Paedophile hunter group vows to keep Armagh in its sights.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

A PAEDOPHILE hunter group known widely for their work in using decoys to stop suspected paedophiles has vowed to continue to monitor online activity in Co. Armagh in a bid to protect children.

In an interview with the Ulster Gazette, a senior member of the group, James O'Neill revealed how he snared a suspected Armagh-based peadophile at the beginning of the year who was trying to meet, what he thought was, a 13 year-old child.

Back then James was acting alone but he has since become a member of Silent Justice, the self-styled online child protection group which has a following of almost quarter of a million people.

"I began in April this year as a decoy and within a 10-day period I had found six suspected online peadophiles," said James.

One of his early cases involved an Armagh man who had attempted to meet a 13 year-old child after grooming her online. In actual fact the man was talking to James who had taken on the persona of the child. In all of those early cases James passed on all of his evidence to the police.

"It made me feel great when those sort of individuals were arrested," he said.

James then joined Silent Justice who make no bones about their intentions towards those people they suspect of setting out with the intention of harming children.

"We will destroy these people's lives, that's why we are here," said James.

"These people operate in dark corners were they get children to do what they want them to do. There is only one thing they are petrified of and that is having a light shone on their activities - and that is exactly what Silent Justice does.

"What these people do destroys the lives of young people so we have no regrets about destroying their lives instead." The group angrily rejects the term 'vigilante' when it is used to describe the work they do.

"If we were breaking the law then of course we would be arrested, we do not take the law into our own hands." Silent Justice also rejects the allegation that what they do amounts to entrapment.

"When our decoys speak to these people online they state right from the beginning that they are a child," said James.

"But, when in possession of this knowledge, if these people continue to engage in a highly sexual manner with the person they believe to be a child then we will pursue them." James said there is a number of boxes the group aims to tick before setting up a sting operation.

"If they send imagery or video clips of themselves engaged in a sex act, if the dialogue is of an extreme nature or if they show intent to set up a meeting with the child then we will act.

"When these people cross me then I am coming for them, make no mistake about that, they will be ripped apart on camera in front of audiences of around 16,000 people online.

"Like I said it is having this light shone upon their activities that petrifies these people." When asked why Silent Justice broadcasts the sting operations live via Facebook instead of posting the video once the suspect has been convicted James said he believes broadcasting live is the most effective way.

"I could care less about the police or a judge, it is our experience that these people often only get a slap on the wrists whereas they are petrified of us exposing their activities." In the early days of his investigations James said he was staggered by just how many online predators there are.

"This is no exaggeration but by the time you could make a cup of tea you could have as many as 40 peadophiles trying to speak to you online despite them thinking you are a child. Some of the chat logs we record are incredibly dark in nature.

"They are not going to go away but they should also know that we aren't going to go away either.

Sometimes you have to put your phone away and take a break because the nature of the exchanges are just so disturbing but it is the end results that drive us and we will not stop doing what we are doing."

James admits that groups like Silent Justice will not get the support they need from the police but he believes police are now becoming more accepting of the fact these groups are not going away.

Meanwhile Detective Chief Superintendent George Clarke, Head of the PSNI's Public Protection Branch, said these kind of investigations should only be carried out by the police.

"It is the role of the Police Service of Northern Ireland to deal with those allegedly involved in this type of crime, not others. We are the professionals with the expert knowledge and experience to carry out rigorous investigations to the required evidential standard. We are the legitimate police service and we are accountable. These groups are not. They do not have the transparency or the structures which underpin the police service and could potentially undermine ongoing police investigations.

"To date no prosecutions have been secured in Northern Ireland using evidence passed to PSNI from a vigilante group. Three files have been submitted to the PPS however all await further evidential reports before they can be directed upon.

"The PSNI are committed to tackling this issue and work closely with our partner agencies when carrying out investigations to assess the risk a potential offender may pose and to safeguard any children at potential risk.

"Those involved in this type of vigilante behaviour aren't in a position to ensure safeguarding issues are addressed and their actions could have a detrimental impact on the criminal justice process.

"If these groups are motivated to help safeguard children, they need to bring any information they have about the identity of any person engaged in sexual offences against children to the PSNI immediately.

"These groups should not make arrangements to meet these individuals but should bring the information straight to police. We will take all the necessary steps required to ensure a thorough investigation is carried out including gathering best possible evidence to enable effective investigations that produce a charge and successful prosecution."


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