Belfast Telegraph

Belfast solicitor warns of people being harassed by 'paedophile hunters'

Solicitor Ciaran Moynagh is a partner in Phoenix Law
Solicitor Ciaran Moynagh is a partner in Phoenix Law

A leading Northern Ireland solicitor has said people being harassed by so-called paedophile hunters are having their lives ruined.

Ciaran Moynagh, of Belfast-based Phoenix Law, said it was the police and not "online streamer" who should investigate allegations of crime.

It comes just a week after a group of paedophile hunters in the UK were cleared of charges, including false imprisonment and common assault, following stings on two men.

A common tactic used by paedophile hunters is to pretend to be children on online messaging platforms in order to lure suspects into real-world meetings, where they are confronted and reported to police. In the past they have live-streamed the encounter on social media platforms.

Mr Moynagh, in a Twitter post, said: "I'm instructed by persons being harassed by vigilantes who class themselves as 'paedophile hunters'.

"The actions carried out by these groups are very dangerous, don't often achieve prosecutions, but certainly ruin lives. Police are best placed to investigate not online streamers."

The practice of "paedophile hunting" has become prevalent in recent years, however it has not been without controversy with many questioning whether the evidence they gather can be used in a court of law.

Marianne O'Kane, assistant director of the Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland, has said paedophile hunter cases they had received are "compromised" for several reasons.

"The first is the way the evidence is actually gathered by these individuals. They are essentially running covert undercover operations, which in the normal way would be conducted by police, that would be subject to very strict legal regulation and control, but those controls don't apply to the hunting groups," she said.

"So that immediately causes difficulty in relation to the integrity of the evidence and the way in which the inquiries are conducted.

"The second issue that we have, and this is probably our primary issue, is in relation to the quality and the integrity of the evidence that they are presenting to us.

"In the 15 cases that we have seen, we are consistently faced with issues such as concerns about the providence of the evidence, concerns about the continuity of the evidence.

Earlier this year, three paedophile hunters were convicted of trying to intimidate BBC NI reporter Kevin Magee, who was making a programme about the practice.

In August 2017, a Co Antrim man in his 50s took his own life two days after he was confronted by one such group, who accused him of grooming what he thought was a 14-year-old girl.

Simon Bailey, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on child protection, says the groups take unnecessary risks and cause damage.

He said: “I can’t deny they’ve led to convictions, but they’ve also led to people being blackmailed, people being subject of GBH (grievous bodily harm), the wrong people being accused, people committing suicide as a result of interventions, family lives being completely destroyed, in the name of what? Facebook likes.”

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