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Group vows to keep hunting paedophiles in Northern Ireland amid unease at legality of methods

Paedohunters group Nonce Catchers NI lead by Kenny Abbott (right) and his team, look over Belfast from Upper Hightown Rd beside Cavehill.
Paedohunters group Nonce Catchers NI lead by Kenny Abbott (right) and his team, look over Belfast from Upper Hightown Rd beside Cavehill.

By David O'Dornan

A Northern Ireland paedophile hunting group says it will only stop when police and parents are armed with the technology to keep children safe.

Men that have been targeted for stings by Nonce Catchers NI have been from a wide range of backgrounds - including the legal profession, politics and with links to local sport.

The group say they have 'hunted' in both loyalist and republican areas with the support of local communities and also revealed that women suspected of being paedophiles have been in their sights too.

Kenny Abbott (46) fronts the group and is open about his own past troubles, having gone off the rails after being a victim of abuse himself from the age of just eight.

BBC's Kevin Magee is approached by a Predator Catchers N.I member in a non related manor
BBC's Kevin Magee is approached by a Predator Catchers N.I member in a non related manor

He said: "That is my drive, because I was abused, but I also have seen the system for what it is and the questions and the interviews and the whole lot needs completely looked at again, the laws and the guidelines, especially when people are abused in historical cases from the past, they've got a lot of proving to do.

"I went to counselling and they made me realise that because I was abused and so-called 'damaged goods', that I did have a messed-up life.

"My future absolutely sucked. I was in and out of jail - car crime - I couldn't settle. I didn't trust anybody so for many years I was just unstable until my kids were born and then I sort of settled down. That gave me a reason."

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But it was after becoming a father and seeing his young daughter targeted by an online predator that prompted Kenny to get involved in becoming a local paedo hunter.

He said: "It showed me that our system is failing and maybe us parents are going to have to start looking after our kids online a lot deeper.

"So I then set up a couple of profiles. They were of a family member who was over 18 who gave me full permission to use a picture of them when they were 14. We put them online and we got 20 perpetrators in six months.

Nonce Catchers NI facebook logo
Nonce Catchers NI facebook logo

"I can tell you now, from me stinging that first person, the cops brought me into Lisburn Road police station and had meetings with me and they told me what to say and how to say it in the chat log, they educated me.

"They also told me they couldn't tell me to stop, not with the dirty beasts that I'm bringing in. We used to put people under citizen's arrest but then we were told that's entrapment, that we're leading ourselves up to a legal battle. So now we don't put them under citizen's arrest.

"We just meet them at the location they have suggested and (on) the time and date. We turn up and we ask them why they're there. And we're on the phone to the police and the police are out within 20 minutes.

"We don't need to be heroes or anything like that. It's my passion behind it, I have so much passion in getting them convicted - they've got to go to court.

"We can't do anything to get in the way of any conviction. We have to be seen doing it right. If we go live on these people, they've got a chance of walking because of other people making threats.

"We have a guy at the minute and the chat log is absolutely disgusting. He's talking to a 13-year-old kid (saying) that he wants to meet and is sending indecent pictures.

Paedophile hunters belfast that cornered BBC Journalist Kevin MaGee Pictured George Keenan James 'SJ' O'Neill
Paedophile hunters belfast that cornered BBC Journalist Kevin MaGee Pictured George Keenan James 'SJ' O'Neill

"He's a perfect example of men who seem to think they can come online and do what they want, write what they want, or say what they want with no repercussions. They think that they can get away with that."

Now Kenny is campaigning for new software to be established to keep all kids safe online that would protect the children while at the same time immediately alerting the police.

He said: "If the police had the software that I'm talking about no child would be getting groomed. The cops want to shut the paedophile hunting down - if they want to shut it down, that software shuts it all down.

"Jim Gamble is (a safeguarding organisatio) - he hires all the people out of Queen's University who do the security software. All they have to do is invent the software and then no adult, no police officer, no paedophile hunter is needed - every app has to have this software.

"Look at Facebook - if you upload a picture, I'm telling you now within minutes it will get taken down if it breaches the guidelines, so why aren't the other platforms doing it?

"There would be no need for hunters then. We would go away. I'm not looking fame, I'm really looking to solve this problem, it needs resolved."

William Johnston who was caught by Nonce Catchers NI
William Johnston who was caught by Nonce Catchers NI

Paedo-hunting groups in Northern Ireland hit the headlines for the wrong reasons in 2018 after rounding on BBC journalist Kevin Magee - but Kenny said he had nothing to do with it, having turned down an invitation to get involved.

In February this year, three men - George Keenan (aka James O'Neill, below), Richard Curtis and Tim Heron - were found guilty of attempting to intimidate Mr Magee and were also convicted of disorderly behaviour and obstructing a road.

Kenny said: "When the Kevin Magee incident happened and James O'Neill and the other people that done that - that was absolutely wild. We're not here to jump reporters, we're here to catch online perpetrators.

"To do that made a whole mockery and for me to get dragged into it the following day - I got called into a police station, they shut us down and they put charges on me that they dropped at a later date."

Kenny, who said he enjoyed a good relationship with the PSNI initially "for a good two years" until the Kevin Magee incident, claimed that members of the public regularly contact his group.

He said that kids are targeted via social media sites and apps like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, as well as the chat facilities on computer games like Roblox and Fortnite.

Some of their targets have been before the courts. In April this year, a former serviceman who had an online sex chat with a decoy he believed was a 14-year-old boy was given two years probation and placed on the sex offenders' register for five years.

Belfast Magistrates Court heard how William Johnston (38), who served in the Royal Navy for a decade, made full admissions after police were called when he was confronted by Nonce Catchers NI in the Pilot Street area of Belfast in December 2017.

Kenny added: "There are paedophile hunting stings roughly four or five times a week in Belfast alone. So what about the rest of Northern Ireland?

"I've caught maybe three or four women over this last six months alone, they're all in the hands of the PSNI. A couple of women have been from over in England, but there's been one from Lisburn, one from Belfast and one from Newtownabbey.

"I have formed a platform for likeminded people like myself to join, there's more than 25,000 people on the page that does fully support what we do."

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