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Should undercover police be allowed to have sex with suspects?

19th June 2012

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It has recently been revealed that police officers in the UK are allowed to sleep with the subjects they were sent to spy on, in order to avoid detection.

Home Office Minister Nick Herbert has told MPs that this is within the rules for undercover operations. However, these claims have angered senior officers who say that having sex with targets is both ‘morally wrong’ and ‘absolutely not authorised’.

The issue has been given more attention since last year’s controversy following a case against environmental activists in Nottinghamshire that collapsed after an undercover police had sexual relations with two of the women involved. In addition, eight other women are suing the police, claiming that their lives were ruined because they were led to have sex with undercover officers.

In defence of the rules, Mr Herbert said that criminals would be able to spot the undercover officer if he refused to have sex with them.

So, is it right for undercover police to engage in sexual relations with their subjects?

It might be worth asking ourselves about the moral implications of such actions. If for example the subject turns out to be innocent, why would they then be deserving of such manipulative treatment? Besides, even if the person in questions turns out to be a criminal, does anyone really deserve to be lied to and manipulated to that extent on top of any formal punishment such as prison or a fine?

It seems to me that sleeping with a suspect is unnecessary manipulative. If a police officer must resort to having sex with a subject in order to keep his identity secret, that officer must not be very skilled at what he is doing. Surely, being an undercover police officer is about being trustworthy?

What might also be worth remembering is that these police officers are likely to have families of their own. Are partners of the police aware of these rules and what might the effects be on their personal lives? Should these rules apply to single police officers only? It becomes dangerously difficult to decide where the line should be drawn - aside, of course, from being an example of those in authority entirely abusing their power. 

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