Belfast Telegraph

PSNI warning to 'paedophile hunters': Leave crime fighting to the professionals

By Jonathan Bell

The PSNI has issued a warning to so-called "paedophile hunters" telling them to leave the crime fighting to the professionals.

The organisation said those vigilantes working to ensnare paedophiles could actually be harming the criminal justice system by their actions. 

"We are the professionals with the expert knowledge and experience to carry out rigorous investigations to the required evidential standard,"  Detective Chief Superintendent George Clarke told the Belfast Telegraph.

"It is the role of the Police Service of Northern Ireland to deal with those allegedly involved in this type of crime, not others."

In England, Wales and Scotland 11% of prosecutions in cases of adults meeting children following online sexual grooming, evidence was used from "paedophile hunters" to secure convictions in 2014, according to figures released under Freedom of Information to the BBC.

However, in Northern Ireland there has not been a single court case taken using any evidence from the vigilantes. As a demonstration of their work in the area, police said its child internet protection team had carried out 85 searches and made 51 arrests in relation to people making/viewing/distributing indecent images online since April.

Detective Chief Superintendent George Clarke, Head of the PSNI’s Public Protection Branch, said: "We are the legitimate police service and we are accountable. These groups are not. They do not have the transparency or the structures which underpin the police service and could potentially undermine ongoing police investigations.

“The PSNI are committed to tackling this issue and work closely with our partner agencies when carrying out investigations to ensure the safeguarding of children and identification of offenders.

“Those involved in this type of vigilante behaviour aren’t in a position to ensure safeguarding issues are addressed and their actions could have a detrimental impact on the criminal justice process.

“If these groups are motivated to help safeguard children, they need to bring the information they have to police as soon as they have it and we will take all the necessary steps required to ensure a thorough investigation is carried out including appropriate evidence gathering. We will also ensure safeguarding issues are addressed and appropriate risk assessments are carried out.

“I would urge anyone with information in relation to this type of crime to contact police on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.”

In August concerns were raised after a Northern Ireland man died by suicide after he was confronted by self-styled "sexual predator hunters".

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