry out “full risk assessments”. But the draft does not spell out what action could then be taken to head off violent attacks.

Mr King admits that a number of issues need to be resolved, including what should trigger an initial report and what should count as a serious violent crime. He also says that laws would have to be created to place frontline staff under a statutory duty to alert police to the potentially violent. Currently those working with the public do not have such a duty, even if they believe that a crime is imminent.

Jago Russell, Policy Officer at the Liberty campaign group, said: “These proposals leave too many questions unanswered. What does the Home Office propose to do with the people who have committed no crime but who fit a worrying profile? How far are we willing to go in pursuit of the unrealistic promise of a ‘risk-free society’?”

Danger signs used to identify an individual as a potential perpetrator might include a violent family background, heavy drinking or mental health problems. A potential victim might come to the attention of the monitoring agency on seeking treatment for stress-related conditions from a GP.

Supporters of the plans say that they would build on existing local arrangements that are already helping to head off domestic violence before it happens. It is claimed that better information-sharing might have prevented the Soham murders.

Ian Huntley had been the subject of complaints of violence, a fact that had not been passed on to the authorities in Cambridgeshire, where he became a school caretaker.

Both the Huntley case and the death of Victoria Climbié, 9, who was killed despite repeated warnings to social service staff, kick-started efforts to pool personal information held across different agencies.

However, the latest plan goes beyond anything so far proposed. It would require primary legislation to make local authorities, police, GPs and other frontline workers share information on potential perpetrators or victims of serious violence among themselves.

The leaked draft suggests that existing Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships “could be well placed to manage and co-ordinate this work”.

However, some senior Whitehall officials are concerned at what they consider to be a significant extension of information-gathering which will, in any case, be ineffective. There are concerns too, that the system could be used to spread malicious smears.

More controversial still are the issues of where information on members of the public judged “at risk” should be kept and for how long.

David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary, said: “Do our police not already have a difficult enough administrative burden without requiring them to wade through file after file of speculation and guess-work? And do we not already have enough of a surveillance society without recruiting council staff and charity volunteers to snoop on their customers?”

Dominic Grieve, the shadow Attorney General, said that he could see little benefit in the scheme. “The proposals look as if they would set up a system of great complexity with abso-lutely no evidence that it could deliver results.”

A Home Office spokesman said last night: “It is not our general practice to comment on leaked documents. However, the Home Office has its duty of public protection as its top priority. These proposals are still in development and no decisions have been made.”