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Back in the 70s, when the police found it almost impossible to get convictions in the growing number of armed robbery cases in London, the prosecuting authorities hit on the idea of the supergrass. In exchange for a short sentence and a new identity, former armed robbers could give evidence against their colleagues. Initially, the idea was a spectacular success, the number of armed robberies declined sharply and many career criminals were jailed for long sentences. In recent years, London has faced a wave of a different form of armed crime and one of a more deadly nature: gang murders. While the average murder clear-up rate is an admirably high 80% to 90%, in such crimes convictions were running at about half that level. How would it be possible to halt the killings and jail the gunmen? In many of the cases, for very understandable reasons, witnesses were reluctant to come forward. The offer of a new identity was not enough. Why should someone risk their and their family's lives in this way? For this reason, total anonymity was offered by the Crown Prosecution Service in some trials. The witnesses would not be named, even in court, or seen by the accused. Their voices would be disguised. This has led to successful prosecutions and the jailing of violent men. However, the law lords have now ruled that defendants are entitled to know the identity of their accusers so they can challenge their evidence and their motives for giving it. Yesterday a trial at the Old Bailey was abandoned because of that law lords ruling. Other cases may now be under threat. The Metropolitan police assistant commissioner, John Yates, has made a persuasive case for continuing this practice of anonymity. He points to the successes achieved in London by Operation Trident, and acknowledges that such total anonymity should be confined to only the most serious cases. His frustration that all this work could now be at risk is completely understandable. If this is the only way to halt the casual killings that deface our cities, should we not welcome it with open arms? But there lies a danger here. Back in the 70s, the supergrass system ©eventually fell into disrepute. Former criminals used it as a way of settling old scores. Corners were cut by the police handling the informers who saw it as a handy short-cut to conviction. Miscarriages of justices occurred as supergrasses helpfully told courts of "confessions" by cell mates. Innocent men went to prison. The damage to the criminal justice system was great. Guilty men walked free, and the laws had to be changed and tightened.