Whilst we share the concerns of online vigilante groups and individuals who want to expose potential child sex offenders - or so-called ‘paedophile hunters’ - we need to make it clear again that their actions can be extremely problematic and can create more problems than they solve.
It remains that we do not condone the methods these groups employ which have already divided public opinion. We encourage those involved with these groups to contact us and pass on any evidence they may have and not to post or stream videos online which itself carries its own risks. We also dissuade the public from sharing such videos through social media channels.
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.
These ‘stings’ posted online impact on the work we already do, divert us from the core business of our specialist officers, and can impede on our own investigations. It could 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 the public and victims, 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 mindful 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 that the groups themselves run. These potentially include taking, making, and distributing indecent images, and the possession of indecent images of children. Also offences of assault and public order can be committed if a confrontation happens between a group and alleged suspect. If the well-intended endeavours and motivation of these groups is indeed to identify suspects, then we want them to provide us with this evidence and information and not to post it 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. This means that on release from prison they are managed through Management of Sexual Offenders and Violent Offenders (MOSOVO) teams. There are strict requirements which mean that individuals can be easily tracked and managed.
Such online activities by vigilante groups have the potential to make a conviction less likely, therefore if an individual is actually involved in sexual offences against a child they could avoid 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.”
National guidelines about online vigilante groups can be viewed here.