The high level informer. The type of criminal that was supposed to be the the lowest of the low. Yet, incredibly, they are not a recent phenomenon, especially since the 70`s in Britain, but have existed for the last couple of centuries. The idea that a criminal would rat out all his friends to save himself, is regarded as unthinkable when you read memoirs of criminals, whom would cut off their own arms rather than inform. This makes them seem absolutely solid and reliable people that all villains can depend on, when the reality is that you just do not know who is working for the Police. And as for the notion that all grasses are marked for murder, again just does not pan out.
One of the earliest and most notorious informers was Jonathon Wild. This man was regarded as the leading and most powerful criminal in London during the early 18th century. He had many influential friends, and was the leading "fence" in the capital. What was the most disturbing aspect of Wild was that he was the leading "Thief-taker" or early Policeman. He helped set up numerous highway robberies, burglaries, etc and had his cut of the proceeds. He was no stranger to setting up crimes and then arresting the culprits, or having other Thief-takers arrest them. As many went to the gallows, usually at Tyburn, it bothered him not one iota. Today, he would be called an "Agent Provocateur." He eventually, he had his just rewards, and was himself hanged in 1725.
Joe Valachi was the first Cosa Nostra member to spill the beans. This was in the early 60`s. Valachi was a soldier in the Genovese Crime Family in New York. His testimony about the Mob was broadcast on TV, when Senate hearings into Organised Crime were public hearings. Valachi explained how the Families were structured, how you were initiated, and the rules of membership. Naturally, the Mob put a contract out on him but he was in isolation. He did hear that a certain prisoner was going to take the hit on him so he acted first. He received a general description of the man and attacked him with a metal bar. He pulverised the man`s head in but later he was told that he had killed the wrong man. The victim bore a slight resemblance to the proposed assailant. Valachi was convicted of the murder, and remained in jail until his death in the beginning of the 70`s.
Here in Britain, the Supergrass truly arrived in the form of Derek Creighton Smalls. Smalls was a very active armed robber and was part of a particular clique of "Blaggers" hitting banks all over London. His downfall came over the £138,000 bank robbery in Wembley, around 1972, and to save himself asked for a deal in which he would "Tell all" in return for no charges against him. The DPP agreed to the deal and many men found themselves in court facing numerous robbery charges. Smalls was the star witness and was a very poor witness, until one of the accused, Danny Allpress made a nasty remark about Smalls` wife. This put the impetus into Smalls and he suddenly turned into a strong witness. Chief Superintendent Jack Slipper remarked that the others must have "Had something to say" to Allpress later on. Smalls was instrumental in convicting a good number of robbers and naturally, a price was put on his life. It seemed that Smalls skipped to Spain for a number of years and then drifted back to London. One of the men Smalls put away, Bobby King, spotted Smalls in a car and followed him but eventually stopped, and let it go. He thought it was not worth the trouble for him, and it was many years later. Both King and Smalls have since passed away.
There was a natural outcry about the Smalls deal and so it was decided that any future supergrass would have to serve time in prison. The "get out of jail free" card was gone. The Roll call of supergrasses continued.