Four paedophiles have been convicted following sting operations by vigilantes who claim they trapped them on a Facebook page explicitly dedicated to young girls dating older men.
The vigilantes posed as a 14-year-old girl on a publicly available section of the social networking site called “y [sic] young girls date old men”.
Jay, a vigilante who runs London-based paedophile hunting group Public Justice PHL, described the page as “paedophile city”. He said that although he had reported it to Facebook last year, it remains in operation.
“It still hasn’t been shut down and it is keeping me busy,” said Jay. “I get a lot of work from there.”
The vigilante group is one of a growing number taking the law into their own hands by confronting online child groomers. Police have told them to stop, warning they could be jeopardising ongoing investigations and risking public safety by luring paedophiles to public places.
British Transport police issued the group a letter warning it could be breaking the law if it is in possession of indecent images of children and could even be prosecuted for loitering at railway stations or trespassing during stings. “We cannot encourage members of the public to act as agent provocateur to entrap offenders,” Sgt Nick Lowe told them.
However, the group’s actions do lead to prosecutions. This week Geoffrey Fitton was earlier this month jailed for 14 months for sexual grooming. The middle-aged man travelled from Yorkshire to London to meet PHL’s fake 14-year old but was met by the vigilantes from Public Justice. He was also placed on the sex offender’s register by a judge at Blackfriars crown court.
Last month, another Facebook user, lorry driver Martyn McDonough, 42, was jailed for 28 months for child grooming after using the same group. The vigilante said: “Hey I’m 14 years old. How old are you? I’ll understand if you don’t want to talk”, but that didn’t deter him. When she said she had never had a boyfriend he said: “Wow, so your [sic] a virgin… how come u single u are beautiful”.
He asked her whether she had watched pornography, to which she replied she had not. He also asked if she had drunk alcohol and told her he got aroused when drunk. She said she needed to get some sleep before school. McDonough sent her an explicit picture of his anatomy and asked her for sex. As their meeting at King’s Cross station approached he even said: “I could get into trouble meeting you.” He was confronted by Jay and a colleague, who passed evidence to the police, leading to conviction.
The vigilante group also claims responsibility for the convictions of two other men who pleaded guilty to child grooming offences in March and February at courts in Kilmarnock and Luton.
Jim Gamble, the former head of the Home Office child exploitation and online protection centre (Ceop) said there was “no doubt that police don’t have the capacity needed to tackle the number of people grooming children online”.
But he warned the way vigilantes persuade paedophiles to travel to meetings could put the public in danger. He added that if they were traveling in the expectation of having sex with a child and go to the wrong place, they might attack someone else. Equally vigilantes are not able to carry out background checks on their targets to assess risks. The police, by contrast, could arrange surveillance on stings and decide which paedophiles pose the most immediate risk and should be targeted first.