Sunday 17 December 2000
– Corrupt detectives across Britain are pocketing tens of thousands of pounds by sharing reward money with a network of ‘fake’ informants, The Observer can reveal.
The scam involves the recruitment of petty crooks who appear before senior officers and confirm that they provided the original tip-off which led to a subsequent seizure or arrest. They then got their reward, which can range from several hundred to several thousand pounds. The money is later split with the detective concerned.
The practice came to light during the Old Bailey trial of former Detective Constable Austin Warnes, who pleaded guilty last week to charges of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
Warnes had played a key role in a plot to assist Simon James in winning custody of his young son. James had hired private detective Jonathan Rees from the Law and Commercial agency in south London to plant a significant quantity of cocaine in a car belonging to his estranged wife, Kim, a former model. The plan was to get her sent to prison, leaving the child in the father’s sole care.
Warnes, a long-time cocaine addict who moonlighted for Law and Commercial, had agreed to assist the plot by passing false information to local police that Kim James was involved in high-level cocaine dealing. The plan failed because anti-corruption detectives had been monitoring Rees’s agency, following concerns that he had been making illegal payments to a number of serving police officers in return for confidential information. Bugging devices alerted them to the James plot.
Following his arrest last September, Warnes had originally claimed that the tip-off about Kim James came from his registered informant, who was later revealed to be reformed gangster turned bestselling author Dave Courtney. At the Old Bailey trial, Courtney revealed that, far from being an informant, he had been involved in a ‘100 per cent corrupt’ relationship with Warnes for 15 years which involved recruiting fake informants, obtaining information from the police computer and sabotaging numerous court cases.
An investigation by The Observer has revealed that Warnes’s unscrupulous practices went far deeper than those admitted during the trial. Officers in other police forces, including Essex and Greater Manchester, have been investigated for allegedly sharing rewards with informants.
Warnes fed his own drug habit by regularly stealing drugs during raids. Warnes also assisted Courtney and dozens of other professional criminals in the south London area to avoid capture and evade charges by providing them with information about police investigations. In order to cover himself and not face questioning about why he was accessing police files, Warnes would say one of his informants had knowledge relevant to the case.
‘The information he provided was invaluable,’ says Mick, a one-time armed robber and one of those who benefited from Warnes’ corruption. ‘He would be able to tell you what statements the police had obtained, who they had interviewed, which properties were under surveillance, which phones were being tapped – the lot. Worth its weight in gold. You would pay between £5,000 and £10,000 a time, but it was well worth it.’
Documents obtained by The Observer show that, in one case, Warnes intervened after an attempted kidnapping. One of the suspects, an associate of Courtney, had gone on the run. Warnes telephoned the officer in charge and said he had an informant that might be able to help in the case but would require all the information. The officer in charge of the kidnap later noted: ‘The impression gleaned from the information requested and questions asked was not one of an officer keen to assist but more of an officer bent on obtaining information for his own purposes.’
Warnes would regularly brag about fitting people up and applying pressure to ensnare people. He would carry out surveillance before making arrests to ensure they were carried out in the most compromising position possible. If a villain had a mistress, he would be arrested at her address rather than at home in order to increase the level of hassle if he pleaded not guilty. If he had a small child, the raid would take place late on Friday evening and fake drugs would be planted in his wife’s possessions.
This would lead to the wife being held in custody and the child being taken into care over the weekend. ‘By the end of the weekend, it would all be looking so grim he’d have to plead guilty. He said he collected fag ends – you can get DNA from traces of saliva – to plant at crime scenes to implicate people he didn’t like.’
The Old Bailey heard that Warnes had bragged about his ability to help with matters concerning the ‘IRA, driving offences, drugs, anything,’ witness Brendan McGirr said. The court also heard from club owner Lee Smith, who admitted paying Warnes £500 per week in order to be warned if his venue was to be raided.
Rees and Simon James were convicted of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. Both men were sentenced to six years. Warnes was sentenced to four years. James Cook, who had been filmed planting the drugs in the car, and Courtney were both acquitted of all charges.
Courtney, a one-time friend of the Kray twins, has made 10 court appearances in the past 15 years and has now received 10 not guilty verdicts in a row. ‘I have always had faith in the British Justice system,’ he said outside the court.
‘That not guilty verdict was both for the charge I faced and the accusation that I was a grass. I have never been an informer.’
– Tony Thompson