Leave the job to us, police chiefs warn paedophile hunters over fears the likes of Dark Justice and The Hunted One could put child abuse probes at risk
- Warning comes amid plans for a Government initiative to infiltrate chat rooms
- 43 people were arrested and 19 charged during a year-long pilot scheme
- Dark Justice claim on their website to have helped snare 104 sex crime suspects
Self-styled paedophile hunters were yesterday told by police to ‘leave it to the professionals’.
Senior officers said vigilante groups such as Dark Justice or The Hunted One could put child abuse investigations at risk.
Their warning came as Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced a £20million grant to extend an initiative where undercover detectives infiltrate internet chat rooms and forums used by suspected offenders.
Forty-three people were arrested and 19 charged during a year-long pilot scheme. Norfolk Police believe they have protected at least 25 children as a result.
Detective Superintendent Steven Woollett, of the Kent and Essex serious crime directorate, said bringing the scheme to the rest of England and Wales would help to catch more suspects.
He declined to be drawn on how police work in an online realm that has increasingly seen members of the public take action to trap child abusers themselves.
Tyneside-based duo Dark Justice claim on their website to have helped snare 104 sex crime suspects, leading to 50 convictions. A sting operation by The Hunted One descended into violence when they ambushed a man who sent sexual messages to a decoy account.
Their target, Mirza Beg, 29, was jailed at Maidstone Crown Court last month for 40 months after he turned up with condoms at the Bluewater Shopping Centre near Dartford, Kent, believing he was meeting a 14-year-old girl. ‘Much as they may be well intended, there is the potential to hinder police investigations,’ said Mr Woollett.
- Paedophiles are targeting affluent beachside suburbs in Sydney and kidnapping children as young as eight from parks and playgrounds
- Grammar school RE teacher, 45, who was caught with a stash of indecent pictures of children and animal porn also made prostitutes wear school uniforms when paying them for sex
‘My message to them would be we are professional law enforcement – leave it to the professionals. I would have to admit they’ve had some success – we need to balance that success against the potential harm by heightening the awareness of individuals.
‘With all strands of criminality, those people responsible become more aware and more cute around their business.’
But he added: ‘I would not be able to say vigilante groups have increased that.’
Cases of paedophiles being caught by vigilante groups have hit the headlines, however. Gareth Walters, 38, from Gateshead, sent explicit messages to what he believed to be a 13-year-old girl. But the recipient was actually a member of the Dark Justice group, which had set up a fake social media account to catch him.
The group also snared married father Anthony Morgan, 51, after he sexually groomed what he thought was a 13-year-old girl and tried to meet her in Newcastle city centre.
But the police warning was delivered as a judge in a sex offender trial ordered that a defendant should go free and said the evidence of the paedophile hunter who accused him was ‘at best inaccurate and at worst a lie’. At Cardiff Crown Court, Judge Thomas Crowther QC criticised vigilante David Poole and warned against paedophile hunting.