Police urge vigilante groups to leave paedophile investigations to them

North Yorkshire Police's Northallerton headquarters.

North Yorkshire Police have urged the public not to hunt online paedophiles through so-called vigilante groups.

Police say there’s been numerous instances in North Yorkshire — including several in Richmondshire — where groups have live-streamed or posted videos on social media while confronting individuals they believe are involved in grooming children online.

This is usually after using a ‘decoy’ victim – when an adult pretends to be a child online – to interact with potential suspects.

The groups tend to call police during the confrontation and when social media posts have already been issued.

But police say this is generally too late to prevent hampering the course of justice and also poses a serious risk of harm to everyone involved, including the group members themselves.

The force said it had specialist teams working hard around the clock to identify and bring offenders to justice and these groups put the lives of innocent people in danger, interfere with ongoing investigations and risk the course of fair justice.

Detective Inspector Paula Eccles, from North Yorkshire Police’s safeguarding team, said: “The police service does not endorse Online Child Abuse Activist Groups and we will not work with them.

“Unlike our highly-trained officers in the Online Abuse & Exploitation Team and the Digital Forensics Unit, they operate without any procedures to keep people safe.

“Accused people can become vulnerable to self-harm and there are cases around the country of people dying by suicide because of the action of such groups.

“Innocent family members can also feel threatened during the confrontations and subsequent harassment, which is a terrible situation to have forced upon them.

“Another grave concern is that some of the activity of these groups is a cover for crimes like blackmail and extortion.”

“There is no way of making sure that these groups act on reliable evidence and we have seen instances of the wrong people being targeted such as vulnerable adults. This creates unnecessary anguish and diverts vital police resources away from other victims.

“The standard of evidence that is gathered is also often poor, there are issues with legal disclosure, and the way the groups share their evidence publicly online before it has been tested at court.

“Some evidential issues can even cause cases to collapse. This is completely unacceptable.”

There’s a number of ways you can report or seek help regarding indecent images of children and sexual abuse:

  • Report online via our website or call 101. If you are in immediate danger, always dial 999 for an emergency response
  • Report anonymously to Crimestoppers via the website or call 0800 55511
  • Stop it Now! offers confidential help and support for people concerned about their own or someone else’s thoughts and behaviour towards children. Visit the website or call the helpline: 0808 1000 900
  • Victims who would prefer not to go direct to the police and are not in immediate danger, can contact Bridge House, North Yorkshire’s Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC), on 0330 223 0362 or email bridgehouse.sarc@nhs.net
  • You can also contact Supporting Victims in North Yorkshire by calling 01609 643100.
  • The NSPCC helpline for anyone concerned about a child or for adult victims of non-recent sexual abuse: 0808 8005000. Childline is available for young people on 0800 1111