- Police must now investigate any possible offences committed by vigilantes
- Thousands of people could be posing as children to catch potential paedophiles
- David Baker, 43, killed himself in October four days after being confronted
Police have been told to stop the rise of paedophile hunters after the number of groups trying to snare online child abusers rose to more than 75.
They must now investigate any potential offences committed by the vigilantes, as well as the people they accuse of trying to groom children.
The new rule is included in internal guidance for detectives which was handed out last year and obtained by The Times.
Potential offences might include harassment, privacy offences or violent offences when the suspect is confronted.
The guidance also warns that hunters have ‘little or no consideration’ for the safeguarding requirements of victims of the paedophiles they have outed.
It also suggests the quality of the information provided to police by vigilante groups is ‘frequently low’ and they sometimes destroy evidence related to their confrontations.
Rising levels of amateur paedophile hunting is raising concerns as there are now more than 75 groups tracking down potential suspects.
Thousands of people could be posing as children to catch suspected sexual predators under names including Dark Justice and The Hunted One.
Though numerous people have been prosecuted after their actions were flagged by pedophile hunters, the safety of accusers and suspects is becoming a concern.
While undercover police officers who snare potential abusers must abide by strict guidelines and have their work scrutinised, this is not the case for vigilantes.
National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) guidance tells officers not to work with these groups or endorse their activities.
The document says they should emphasise that exposing and confronting abusers ‘could put people at risk’ and preserve evidence quickly in case groups destroy it.
It also warns that the wrong people could end up being outed as pedophile by mistake or even intentionally.
Chief Constable Simon Bailey, the NPCC lead for child protection, told The Times that snaring potential abusers should be left to the police.
‘So-called pedophile hunters are taking risks they don’t understand and can undermine police investigations,’ he said.
When vigilantism ends in violence
David Baker, 43, killed himself in October four days after being confronted by pedophile hunters. He was detained by Hampshire police. His family said the vigilantes failed to consider the repercussions of their actions.
Members of a group called The Hunted One surrounded a man they claimed was grooming a teenage girl on Easter Day at Bluewater shopping centre near Dartford, sparking a violent scuffle. The abuse suspect was later jailed for a child sex offence and two of the vigilantes admitted affray.
Two men were attacked by three masked loyalist paramilitaries from Predator Catchers NI in north Belfast this week.