Eight men who were members of a UK pedophile ring have been found dead shortly after being exposed by online vigilantes.
The daughter of Michael Duff – one of the eight men who committed suicide after being shamed on the internet by “pedophile hunters” – says she discovered that her father was a pedophile after seeing a video of her dad on Facebook attempting to meet a minor for sex.
Dailymail.co.uk reports: The 67-year-old was questioned on suspicion of attempting to meet a girl under 16 following grooming and released on bail.
His body was found two days later in July 2015, at his home in Tyne and Wear.
His daughter Lesley Henderson only found out her father had allegedly messaged a young girl when a friend warned her about a video circulating on social media.
She told the Victoria Derbyshire programme: ‘My friend said, “look, I don’t really know how to say this to you Lesley, but there’s a video going round on Facebook – it’s your dad”.
‘It was on Facebook and I could already see mutual friends had viewed it, so there was nothing I could do.’
She told her daughter, then 15, ‘your grandad’s a paedophile’ and showed her the video – something she later regretted.
Someone she knew then posted footage of him being carried from his house to an ambulance in a body bag on Facebook.
Lesley and her daughter did not speak to Michael again after the allegations were made and she says she will never know the truth behind the claims.
She said she never suspected he ‘had another side which might lead him to contact a child’.
His death has left his family with unanswered questions regarding his alleged actions.
Lesley told the BBC: ‘This could have been a one-off thing where he’s done something stupid.
‘I know people would say, ‘well the thought was there’, but the reality is he may not have actually committed any crime at all.
‘We don’t know, because as soon as he [took his own life] the case was closed.
‘I don’t know what was on my dad’s computer, if anything, and I’m never going to know because somebody deemed to put it all over Facebook rather than letting police deal with it.’
The case was later referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission and officers contacted those who uploaded the video and asked them to remove it as it ‘formed part of a live investigation’.
The True Justice website later deleted the video.
Lesley told the BBC show that vigilante groups are hindering justice and said ‘paedophile hunters’ needed to be made aware of the consequences of uploading such footage.
Groups including Dark Justice, Guardians Of The North, Huntz 2 Exposure, The Guardian Angels and Catching Online Predators often post videos – some broadcast live – of the men they ‘snare’ to thousands of followers online.
Vigilante groups command massive support and have formed a volunteer online taskforce, linked by Facebook groups and private mobile phone chat groups.
In 2017 evidence from vigilante groups was used to charge more than 150 suspects, a seven-fold increase in two years.
But police officers working in child protection have warned that vigilante activity puts both hunters and targets at risk.
However hunters defend their actions, arguing they are helping to bring criminals to justice and expose offenders in communities.
Jamie Lee, 29, who describes himself as a ‘child protection enforcer’ said he is performing a public service.
Craig Kelly, a lecturer in Criminology at Birmingham City University, told MailOnline it was a ‘matter of time’ before someone is murdered by a vigilante but argued we ‘must not lose sight of the realities of these crimes’.
He also said the sex offence treatment programme to treat offenders in the UK has actually increased the number of sex offences committed, rather than acted as a deterrent.
Mr Kelly said: ‘Poor children are being victimised.
‘This subject is one of the things the public find most abhorrent, it is the biggest taboo in society and rightfully so.
‘But it is a matter of time before somebody is murdered by someone from one of these groups.
‘It is unfortunate that eight men have died, no matter what offence they committed, this should not happen.
‘But in context, six police officers have killed themselves in recent months because of PTSD.
‘Under austerity in the Conservative government in last six years, there has been a reduction in police numbers, forces are understaffed, so there is no possibility to combat the issue of child sex offenders on the internet – even if they have the numbers, they don’t have the training.
‘That leaves a deficit in what the police can manage.
‘The Conservatives are on the back foot on trying to get these offenders before paedophile hunter groups emerge.
‘Paedophile hunters groups are going to hinder live investigations and it undermines the criminal justice system and innocent until proven guilty. It is a trial by media.
‘But it is shining spotlight on a greater problem – the onset of social media and societies’ propensity to push social media and our inherent unpreparedness to deal with the realities of these technologies.
‘My main worry is while the offenders are going out and trying to groom children on the internet should be brought to justice, what are the ramifications on their family and friends people losing loved ones – father, uncles, brothers?
‘The stigma doesn’t just stick on the person who committed the offence.
‘There needs to be a support system for family members directly affected. If they’re on an estate in the middle of somewhere like Birmingham, for example, they’re at risk from public taking things into their own hands.
‘The sex offence treatment programme to treat offenders in the UK has been proven to have increased the number of sex offences.
‘It is proven not to reduce it, but if anything it is exacerbating the problem.
‘People in these groups are likely to have been victims, had traumatic life experiences or have relatives who have been victims.
‘Taking it in this context is it any wonder people are taking it into their own hands?’