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Report on covert police methods raises serious concerns

The Police Ombudsman's decision to launch an investigation into allegations about the attempted recruitment of an informer, which appeared in Monday's Irish News, is clearly a significant development.

Dr Michael Maguire has moved with considerable speed to announce a probe following our report which he said `raises concerns which go to the heart of covert policing methods.'

There is no doubt the details published on Monday are deeply troubling and raise serious questions about the methods used by some officers to encourage criminals to become informants.

What is particularly disturbing is the suggestion that serving officers may be working for a drug dealer, something that should be causing profound concern at senior levels of the PSNI.

A secret recording published by The Irish News provides an insight into a world of intelligence-gathering, drug-dealing and criminality which remains largely hidden from public view.

It involves two members of the PSNI's C3 Intelligence Branch - formerly Special Branch - trying to persuade a suspected dealer to provide information on a man police claim is a major player in the drugs trade on the north coast.

In the recording of their conversation, the suspected dealer is offered large sums of money, up to £15,000, if he gives them information that can help catch their target.

One officer is heard saying they are aware the suspect is a drug dealer and if he works for them he will be protected.

A second officer also alleges that some members of the police may be working for the main dealer and that is one of the reasons why `we need to take him out by the roots'.

Dr Maguire said: ``If police officers have improper relationships with drug dealers, are protecting them from investigation, including by pointing the blame at innocent parties, then this needs to be identified.''

It is absolutely right for the ombudsman to act quickly, recognising that any hint of police corruption is enormously damaging.

It goes without saying that the police must take steps to address the illegal drugs trade in Northern Ireland but their methods must be within the bounds of current regulations.

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