Figures released yesterday show that 150 people nationwide have been charged with sex offences after being caught by online paedophile hunters.
In the last year, Canterbury Crown Court has heard numerous cases from across east Kent of men who strike up an online conversation with children they believe they will meet for sex.
January saw the jailing of Simon Burrin, a former barman at Limes in Rosemary Lane, who sent explicit pictures of himself to what he thought he was a 14-year-old boy.
But after a frenzy of activity on dating app Grinder and messaging service Whatsapp on the night of July 25 last year Burrin, 37, found himself confronted by members of the group the Internet Interceptors.
The evidence they gathered included Burrin calling the boy “cute” and inviting him to sleep in his bed even though he was repeatedly told that the boy was 14.
At Canterbury Crown Court, Burrin admitted sexually grooming what he thought was a boy and attempting to cause a child to watch a sexual act.
Jailing him for 10 months, Judge James O’Mahony told Burrin: “Great harm can be done to young people who are groomed. The court’s duty is to protect children from sexual activity or intended sexual activity.”
But such vigilantism can provoke all sorts of unexpected reactions.
The Limes Bar, which was wholly unconnected to Burrin’s actvities, suffered as a result.
It was subjected to online abuse and described as a haven for paedophiles. It also received arson threats and had a dead pigeon thrown through its front door.
Elsewhere, a 45-year-old hanged himself after being caught by the notorious Midlands vigilante Stinson Hunter. The man had earlier been arrested by the police for grooming someone he thought was a girl aged 12.
Another man drove his car into a wall at 90mph after being trapped by Hunter.
It is thought about 75 active “paedophile hunter” groups are operating across the UK.
Police warn the groups’ actions may interfere with surveillance operations and “evidence” they gather may be illegally obtained and therefore excluded from a prosecution.
Chief Constable Simon Bailey, from the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said: “The increase in these groups is symptomatic of the increasing scale of child sexual abuse that police are dealing with.
“It reinforces the need for technology companies to do more to prevent offenders using their platforms to prey on children and for children to be educated about healthy relationships and staying safe online.”
A Freedom of Information request revealed that evidence from paedophile hunter groups was used 150 times in England and Wales in the last year, a seven-fold increase on 2015.
If you have concerns around child protect, you can contact the National Crime Agency’s CEOP Command via its website.