A former undercover detective has slammed police chiefs for paying more than £340,000 to supergrasses in a bid to bust organised crime gangs – the biggest sum in years.

Police Scotland handed over £343,327.90 to what officers call Covert Human Intelligence Sources in 2019, the most recent year for which there are figures available.

Payments previously spiked in 2016-17 when the total payments amounted to £319,754 but the new figure – released under FOI – reveals that police chiefs have been splashing the cash.

The Scots force – which comes second only to the Met when it comes to payouts for tips – refused to disclose figures for last year.

The Police Scotland response said: “I can provide that for 2019 the total amount paid to Covert Human Intelligence Sources was £343,327.90.

“In relation to 2020, I must advise you that any ‘part year’ data will not be released into the public domain.”

Retired Crime Squad detective and undercover vice officer Simon McLean said paying informers was lazy and self-defeating and did nothing to win the ongoing so-called war against drugs.

Simon, of Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP) Scotland, which calls for police and justice reform, said: “This is a very lucrative side market for the drug dealers and suppliers.

“They are always looking to get rid of their competitors. What better way than to feed info to the police and let them do the heavy lifting?

“And if the informant gets paid into the bargain – it’s a win-win. But not for society

“This self-perpetuating merry-go-round has to stop.

“While the police are in this market place, people are dying.

“Lives are being ruined. It’s time for a rethink, surely?”

In 2019, published figures revealed that the biggest fees were reportedly made to organised crime tipsters with the Scots force coming second only to the Met in the amount paid out since 2014.

Informants are used by officers to provide information which can help solve, or in some cases, prevent crimes and they often end up being given new identities.

Payments typically range from two-figure sums for low-profile cases to several thousand pounds where
organised crime is involved.

Police Scotland’s payments are decided on a case-by-case basis and are dependent on the strength of the information received and the outcome.

In 2014-15, Police Scotland spent £184,420 on paying tipsters.

Payments spiked in 2016-17, when the total payments amounted to £319,754, data obtained by the University of Portsmouth journalism department using Freedom of Information laws showed.

Last night, Police Scotland’s Detective Chief Superintendent Richard Ness said: “The use of Covert Human Intelligence Sources, or CHIS, is a successful, highly-regulated and independently-scrutinised tactic which supports officers to keep people safe.”