THE Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, has backed a series of amendments to the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill which would protect children from being used in undercover operations by the police and other agencies.
So-called “spycops” — often teenagers aged 16 or 17 — are used to infiltrate criminal gangs to gather information.
Speaking in the House of Lords last week, Bishop Butler, who is the Church’s lead bishop for children and families, supported cross-party amendments to the Bill, which will control how the authorities can carry out illegal acts in pursuit of criminals.
One amendment calls for a ban on anyone under 18 being recruited by the police or crime agencies, and a second, which was expected to be more successful, prohibits the authorisation of criminal conduct by children without a judge’s specific prior approval.
Bishop Butler told Peers: “I am here to reiterate the simple, immovable, moral truth that children must be treated as children. It is not a question of ifs, buts, or whens. We, as adults, have a moral obligation to protect children and safeguard their care and well-being in all respects: physical, mental, social, and spiritual.
“Knowingly placing a child in harm’s way and encouraging them to remain in harmful situations, or with harmful behaviours, may be in our interest, but it is not in the child’s best interests. This is exacerbated by the likelihood that the small number of children recruited as Covert Human Intelligence Sources [CHIS] are from a potentially vulnerable background and are already deeply damaged. We should be seeking their healing, not risking damaging them further.”
Government ministers had suggested that becoming a CHIS could offer a way for a child to escape from a harmful existence. “While this sounds like a laudable thing,” Bishop Butler continued, “before being able to extricate the child, are we not potentially exposing them to more harm by encouraging them at times to remain involved in a criminal situation or behaviour?
“We rightly condemn the use of child soldiers around the globe for the atrocity that it is. Let us not slip into a dangerous grey space where we permit the use of children to fight our battles against criminal gangs and county lines. Let us protect their vulnerabilities.”