Trio accused of menacing BBC reporter barred from paedophile hunting activity
Three so-called paedophile hunters accused of targeting suspected sex offenders and trying to menace an investigative journalist must desist from continuing their activities while the case is live, a judge has ordered.
George Keenan (34), Richard Curtis (32) and Tim Herron (28) face a litany of charges including assault, false imprisonment and attempted intimidation on various dates over the last six months.
All three men were arrested on Monday morning in relation to an incident involving BBC reporter Kevin Magee at Botanic Avenue in Belfast on the evening on Tuesday, February 6.
Mr Magee was allegedly confronted by a group at a coffee shop.
The three accused are all understood to be members of Predator Catchers Northern Ireland - a group that often refers to itself as "freelance investigative journalists".
Keenan, of Glenwood Court in Dunmurry, Belfast; Curtis from Albert Road in Carrickfergus, Co Antrim; and Herron, of Cloverhill Vale in Bangor, Co Down, are jointly charged with disorderly behaviour on Botanic Avenue and attempting by force, threat or menace to cause Mr Magee from refraining to broadcast a television interview.
Keenan and Herron are accused of obstruction during the same incident.
A series of further charges were put to all three men in connection with alleged meetings with named individuals at a number of locations in Northern Ireland.
Charges they are facing include false imprisonment, attempting to cause suspects to leave place of occupation and common assault.
All three defendants spoke only to confirm they understood the allegations levelled against them.
A prosecution solicitor confirmed bail was agreed for each of them based on conditions.
• Desisting from activities associated with paedophile hunter groups.
• Having no contact with their co-accused or any witnesses in the case.
• A ban on using online social media platforms, websites or instructing others to use them on their behalf.
• No contact with anyone associated with the groups or people previously confronted about alleged sexual offending.
• Having no role whatsoever in identifying or confronting those suspected of online sexual offences.
• No access to any site containing public records or the electoral role.
• Abiding by a daily curfew and reporting to police.
All three were released on their own bail of £500.
During the short hearing a defence barrister produced a letter to the court that claims police had supplied group members with a so-called 'paedophile hunting manual' of a 19-point plan on how to achieve evidence for prosecution.
An investigating sergeant said: "The police position has always been we are willing to take any information in relation to a crime.
"We would never encourage anyone to confront or unlawfully detain anyone and put themselves in danger.
"Our guidance has always been to report to police."
The officer told the court that there had been opportunities to make earlier contact with police with evidence.
A defence barrister for Curtis said that his client had been encouraged to secure evidence. The court heard that Curtis said in a prepared statement to police that he had "acted in the public interest at all times".
Defence counsel continued: "He was helping police to bring offenders before the courts."
The detective replied: "That's his opinion, yes."
Counsel for two of the accused asked the court for an order to prevent the Press from publishing the defendants' addresses. District Judge Fiona Bagnall denied the request.
Granting bail to all three accused, Judge Bagnall adjourned the case to April 17.