Police reluctantly may start using paedo hunters’ help

Andrew O'Neill, who was tracked down by a 'paedophile hunters' collective
Andrew O'Neill, who was tracked down by a 'paedophile hunters' collective

Paedophile hunting groups which have targeted adults preying on the borough’s children, could soon have an official role in helping police operations.

The UK’s lead police officer on child protection has said that forces across the country will "potentially" have to look at working with self-professed paedophile hunters in the future even though he does not "condone" their action.

Earlier this year a group of vigilantes caught a man who had travelled up to Wigan from East Sussex to meet who he believed to be an underage girl.

Douglas Thorpe, 60, of St John’s Bank in South Chailey, Lewes, initially pleaded not guilty of intending to meet a minor at Hindley Tesco with sexual intentions.

Appearing before Wigan magistrates back in July, Thorpe’s initial defence was that he was using the paedophile group himself to get their help in hunting another paedophile.

He has since changed his plea to guilty and will appear at Bolton Crown Court on October 6 for sentencing.

Senior officers have previously said vigilante groups such as Dark Justice or The Hunted One could put child abuse investigations at risk.

In a twist of fate, a Wigan paedophile hunter was himself jailed back in June 2015 following a violent sting which was filmed and posted to social media.

Sex offender Andrew O’Neill of no fixed abode, was sentenced to 12 months in jail after being caught grooming by the group "NWI Nonce Busters".

He was attacked in Market Place after meeting the waiting gang thinking he was meeting a 14-year-old girl.

Daniel Holding, who was living on Bridge Street in Atherton at the time of the attack, head-butted O’Neill cracking two of his teeth.

He was jailed for eight months.

However, figures have shown an increase in the number of cases where evidence gathered by paedophile hunters is being used in

court.

More than 44 per cent of cases of the crime of meeting a child following sexual grooming used this evidence in 2016, compared to 11 of cases in 2014/

Chief Constable Simon Bailey, the national lead for child protection at the National Police Chiefs’ Council, told the BBC: "(These) vigilante groups are putting the lives of children at risk. I’m not going to condone these groups and I would encourage them all to stop, but I recognise that I am not winning that conversation.

"I think (working with vigilantes) is something we’re going to have to potentially have to look at, yes, but it comes with some real complexity."

Tyneside-based duo, Dark Justice, claim on their website to have helped apprehend 104 sex crime suspects, leading to 50 convictions.

However Mr Bailey warned that paedophile hunters’ activities could hamper existing police operations.

"I don’t encourage or condone the activities of these paedophile hunters, because we only ever hear of the cases where they believe it has gone well.

"They don’t take into consideration the safeguarding risks to children, the implications of a failed operation or the compromise of one of our own operations.

"So I don’t believe that vigilantes are the answer to this problem."