Paedophile hunters such as Dark Justice told to ‘leave it to the professionals’ police warn

Paedophile hunters such as Dark Justice and Guardians of the North have been urged to “leave it to the professionals” as police bolster covert efforts to tackle online grooming.

Senior officers said vigilante groups could put child abuse investigations at risk .

The warning comes as Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced £20 million funding to extend an initiative where undercover detectives operated in internet chat rooms and forums used by suspected offenders.

Forty-three people were arrested and 19 were charged as a result of the year-long pilot in eastern England, led by Norfolk Police, and officers believe they have safeguarded at least 25 children.

Detective Superintendent Steven Woollett, of the Kent and Essex serious crime directorate, said the Government’s cash injection to extend the scheme to the rest of England and Wales would make a “real difference” in helping to identify suspects and protect children.

Members from Dark Justice on Newcastle Quayside
Members from Dark Justice on Newcastle Quayside (Image: Sunday Mirror)

He declined to be drawn on how police work in an online realm that has increasingly seen members of the public take action to trap child abusers themselves.

Mr Woollett said offenders might become more evasive as a result of the groups’ actions.

He said: “My personal view is, as much as they may be well intended, there is the potential to hinder police investigations.

“My message to them would be we are professional law enforcement – leave it to the professionals.

“I would have to admit they’ve had some success – we need to balance that success against the potential harm by heightening the awareness of individuals.

“I think with all strands of criminality, those people responsible become more aware and more cute around their business.”

But he added: “I would not be able to say vigilante groups have increased that.”

Tyneside-based duo Dark Justice claim on their website to have helped snare 104 sex crime suspects, leading to 50 convictions.

Dark Justice appear on ITV's This Morning
Dark Justice appear on ITV’s This Morning (Image: ITV)

Earlier this year they were handed the green light to continue their work following a landmark legal ruling.

Defence lawyers acting on behalf of alleged paedophiles caught by the group argued that evidence collected by such organisations should not be used in court due to the way it is gathered.

But the judge said there was no legal requirement for the activities of the group to be subjected to controls.

National Police Chiefs Council lead for child protection, Chief Constable Simon Bailey, who said police are arresting more than 400 offenders and protecting more than 500 children every month.

He said: “This increase in our undercover capability will send a clear message to so-called paedophile hunters: if you have information about child abuse, tell the police.

“Don’t try to take it into your own hands, you could undermine police investigations creating more risk for the children we all want to protect.”

Footage of Dark Justice snaring Anthony Morgan, from Shiremoor
Footage of Dark Justice snaring Anthony Morgan, from Shiremoor (Image: Dark Justice)

The funding, through the Police Transformation Fund, will see police forces jointly monitor forums and share intelligence in collaboration with the National Crime Agency Child Exploitation and Online Protection command.

Ms Rudd said: “Child sexual exploitation has a profoundly devastating impact on the lives of its victims, and it’s a national policing priority to take on the threat it poses.

“We believe this project has shown early promise in tackling these complex crimes through an innovative approach.”

 

Words: ChronicleLive