Study calls tactics of ‘paedophile hunter’ groups into question
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Tactics used by ‘paedophile hunters’ need more rigorous oversight, according to research from a university professor.
A study by University of East Anglia lecturer, Dr Joe Purshouse, claimed the vigilante groups violate human rights and must be more thoroughly regulated.
In 2018 and 2019, at least 28 crimes recorded in Suffolk referred to paedophile hunter or vigilante groups, according to Freedom of Information data.
Police said that, while online activists have contributed to some convictions against dangerous offenders, the risks they take can undermine investigations and the criminal justice process.
The force said it does not work proactively with groups but had a responsibility to investigate information suggesting a serious crime has been committed.
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Dr Purshouse, who published his new study in the Journal of Law and Society on Thursday, said the activities of paedophile hunters were antithetical to core functions of the justice system.
The research comes ahead of a Supreme Court judgment which could determine whether or not paedophile hunters infringe on the privacy rights of targets.
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Dr Purshouse said: “English law is failing to adequately regulate the activities of paedophile hunters. In fact, this research found that more investigatory discretion is afforded to paedophile hunters than to state law enforcement agencies.”
Dr Purshouse said tactics were incompatible with evidence and procedure rules, and may damage the administration of justice.
He said the justice system’s functions to remediate and deter crime were not served if criminal conduct was “manufactured”.
Temporary Detective Superintendent David Henderson said the groups were unable to target high priority offenders, and as such, diverted police resources, with some groups shown to use their activity as a cover for their own criminal behaviour, while not providing protection for victims and often putting offenders and innocent families at risk from attack and harassment.
He said the rise of groups was symptomatic of the increasing scale of child sexual abuse police were dealing with – and reinforced the need for tech firms to do more to prevent use of platforms to prey on children, and for children to be educated about healthy relationships and online safety.
He added: “We apply significant due diligence to information received to ensure we have adequate corroboration and the required integrity associated with the material.
“It is important to point out that we will investigate every allegation of the abuse of children, no matter where or who it comes from, and we remain committed to making Suffolk as safe as it can be for vulnerable individuals.”