Man released without charge after ‘sting’ in Cork

Garda sources confirm they were called to scene by members of self-styled child protection group

Gardaí are to send a file to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) after releasing without charge a man in his 40s arrested following a ‘sting’ operation in Cork by a self-styled child protection group.

The man, who is from Ballincollig in mid-Cork, was arrested by gardaí at a coffee shop in Bishopstown in Cork city after being detained there by members of the group styling itself Child Protection Awareness.

The man, who is married with children, was arrested under Section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act by gardaí on suspicion of having committed an offence under the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act 1998.

The man was arrested at around lunchtime on Friday and brought to Togher Garda Station, where he was questioned formore than six hours before being released without charge on Friday night.

Gardaí seized the man’s phone and computers and they will be examined by experts at the Garda Cyber Crime Unit to see if they contain any child pornography images.

Garda sources confirmed they were called to the scene by members of the Child Protection Awareness group.

It is believed the man had come to the attention of a UK group, Cobra UK, who target people they believe to be potential sex predators by creating fake child profiles online in an effort to entrap them.

Cobra UK passed on the information to the Irish group, Child Protection Awareness, who made contact with a man who they said believed he was communicating with a 14-year-old girl.

They said the man arranged to meet the girl at the coffee shop in Bishopstown where they confronted him and accused him of attempting to target a 14-year-old girl.

A member of Child Protection Awareness then produced what she said was the man’s correspondence with a girl he believed to be 14.

Child Protection Awareness filmed the episode before contacting gardaí who arrested the man. Both the film of the interrogation and photos of the arrest later being posted by the group on Facebook.

Earlier this month, the president of the High Court Mr Justice Peter Kelly strongly criticised another “vigilante” child protection group over a “sting” operation involving a vulnerable intellectually disabled man.

Mr Justice Kelly also described as “appalling” a video posted by that other group posted on social media featuring the man being confronted by several people and aggressively “interrogated” by them.

The judge, who viewed the video which has since been taken down by Facebook, said such “vigilantism” has “most serious” consequences for a very vulnerable person who lacked the mental ability to have intent.

He noted that, as part of the man’s disability, the man has an addiction to internet dating sites, and was in contact with a female on a site which states users cannot register unless they are aged 19.

The man had told carers he had understood the female was 19 and stopped contact when she told him she was 13, but later agreed to her suggestion to meet for a “hot chocolate”.

When he went to meet the female, he was met by two women and three men, grabbed by the arms, questioned by one of the women, and a video of the confrontation was posted on social media.

Separately, commenting on the Cork case, gardaí said the actions of self-styled child protection groups were a cause of concern for An Garda Síochána and for other police services.

“The actions of such groups have also been the subject to adverse commentary by the judiciary recently,” they said, adding there was concern about the legality of such actions by groups in Ireland.

“The activity engaged in and the manner of confrontation between such groups and their targets has the potential for violence and could result in harm to persons present.

“The manner in which such groups operate and how they interact with their chosen targets prior to and during the arranged meeting has the potential to affect future criminal proceedings.”