Falsely accused Belfast man slams vigilante paedophile hunters
A Belfast law graduate has called for new legislation to curb vigilante paedophile hunters after he was wrongly identified as a sexual predator and falsely accused of grooming children.
The Queen's University graduate was left confused following a sudden influx of friend requests on social media, before it became apparent that he shared the same name as one of the vigilante group's targets.
A barrage of profane abuse soon followed.
"It made me feel sick to the stomach. I was so angry when I realised what had happened, so many people were calling me a paedo," he said.
"Some of it was absolutely disgusting."
The aspiring solicitor was also inundated with messages from friends who believed he was the person accused and felt like he had "no choice" but to post an online status in which he rigorously defended himself.
He also criticised those who are behind the vigilante movement, but the post only attracted more abuse.
"I have been called a c***, a paedo sympathiser and told that I should be ashamed of myself," he said.
"I had to make it clear that it wasn't me, but the real reason for the hateful messages is simply because I have chosen not to go along with the mob mentality and believe in due process."
Online vigilante groups work by setting up fake profiles, and then pose as youngsters in order to snare paedophiles attempting to groom children.
The wrongly-identified man voiced his "vehement" opposition to those presenting themselves as "protectors of the community" and branded their online activities as an incitement of "citizen led violence". He warned that online outrage quickly morphs into calls for "justice outside the law" from members of the public and accused those in the group of falsely claiming that their chief concern is children's welfare.
"These groups, in their quest to publicly shame individuals, are self-serving attention seeking bullies and thugs more concerned with tabloid and online social media titillation than they are with the protection and safeguarding of children," he wrote on Facebook.
One commentator replied: "It's people like you that allow these sick f***s to believe they can go around and destroy kids' lives with no consequences."
The unsuspecting target of online hate made clear he was not defending anyone who commits sexual offences, but rather their right to due process, and said there is no point trying to reason with his critics.
"Unfortunately it doesn't matter what you say, you'll never convince these types of people that what they are doing is wrong," he said. The innocent victim is now calling for legislation to curtail vigilante groups who he warned could accuse anyone and have the potential to destroy lives.
"There is nothing stopping someone who has a vehement dislike of you from setting up a fake dating account and using your photo and address - if this group turned up at your door, how would you be able to defend yourself?" he asked.
"This group is not being governed by any clearly defined statutory parameters and is completely unregulated.
"Legislative curtailment of this activity is needed, because these videos are viewed hundreds of thousands of times online."
One online vigilante group here came under fire recently following the apparent suicide of a Co Antrim man it exposed publicly, accusing him of grooming what he thought was a 14-year-old girl.
Detective Chief Inspector David McBurney of the PSNI's Public Protection Branch said that it is the role of the PSNI to deal with those allegedly involved in this type of crime, not other groups which are "unaccountable" and could "potentially undermine" investigations.
He said that if such groups are motivated to help safeguard children, they need to bring the information to the police.