Paedophiles are more afraid of vigilantes than police, officers warn

Sex offenders are more afraid of self-styled vigilante paedophile hunters than the police, top officers warn – as detectives are filmed for the first time posing as child abusers to snare predators

  • Worrying figures suggest 300,000 Britons have a sexual interest in children
  • Police chiefs insist technology giants ‘must bear responsibility’ over images
  • It comes ahead of a three-part series featuring officers posing as offenders

Paedophiles feel more threatened by online vigilante groups than the police, senior officers have claimed.

The claims come ahead of a three-part documentary, starting tonight, in which detectives posing as child sex offenders to snare predators are filmed for the first time.

Police chiefs have also targeted big technology firms, insisting they ‘must bear the responsibility’ for failing in efforts to block millions of abuse images being shared online. 

The claims come ahead of a three-part documentary, starting tonight, in which detectives posing as child sex offenders to snare predators are filmed for the first time

Channel 4’s ‘Undercover Police: Hunting Paedophiles is a three-part documentary which follows officers going undercover as paedophiles to snare child sex offenders

Vigilantes use violence and blackmail, police warn, but their evidence is used in over HALF of prosecutions 

Police have previously expressed concerns about online paedophile hunters after prosecutions relying on evidence from vigilante groups soared to four a week.

Senior police officers have often criticised groups who pretend to be children online in a bid to snare child sex abusers.

They have even suggested they can go beyond the law and could be guilty of crimes such as blackmail, extortion and varying forms of violence.

Freedom of Information data revealed the numbers of people convicted of child grooming offences increased five-fold between 2013 and 2018 from just 68 to 359.

Figures also show that more than half of those prosecutions relied on evidence gathered by online paedophile hunters.

 According to the BBC, of the 403 people prosecuted for attempting to meet up with a child following sexual grooming in 2013 – 250 cases used hunters’ evidence.

Children’s charities have also expressed concern they are not mindful of children’s safeguarding when they carry out their stings – often streamed live on social networking sites such as Facebook.

In some cases, the vigilantes have themselves been exposed as predators.

Last year Paul Tong, from Bolton, was jailed after being trapped in a sting operation having sent explicit pictures and messages to an investigator posing as a 13-year-old called ‘Gracie’.

Detective Sergeant Andy Nash, of the Eastern Region Special Operations Unit, claimed paedophiles were more afraid of online groups who lure people to meetings by using fake profiles, then exposing them on camera.

He told the Times: ‘They are less concerned about meeting police officers. Whether that’s because we don’t broadcast it live on Facebook for their families to see or because the sentencing until recently has been so poor, I couldn’t tell you.’ 

The Channel 4 film, starting this evening, follows ‘Simon’, an individual appearing to offer his 10-year-old daughter to abusers online, but who is in fact an undercover officer. 

The covert operative told the Mirror: ‘Simon is completely fictitious, he’s a character. When I go in to role and deploy he comes out of a box and he’s like a skin that I put on.

‘It’s quite disturbing portraying yourself as an adult, male, paedophile, but it’s such a good technique for catching people who are seeking to abuse, hurt and rape children.’

Worrying figures suggest some 300,000 Britons have a sexual interest in children, amid growing availability of illegal material online.

With increasing availability of such material, and worrying figures suggesting 300,000 Britons have a sexual interest in children, Simon Bailey, lead for child protection at the National Police Chiefs’ Council, added that grooming was also on the rise and said arresting hundreds of sex offenders every month has little effect. 

The explosion in online child sexual abuse has only worsened during the pandemic with reports of obscene material more than doubling globally to over four million in the first month of lockdown in 2020. 

In April of the same year, there were nearly nine million attempts in the UK to access child sexual abuse websites which had been previously blocked by the Internet Watch Foundation. 

Simon Bailey, lead for child protection at the National Police Chiefs’ Council, added that the emphasis was on technology companies to act and that police wouldn’t be able to deal with the threat in the way they wish until they do.

‘I don’t think their role in the facilitation of all this has been truly appreciated,’ he said. 

‘Without them the abuse wouldn’t be able to take place in so many cases.’

Channel 4 Documentaries Senior Commissioning Editor, Alisa Pomeroy said: ‘This powerful series is both timely and vitally important. 

‘As a direct result of Covid, millions of children are now stuck at home, bored, hidden away in their bedrooms and chatting online. 

‘Each potentially laying themselves open to the sinister practice of online grooming by an increasing number of would-be sexual abusers.’

Joe Mather, Executive Producer, added: ‘This is a hard-hitting trio of documentaries filmed with great care and sensitivity over two years. 

‘It’s been extraordinary to have been granted access to such a complex area of policing and to witness the work of undercover detectives as they go about searching for paedophiles operating online. 

‘What the child sexual abuse officers are witness to on a daily basis is truly horrific yet these detectives, often with children of their own, have to engage with the offenders in order to find and arrest them, knowing that for every one they arrest there are countless more victims still at risk.’

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