Gardaí express ‘major concern’ over paedophile-hunting groups

Documentary follows group of female online vigilantes tracking potential sexual predators

A TV documentary tracks a group of Irish women trying to expose the activities of potential child sex offenders. Photograph: iStockphoto

A TV documentary tracks a group of Irish women trying to expose the activities of potential child sex offenders. Photograph: iStockphoto

 

An Garda Síochána has expressed “major concern” at the activities of online vigilante groups who describe themselves as paedophile hunters and pose online as children to track down potential sexual predators.

The warning comes as part of documentary set to air on Virgin Media Television on Wednesday that tracks the activities of ‘Child Protection Awareness’ (CPA) - a group of Irish women trying to expose the activities of potential child sex offenders.

Louise, a mother of two children living in Dublin who leads the CPA group on ‘stings’ around Ireland, said she has “found a calling” in tracking the activities of potential predators.

“I think there’s thousands of predators in the Republic of Ireland because it’s a safe haven, there’s no laws,” she tells the film crew while moving around the kitchen in her home. Like all other members of the group interviewed for the documentary, her face is blurred.

CPA is made up of self-described “hunters”, who track “predators”, and “decoys”, who pose as children and set up online accounts where they chat to men.

Nelly, who left her job to focus on CPA, says decoying “takes over your life”. “I play this role every single day. No days off, no holidays, this doesn’t stop. I used to work part time, I actually don’t have the time anymore. I feel I’m doing more as a decoy than I have ever done.”

Amanda, who also acts as a decoy, temporarily left the group after she was sent child pornography. “I’m in this for one reason only; to protect children. I’m a mother, I’m a grandmother . . . I feel this is what I should be doing.”

Forensic psychologist Dr Patrick Randall warns in the documentary the use of the word ‘hunter’ and ‘predator’ by the CPA and similar groups in the United Kingdom is “emotionally laden” and is “purposely designed to increase alarm among the public and increase the glamorisation of those who engage in these activities”.

Dr Randall expresses concern these “paedophile hunting groups” will end up exposing people with mental difficulties, “people who are vulnerable themselves”.

Asked to comment on the amount of time the CPA women spend tracking down these men, Dr Randall said it “reflects their own needs and their own difficulties . . . it becomes an obsession in and of itself”.

Dr Geoffrey Shannon, the Government’s special rapporteur on child protection, underlined the “real vulnerabilities” of individual citizens gathering evidence and attempting to bypass State agencies and “replicate the role of an Garda”.

“I’d be concerned that any evidence gathered without the appropriate experience would not result in a successful prosecution,” he said. “If we bypass the law there’s a real danger that those children most in need of our help will end up being let down and that will have devastating consequences for them into adulthood.”

Det Supt Declan Daly says an Garda Síochána welcomes the assistance of the public in preventing and detecting crime but that this assistance “should be limited to reporting concerns” to gardaí.

“When members of the public take on the role of law enforcement, that is not a positive development,” he warned. “We take child protection very seriously, and the activities of these groups are a major concern for us.

“It would appear to me that the focus of these groups is on publicity rather than justice focused and it is activity that I can neither welcome nor encourage.”

In the United Kingdom, West Yorkshire Police released a statement this week urging members of “exposure groups” not to confront suspected child abusers and instead to report suspected offences.

The West Yorkshire warning followed the arrest of five people on suspicion of assault, public order offences and false imprisonment.

Louise said the Garda response to the CPA’s work is “arrogant” and that “the guards have no manners whatsoever. . . . They just don’t like that we’re doing their job better than they are.”

She said the group will continue to operate in Ireland. “We are taking the law into our own hands, we are going and exposing people . . . if we don’t do this there’s real children in danger out there from these predators.”