Murderers, gangsters and international drug dealers are among the serious offenders having their time in prison cut in return for turning ‘supergrass’, an investigation by BBC Panorama with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has found. The rewards have been handed out despite the fact that on a number of occasions, the informer’s reliability has been questioned in court.
The use of supergrasses has always been controversial. In the early 1980’s, the system was largely discredited when evidence surfaced that both informants and the police had abused the system, resulting in wrongful convictions and serious offenders getting off lightly.
One of the key problems, say critics, is that vast, unprecedented sentence reductions give offenders a huge incentive to manipulate the justice system.
Leading QC Michael Mansfield said supergrasses were ‘inherently dishonest’ witnesses acting in ‘self interest because they want some kind of reward’, and were sure to be enticed by the discounts on offer. ‘These people will know about crime, but in order to inveigle their way into their favours they dress it up’, he said. ‘They dress it up in a way that they put people at the scene who weren’t there…and of course they have axes to grind, they have vendettas to settle’.