Po­lice warn­ing of vig­i­lante risk

Kentish Express Ashford & District - - All Aboard - By Tom Acres

Po­lice have is­sued a fur­ther warn­ing against vig­i­lan­tism fol­low­ing a re­cent spate of con­fronta­tions sparked by un­der­cover “pae­dophile hunters”.

A group known as The Hunted One car­ried out a sting on a man at Blue­wa­ter, which de­scended i nto vi­o­lence while be­ing streamed live on Face­book, at­tract­ing 340,000 views.

It came af­ter a num­ber of other in­ci­dents across Kent, in­clud­ing at Bearsted rail­way sta­tion near Maid­stone and out­side Chatham Town Foot­ball Club.

Now the head of po­lice’s pub- lic pro­tec­tion unit has spo­ken of of­fi­cers’ “sig­nif­i­cant con­cerns” about peo­ple tak­ing the law into their own hands.

Ch Supt Thomas Richards said that while tar­get­ing of­fend­ers and keep­ing chil­dren safe were “top pri­or­i­ties” for po­lice, those act­ing out­side the law could com­pro­mise vi­tal in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

“We do have sig­nif­i­cant con­cerns about peo­ple tak­ing the law into their own hands and the meth­ods they use, and in some cases act­ing out­side of the law,” he said. “We would strongly ad­vise against get­ting in­volved in, or set­ting up ac­tiv­i­ties to en­trap those sus­pected of in­tend­ing to com­mit of­fences.

“Al­though seem­ingly wellmean­ing, this can sig­nif­i­cantly hin­der our work, com­pro­mise on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions and negate months of in­ves­tiga­tive work.

“There is also the risk that it can po­ten­tially iden­tify peo­ple who are com­pletely in­no­cent and mis­tak­enly as­so­ciate them with groom­ing of­fences.

“I would add that whilst po­lice have re­sources and ex­per­tise to pro­tect the vul­ner­a­ble and peo­ple with men­tal health is­sues, mem­bers of the pub­lic gen­er­ally do not, and can cause such in­di­vid­u­als to be placed at se­ri­ous risk of harm.”

Po­lice have cre­ated spe­cial­ist Pae­dophile On­line In­ves­ti­ga­tion and Child Sex­ual Ex­ploita­tion teams to iden­tify on­line crim­i­nals, and work in part­ner­ship with other safeguarding or­gan­i­sa­tions. Rather than take mat­ters into their own hands, they are keen for peo­ple to pass on any in­for­ma­tion or ev­i­dence of on­line groom­ing to po­lice.

Ch Supt Richards con­tin­ued: “The pos­i­tive news is that aware­ness among chil­dren and young peo­ple about the dangers of meet­ing strangers has grown con­sid­er­ably and in­ci­dents where chil­dren meet adults in th­ese cir­cum­stances are ex­tremely rare.

“We con­tinue to in­vest in pro­grammes to ed­u­cate chil­dren re­gard­ing the risks posed on­line in­clud­ing pre­sen­ta­tions to pri­mary and se­condary age school pupils. There is also plenty of in­for­ma­tion on stay­ing safe on­line avail­able at www.ceop. gov.uk www.thinku­know.co.uk and www.get­safeon­line.org.uk.”

Two men have been charged with af­fray fol­low­ing the in­ci­dent at Blue­wa­ter on Easter Sun­day. Lee John Har­vey, 20, of The Drive in Gravesend, and Joe Simp­kin, 20, of Wheat­stone Road in Erith, were both charged and have been bailed to at­tend Med­way Mag­is­trates’ Court on Wed­nes­day, May 10.

Mirza Mispa Beg, 29, was charged with groom­ing fol­low­ing Sun­day’s in­ci­dent and will ap­pear at Maid­stone Crown Court on Tues­day, May 16.

Any­one with in­for­ma­tion or con­cerns about on­line groom­ing should con­tact po­lice on 101 or Kent Crimestop­pers anony­mously on 0800 555 111.

A group called The Hunted One car­ried out a sting on a man at Blue­wa­ter - but po­lice say vig­i­lantes could put at risk their own in­ves­ti­ga­tions

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