A NETWORK of undercover police informants spread throughout Cumbria are helping the county’s constabulary bring organised criminals to book.

Exclusive new figures obtained by the News and Star reveal Cumbria Police spent £225,424 on information from approved members of the public in the past five years.

The money - between £40,000 and £50,000 a year since 2013/14 - has been paid over to individuals on the force’s Covert Human Intelligence Source (CHIS) register.

The system has proven an invaluable tool to enable Cumbria’s serious organised crime unit to seize illegal drugs, cash and weapons from the streets and to bust those responsible for breaking the law.

Detective Chief Superintendent Dean Holden, head of crime at Cumbria Police, explained the system was heavily regulated to ensure the safety of informants living county wide.

He added those involved only received funds on a ‘pay per result’ basis.

“Not all CHIS are traditional criminals,” Det Chief Supt Holden said.

“Many are community spirited individuals who are in a position to pass information to us that enables us to seize firearms, drugs and cash from our streets.

“In many instances, we wouldn’t be able to do this without the intelligence we receive so the system is a very important tool for us and is beneficial for everyone.”

Members of the public can only become a police informant if they are approved as a CHIS.

This involves a stringent risk assessment process to ensure those stepping forward to take part are not placing themselves in physical danger.

Those operating as an official CHIS within communities in Cumbria have a regular handler within the force.

But their use as part of an on going serious crime operation has to be sanctioned by a

chief superintendent and the process is regulated under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to ensure it is being used correctly.

The definition of a CHIS is set by the government as someone who uses a relationship to obtain information then passed on covertly.

In some cases, they receive a payment for this.

According to the figures Cumbria Police used £44,560 to buy information from informants during the 2013/14 year, rising to £50,780 in 2014/15 and £48,097 the following year.

In 2016/17 the bill was £40,746 while last year it was £41,241.05.

Det Chief Supt Holden was keen to dispel some common myths around the use of covert surveillance.

“A lot of people think there is immunity in exchange for information, but this is not true,” he added.

“People are not immune to prosecution, they are dealt with just like anyone else if they are engaging in criminal activity.

“And we don’t have criminals on our books receiving a monthly payment. This is a reward based system that pays people if they provide information that delivers results.

“We have to be very aware that some people might try to provide information that removes the competition from the area.

“We don’t allow that to happen.

“And though there is a cost, it’s cheaper than using a surveillance team which would cost thousands of pounds.”