A UK court last week ruled that self-styled “paedophile hunters” can continue to snare would-be child abusers in online stings.
Lawyers acting for two men who were caught by Dark Justice allegedly attempting to meet children for sex after grooming them online had argued that evidence gathered by so-called paedophile hunters “diminished the integrity of the court process” and that these groups should be regulated.
Organisations such as Dark Justice pose as minors on social media platforms in a bid to trap paedophiles looking for victims to abuse. After exchanging messages, they often arrange meetings with would-be abusers, where they reveal their true identity and call the police.
In a judgement at Newcastle Crown Court last Thursday, Mr Justice Langstaff ruled that groups such as Dark Justice, which regularly post footage of their stings on the internet, should not be subject to controls.
Several cases based on evidence gathered by paedophile hunting groups had been put on hold until the outcome of the case.
Welcoming the ruling, Dark Justice said almost 100 convicted paedophiles may have been able to walk free if they lost the case.
In a statement on its website, the group, which is made up of two men in their 20s, said: “When conducting our investigations, we never approach anybody first. Instead, we set up a profile and wait for messages. When we receive a message, we reply immediately and tell them that we are underage.
“When talking to anyone, we always try to avoid sexually explicit conversation. We act young and uneducated on the subject, and we never encourage sexual chat or sexual behaviour. The people we talk to suggest a meeting, and at this point we take over and suggest a place where we know we can control what’s going on, and where we’ll be safe.
“When a person confirms that they are coming, and when our team spots them, we ring the police and report the crime… As soon as they have been arrested, we go to the police station to make statements.”
Groups such as Dark Justice have attracted both praise and criticism in equal measure, with some campaigners describing them as hearos, while detractors accuse them of entrapment.
In March 2014, a court ruled that a man had killed himself after being ensnared by another paedophile hunter, Stinson Hunter.
Northamptonshire Coroner Anne Pember ruled that Michael Parkes, 45, hanged himself the previous year after being confronted and filmed by Hunter, who had arranged to meet him after posing as a child online.
In a statement after the inquest, a Northamptonshire Police spokesperson said: “It is clear that Parkes drove to Coventry with the intention of engaging in sexual activity with a child.”