Online ‘pedophile hunters’ told to join police force
Members of vigilante ‘pedophile hunter’ groups could be made special constables to help officers in their online search for child sex groomers, a police and crime commissioner has suggested.
Police and Crime Commissioner for Gwent Jeff Cuthbert told BBC Wales that the groups, which track down and confront groomers then post the video on social media, were “intent on playing what they see as their part,” and saying they had secured many convictions.
“What we don’t know is how many potential perpetrators have got away with it because it’s not been done properly, or walked away because it’s not stood up in court, so it’s a question of balance,” he said.
“I would encourage members of these groups to become special constables or police volunteers so as to mediate that risk and to ensure that they have the right training and skills.”
“We need to find a way to ensure that this type of activity is carried out as safely as possible, with appropriate focus on minimizing the risks to the volunteers and the subjects of their activity, while maximizing the chance of getting a conviction,” he added.
“Working within the policing framework, with their assistance and support is the best way forward.”
The former head of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Agency, Jim Gamble, described the growing number of child sexual exploitation cases as a “tsunami” and “almost overwhelming.”
“I doubt there are more than 30 officers across the UK who are actually online at this very moment masquerading undercover … They simply haven’t got the resources to meet this head on, or to even create an active and meaningful deterrent,” he told the BBC.
Gamble called for 1,500 volunteers to be recruited.
“I’d like to see the government engage in a sensible conversation about how we can empower and educate ordinary citizens across the UK by giving them the opportunity to sign up to a special digital detectives program.”
Cuthbert’s force has distanced itself from his comments, making it clear that investigations are the work of warranted officers.
“Cases involving child sex abuse are extremely serious,” Detective Superintendent Leanne Brustad, head of public protection for Gwent Police, told the Times.
“We understand the desire to protect children, but any member of the public who has information about child sexual abuse, online or otherwise, should get in contact with the police.”
After violence broke out during a sting operation by vigilante group The Hunted One in Kent in April, the National Police Chiefs Council issued guidance to forces that they should discourage vigilantism.
The Home Office has also condemned such groups.
“The issues of child protection understandably matters greatly to people, but they should allow the police and law enforcement agencies to do their vital work by not taking the law into their own hands,” a spokesperson told the Daily Mail.