Trio banned from paedophile hunting by Belfast judge after confrontation with BBC journalist
Three men accused of targeting suspected sex offenders and trying to menace an investigative journalist are banned from any further paedophile hunting activities, a judge has ordered.
Prohibitions were imposed on George Keenan, 34, Richard Curtis, 32, and Tim Heron, 28, as they were bailed on a raft of assault, false imprisonment and attempted intimidation charges.
They appeared together at Belfast Magistrates' Court in connection with an incident involving BBC reporter Kevin Magee earlier this month.
Mr Magee was allegedly confronted by a group at a coffee shop on Botanic Avenue in the south of the city on February 6.
Footage of the encounter showed the journalist, who was making a news report on the activities of paedophile hunter groups operating in Northern Ireland, then being followed outside as he made his way to a car.
Keenan, of Glenwood Court in the Dunmurry area of Belfast; Curtis from Albert Road in Carrickfergus, Co Antrm; and Heron, 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 Heron 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.
They included counts of 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 against them.
A Public Prosecution Service lawyer confirmed bail was agreed for each of them on condition that they comply with a series of restrictions. Those included:
- Desisting with activities associated with paedophile hunter groups.
- Having no role whatsoever in identifying or confronting those suspected to online sexual offences.
- No contact with anyone associated with the groups or people previously confronted about alleged sexual offending.
- A ban on using online social media platforms, websites or instructing others to use them on their behalf.
- No access to any site containing public records or the electoral role.
- No contact with their co-accused or any witnesses in the case.
- Abide by curfew and police reporting conditions.
During the hearing it was claimed that police had supplied group members with a "paedophile hunting manual" which involved a 19-point plan on how to achieve best evidence.
An investigating detective sergeant insisted however: "We would never encourage any group or individuals to confront and put themselves in danger, or unlawfully imprison individuals."
He also claimed there had been opportunities to make earlier contact with police.
Counsel for Curtis countered that he had been encouraged to secure evidence.
Mark Farrell said: "My client... believed that he acted in the public interest at all times and he was helping police to bring offenders before the courts."
The detective replied: "That's his opinion, yes."
Granting bail to all three accused, District Judge Fiona Bagnall adjourned the case against them to April 17.
Belfast Telegraph Digital