On line paedophile hunters challenge Wisbech man over online grooming allegations: police arrest him and bail him
- Credit: Archant
A 56-year-old man was arrested on Sunday night after being confronted by online paedophile hunters who challenged him – on a live social media stream – of grooming a child.
The man stood outside his home whilst two men from the STOP campaign group who say on their Facebook page their aim is to "rid communities of online sexual predators who prey on young children".
Nearly 100,000 people either saw the live stream or have since watched it on their Facebook page,
The group members who confronted the man in Wisbech produced what they claimed to be evidence of numerous conversations on social media with who he thought he was a young child. The STOP members showed him evidence of his online exchanges to what was, in fact, a decoy they had set up to engage him in conversation.
A spokesman for Cambridgeshire Police said: "A 53 year old man from Wisbech was arrested on Sunday evening (August 4) on suspicion of engaging in sexual communication with a child.
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"He has been released on police bail until August 29."
Police chiefs have become increasingly weary of paedophile hunters, particularly Norfolk chief constable Simon Bailey.
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Mr Bailey, who leads the country's response to child sexual abuse, has emphatically ruled out working with vigilante groups, saying they take "completely unnecessary risks" and can slow down police investigators.
Evidence from paedophile hunters is increasingly being used to prosecute offenders, but police are divided on the issue, and some fear the groups' tactics could impede their own work.
It marks a shift from comments made in September 2017 when Mr Bailey said that working with vigilantes was something to potentially consider.
Mr Bailey said: "I can't deny they've led to convictions, but they've also led to people being blackmailed, people being subject of GBH (grievous bodily harm), the wrong people being accused, people committing suicide as a result of interventions, family lives being completely destroyed, in the name of what? Facebook likes."
Online groups' activities have split opinion in policing circles, with some chiefs warning of "significant risks" that arise from paedophile hunters' tactics.
Some police fear that the groups' actions could interfere with surveillance operations, while the evidence they gather may not be of a high enough standard to use for prosecution.
Former police chief Jim Gamble told the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in early 2018 that masquerading as a child online should become a criminal offence to deter vigilante stings.
But Paddy Tipping, the police and crime commissioner for Nottinghamshire told a police and crime panel in April last year that police in his area should try to form "better relationships" with vigilante groups.