VIGILANTE groups taking the law into their own hands in a bid to catch out suspected paedophiles are becoming an increasing concern for the police.
To begin with, these rebel groups, dubbed ‘the paedophile hunters’, of which many variations have sprung up across the Midlands, are proving a nuisance to the police who are continually issuing reminders to let them do the policing.
But the actions of such groups have come under the microscope after a Leicestershire man took his own life after falling into one of these traps.
Typically, the vigilante hunters, who have racked up thousands of online supporters, will attempt to lure in suspected paedophiles by posing online as underage girls.
After a meeting is supposedly agreed, members of the group will film the suspect, showing up before confronting him and then handing over the footage to the police.
But the truth is they aren’t needed.
In the words of Detective Inspector Andy Maxfield, of Staffordshire Police’s child exploitation team, they are doing more harm than good.
DI Maxfield told the Mail: “The issue is, looking at the evidence that has been gained, it is not acceptable in a court of law. The legislation surrounding this sort of thing is really tight.
“Morally, yes I get it, but these groups are doing more harm than good. The police use their own deeply covert tactics, so it’s more of a hindrance than help.”
While their intentions may be good, little is known about these vigilante groups and their leaders.
When they occasionally step from behind the keyboard, they have always maintained they are the good guys out to bring the bad guys to justice.
But are these simply individuals looking for confrontation, masking their actions with the explanation they are doing some good in the world?
DI Maxfield said: “My view is that these people have got the right morals – of looking out for children. That is brilliant. But it creates too many risks.”
But could they be wrong? Could they trap the wrong person – could an innocent person’s name be tarnished?
Last week, 41-year-old Darren Martin, from Church Gresley, was charged with attempted sexual grooming after being targeted by one of these groups.
When subsequently contacted by the Mail after the footage went viral, Martin vehemently protested his innocence, insisting he thought he had been chatting to an 18-year-old girl on a dating website.
He said he had been left isolated by members of his family and friends in the wake of the allegations.
Whether Martin is innocent or guilty has yet to be determined, but should these groups get the wrong man, those accusations cannot be withdrawn.
A similar group acting under the name of Letzgo Hunting closed down last week following the death of a man who they had confronted, raising serious questions about the actions of the ‘paedophile hunters’.
It appears that this is not an uncommon theme among suspects, with Martin telling the Mail that he had also considered suicide.
DI Maxfield said, for many reasons, the groups play a very dangerous game.
He said: “Imagine if they did get it wrong, the stigma that would come with being accused and it being all over the internet – the damage it would do to that individual.”
But even if they get the right man, there are still risks to be considered.
DI Maxfield continued: “There are really three issues. The main thing is the risks to themselves they are facing. Who’s to say what’s happening out there when they are meeting these people in predetermined places?
“Then there is the risk involved with outing someone. There has been no risk assessment of the alleged offender – he hasn’t been convicted.
“Have they thought about the risk around children? Say this person is a paedophile. Just by doing that, the risk to the child, who they may be in contact with, is increased by 100 per cent.
“If people suspect a child is at harm, there is 101 or if a child is thought to be at immediate risk they should call 999. On most forums and websites like Facebook there is a CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre) report button. That’s the way they should be going about reporting it.”