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  1. ITV Report

Paedophile Hunter groups: A help or a hindrance?

They are controversial groups. They pose as children on chatrooms in order to expose online groomers.

Some accuse so-called 'paedophile hunters' of being vigilantes while others praise them for keeping children safe.

ITV Wales’ reporter Siôn Jenkins went along with two Welsh paedophile hunter groups on their stings. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Paedophile hunter groups are on the rise in the UK, and our current affairs programme Ein Byd(Our World) has been following the work of two of them in Wales as they hunt down online predators.

In a special programme tonight on S4C, ITV Wales’ reporter Siôn Jenkins went to meet the groups 'PH Balance' and 'Welsh Children Protector' to follow them on a sting where they confront potential online predators.

They are just two of the 75 paedophile hunter groups that operate in the UK.

75
Paedophile hunter groups in UK
Reporter, Siôn Jenkins, went along on a sting with Nick Young and the paedophile hunters. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Nick Young started the group PH Balance in April 2017 and since then he and his team have gathered evidence on 18 individuals.

ITV Wales went along to one of PH Balance’s stings - where they confronted a 44-year-old man called Neil Cooper.

He was found to be speaking sexually to two members of the group on chatrooms - or decoys as they’re known. They had been posing as 14-year-old children.

During the conversation with the one of the decoys, called Olivia Jane, Cooper had written “you’re beautiful and sweet, Olivia” and “Olivia I like you...I have come to like you a lot. I would risk it if you really wanted me around.”

The 44-year-old man had been found speaking sexually to two members of the paedophile hunters team. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

After questioning Neil Cooper for his actions the team called the police and placed him under citizen’s arrest. The group handed over their catalogue of evidence to the police and Cooper was taken to the local station.

Following the sting conducted by 'PH Balance' at the hotel in Newport, Neil Cooper was kept on remand in Swansea Prison for two months, having pleaded guilty to inciting a child to engage in sexual activity, and has since appeared in court. He was sentenced to eight months imprisonment - suspended for two years.

The judge also ordered Cooper to carry out a 30-day rehabilitation requirement as part of his sexual harm prevention order. He was placed on the sex offenders register for ten years.

Jeff Cuthbert has said there is scope for joint working with paedophile hunters. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

The Police and Crime Commissioner for Gwent Police, Jeff Cuthbert, has said he can see some benefits in the idea of the police co-operating with paedophile hunters.

There is scope for joint working, with a number of caveats, to do with the gathering of evidence and public safety. Clearly police resources are finite, we can’t work often as quickly as we’d like on a whole range of crimes and people can get frustrated and I understand that. But nevertheless, we have to take care to make sure we get successful prosecutions with good evidence that stands up in court and without people putting themselves in danger.

– Jeff Cuthbert, Police & Crime Commissioner for Gwent

However, Nick Young from 'PH Balance' had also received a letter from Gwent Police stating they could not support the work of PH Balance:

“We understand your concerns regarding the internet activity of paedophiles... but stress that the activity you propose could lead to you committing offences and should be left to law enforcement. If any offences have been committed by you or any member of the group you will be dealt with.”

In a response to the letter, Gwent Police said:

We rely on the assistance of the public in preventing and detecting crime. Working closely with communities is a vital way in which we gain information, and their active engagement in fighting crime helps us to do our job.

Cases involving child sex abuse are extremely serious and have a huge emotional impact not only on the victims, but on whole families, and the communities in which they take place. We understand the desire to protect children but any member of the public who has information about child sexual abuse, online or otherwise, should get in contact with the police so we can investigate and bring people to justice.

Revealing the identity of suspected paedophiles gives the suspect the opportunity to destroy evidence before the police can investigate them. It also leads to people who have been identified going missing or raising concerns for their safety. This can divert significant resources into protecting suspects, which would be better invested in investigating and, where there is evidence, prosecuting them.

Vigilante groups also risk committing offences themselves whilst dealing with these suspected paedophiles, which our officers then have to deal with.

– Gwent Police

But Nick Young from 'PH Balance' said he has no plans to stop anytime soon.

“I will prove to them that PH Balance will continue to do what we’re doing and we will continue to bring these individuals to justice”

You can see the full Ein Byd programme on S4C tonight at 9:30pm. The programme has English subtitles.

Who can you contact if you’ve been affected?