Online Vigilante Groups
While Humberside Police shares the concerns of those wanting to uncover potential child sex offenders, we must make it clear that we do not condone the actions of online vigilante groups (so-called 'paedophile hunters'), which can create more problems than they solve.
We have a dedicated team of highly trained specialist officers, who form part of our Internet Sex Offenders Team (ISOT), whose job is to investigate such matters.
We encourage those involved with online vigilante groups to contact us and pass on any evidence they may have, and not to post or stream videos online - which carries its own risks. We also dissuade the public from sharing videos that may identify potential child sex offenders.
These ‘stings’ posted online impact on the work we already do, divert us from the core business of our specialist officers, and can impede our own investigations. They can give a suspect time to delete evidence, or even move away from a location before we can fully investigate.
If there is evidence available against a person, then we will investigate it in an appropriate and proportional way.
Our priority is the protection and the safety of victims and the public, and to investigate, find and prosecute child sex offenders.
Humberside Police’s Protecting Vulnerable People team and our partner agencies continually work to protect and support victims and vulnerable people. Unlike vigilante groups, our officers have the means to protect child victims and can assess the safeguarding needs of vulnerable individuals.
We must be aware of the safeguarding of the suspects, their families, their jobs and friends. Repercussions from such allegations could result in further criminal activity. We have already seen one example of an incident of public disorder in Hull as a result of an internet post.
We need to highlight the risks run by the groups themselves. These potentially include taking, making, and distributing indecent images, and the possession of indecent images of children. Additionally, offences of assault and public order can be committed if a confrontation happens between a group and an alleged suspect. If the motivation of these groups is indeed to identify suspects, then we ask that they provide us with evidence and information, rather than posting online.
We must remind these groups that to pursue an allegation we would require them to fully disclose the evidence they have. This would require interrogation of their mobile devices or computers. They may also have to attend court to give evidence.
When a child sex offender is successfully prosecuted, they are required to sign the sex offenders register. On their release from prison, they are tracked and managed under a strict process by our Management of Sexual Offenders and Violent Offenders (MOSOVO) teams.
Online activities by vigilante groups have the potential to make a conviction less likely, resulting in an offender avoiding prosecution.
Superintendent Alan Farrow said: “We are tackling online child abuse through the deployment of dedicated specialist police teams and resources using every legitimate method available to us and our partners, including the use of sophisticated technology to catch those seeking to groom children online.
“Humberside Police are committed to safeguarding those most vulnerable in our community and bringing offenders to justice. It is through our actions that we are able to exert control and influence over such individuals and to actively seek out and target such offenders.
“There can be nothing more important than the ongoing protection of our children but this has to be spearheaded by the police and other law enforcement agencies.”