Self-styled paedophile hunter groups are not the solution to curbing child exploitation say Derbyshire Police.
The police have criticised vigilantes who track down perverts who seek to groom children online, saying they can jeopardise investigations.
Speaking at the weekend, Bill McWilliam, assistant chief constable for Derbyshire Constabulary, put out the strong warning to vigilante groups that track potential offenders.
He said: “Tackling abuse of children is of course a leading priority for Derbyshire police. They are horrific crimes and we are determined to tackle them as robustly as possible.
“With regards to the complex issue of ‘paedophile hunter groups’ whilst we acknowledge that many take part with the best of intentions and we recognise that they have a degree of public support, we must continue to strongly recommend that they don’t carry out this type of activity.
“Vigilante groups, in almost every context, are compromising their personal safety as well as running the risk of jeopardising investigations and corrupting evidence that could potentially be required in court. Whilst bringing these abhorrent offenders to justice, it’s crucial that we are not derailed by such issues.
“I would, therefore, ask that anyone with any information about child abuse provides it to the police as early and as quickly as possible.”
Detective Chief Inspector Pete Quinn, of the Nottinghamshire Sexual Exploitation Investigation Unit, added: “Nottinghamshire Police encourage the community to come forward and report any circumstances where they have a concern for a child’s safety or information regarding the conduct of anyone that they consider presents a risk to children and young people.
“The public can be reassured that the police will respond to that information irrespective of its source and, where it is considered appropriate, thoroughly investigate.
“Whilst I completely understand the motivation of members of the public seeking to protec children and young people in their communities by undertaking their own online investigations this is not a solution to the issue of child exploitation and presents a risk to work being undertaken by police and our partners.”
Police and Crime Commissioner Paddy Tipping added: “I think it is fraught with difficulties. We have put extra resources into this and will pursue suspects ourselves. I am not going to criticise them but you will get better results reporting through the police. If you have worries, concerns or information pass it across to the police.”
The phenomenon of paedophile hunting has grown in recent years, with groups set up to snare perverts who attempt to groom children online.
Dozens of potential sex offenders have been arrested thanks to the vigilante-style groups who pose as youngsters in online forums to snare them.
One Mansfield father-of-three says he is proud of the part he has played in the arrest of more than 25 paedophiles nationwide.
Patrick Fripps, 27, set up the internet based Predator Hunters group three years ago to mount sting operations against perverts who groom young people online and arrange to meet them for sex.
Patrick said: “The group was set up to provide victim support and raise awareness around child sexual exploitation.
“We also work alongside the police to expose online grooming offenders.
“We are trying to raise awareness to children and parents of the dangers of predators and to try and bring the perpetrators to justice.”
Patrick says there is a massive epidemic of men who attempt to groom children.
The Predator Hunters team is divided into eight ‘hunters’ who travel to locations and meet offenders and more than 20 ‘decoys’ who assume child accounts on platforms and wait for people to contact them.
He said the decoys, who are mainly female, set up accounts on popular internet forums mainly used by teenagers and pretend to be underage children. Many decoys are survivors of sexual abuse.
He said there was “massive epidemic” of online grooming in the UK and teen chat rooms are full of sexual predators.
Patrick said: “Out of ten people who approached us, eight continued to talk sexually even though we made it clear we are children aged between eight and 14.”
The men are lured into arranging meetings with the youngsters and are then confronted and exposed by the group.
He said: “We often get accused of entrapping people, but we do try to deter them by not responding to sexual talk and they take the lead in all the conversations.”
Videos of the confrontations are posted on the group’s Facebook site and chat logs of online conversations expose the sex pests.
Patrick added: “We have never had any issues with the police working with us and when we give them information leading to an arrest they say we are doing a really good job they don’t have time to do themselves.”
The Predator Hunters Facebook site, with more than 11,000 followers is at www.facebook.com/Online.Stings