Police warning of vigilante risk
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