Paedophile hunters and online grooming

D. Moore made this Freedom of Information request to West Yorkshire Police

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The request was refused by West Yorkshire Police.

Dear West Yorkshire Police,

1a. Please provide the number of arrests you made in 2019/20 regarding online sexual offences of any kind related to children.

1b. Please provide a breakdown of all the sexual offences associated with these arrests:

e.g. section 8 of SOA 2003 [insert number]; section 10 of SOA 2003 [insert number]; section 12 of SOA 2003 [insert number] section 14 of SOA 2003 [insert number]; and section 15 of SOA [insert number]; section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 [insert number].

1c. Please specify the number of these arrests that involved at least one child decoy. By 'child decoy' I am referring to an adult who pretends to be a child.

2. Please provide the number of arrests you made in 2019/20 in connection with online sexual offences against children based on evidence acquired by your own officers acting as decoys.

3. Please provide the number of arrests you made in 2019/20 in connection with online sexual offences against children based on evidence provided to you by so-called paedophile hunters.

4. Please provide the names of all so-called paedophile hunting groups who provided information to you that led to the arrest of individuals in connection with sexual offences against children in 2019/20.

Yours faithfully,

D Moore

D. Moore left an annotation ()

Joe Purshouse (School of Law, University of East Anglia) has written a paper that seriously questions the activities of so-called paedophile hunters. It is titled: "'Paedophile Hunters’, Criminal Procedure, and Fundamental Human Rights".

"The muted response of the police, Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), and domestic courts to paedophile hunters is failing to deter their criminality. The article ends with suggestions for reappraisal of existing legal doctrines, law reform, and more rigorous enforcement to control and, in some cases, deter paedophile hunting."

Freedom of Information,

Classification: OFFICIAL

Good afternoon,

Thank you for your request for information which has been logged today.

Your request will now be considered and you will receive a response within the statutory timescale of 20 working days as defined by the Act, subject to the information not being exempt.

If you no longer require the information, please inform us at your earliest convenience.

Kind Regards
Nicole Smith
Disclosure Assistant
Information Management
Digital Policing

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J Roberts left an annotation ()

I see the article by Joe Purshouse was first published on 17th June 2020, a month before the Supreme Court handed down judgment in the case of someone caught by 'paedophile hunters' :

[2020] UKSC 32

See comment dated 15 July 2020:

Story from the Independent:

"‘Paedophile hunters’ do not violate right to privacy, Supreme Court rules as convict's appeal dismissed"

Catching Online Predators (COP) - Bradford

The suspect admitted to talking to what he believed to be a 12-year-old and coming to meet her. Confirmed that he was aged 55 and said that he would 'do nothing' when he brought the child to his house. He asked the investigators to stop recording. He allegedly said 'Sweetie, I'll make your dreams come true and you'll never want for nothing'.

STOP - Leeds

Suspect allegedly communicating with an 11 and a 12-year-old decoy. He flatly denied the allegation but admitted that the account being used to speak to the decoy was his. He admitted that the photo shown to him by the investigator was of him, but that he did not send it to the decoy. He said that he sent that photo to another girl. During the questioning the investigators acquired information that the suspect had allegedly asked a pregnant 16-year-old for naked pictures of herself. The suspect admitted to liking pregnant women but denied the allegation.

Children's Innocence Matters (CIM) - Leeds

Suspect admitted inviting a female to his property with her cousin but denied knowing her age. The decoy was aged 12. Later, however, when asked 'Did you come to meet a 12-year-old tonight?' responded 'Yeah'. Includes a lot of filthy chat.

Strike UK - Wakefield

Suspect admitted sending a picture to the decoy and 'responded Yeah, OK, when it was put to him that he asked the decoy if she performed a particular act on herself. The suspect returned to his property and whilst there he allegedly deleted his Facebook account.

Net Justice - Halifax

The suspect said 'I'm not a paedophile' and that 'she did not say she was 13'.

One Reason - Halifax

The suspect, and self-confessed sex offender, denied knowing the aged of the real 13-year-old boy he was communicating with. Allegedly asked the boy about watching porn together and allegedly said he was neither a paedo nor a weirdo. Filthy chat. The suspect said that 'I probably got carried away' and allegedly told the boy to keep it a secret. He also allegedly offered the boy money and admitted to committing an indecent assault on a 12 or 13-year-old child in 1979.

Apex hunters/Apex - Halifax

The suspect asserted that the decoy he was communicating with led the chat. This assertion was strongly challenged by one investigator who was the 13-year-old decoy. He was described as 'filthy'. He said 'I'm no a paedo' and allegedly told the decoy that he lost his virginity at 13, and allegedly instructed her how to perform a particular act on herself. He agreed that he asked the child to meet him but that he would not really meet her. He admitted that the decoy told him several times that she was scared.

Our Team - Huddersfield

Decoy allegedly gone rogue. Real child involved.

Our Team - Castleford

Children's Innocence Matters (CIM) - Dewsbury

Suspect denied noticing that he decoy was aged 14. Suspect answered 'I don't know' to the question 'Why would you want to be in bed with a 14-year-old?' He also said 'I don't know' to the question 'Why did you lie about your age?'. He allegedly told the decoy he was aged 50, but admitted that he was 68. Depraved chat.

More videos can be found here:

D. Moore left an annotation ()

"'Paedophile hunter' evidence used to charge 150 suspects" (2017)

"Strategic review of Police Scotland’s response to online child sexual abuse" (February 2020)

“Almost half of the online grooming cases emanate from the activities of online child abuse activist groups (vigilante groups), who are unregulated and untrained. A more robust proactive capability on the part of Police Scotland would reduce the opportunities for these groups to operate.” (page 5)

BBC Radio 4 programme The Untold goes on a "sting" with Leeds-based hunting group Predator Exposure:

"Six of the group went on trial accused of charges including false imprisonment and common assault. They were all found not guilty and emerged from Leeds Crown Court vowing to step up the work that they do."

See the group in action:

Useful information provided by South Yorkshire Police from the Force Disclosure Log:

J Roberts left an annotation ()

Radio 4's File on 4 dealt with the issue of female sex offenders in "Women Who Abuse":

The programme highlighted the case of a female groomer who was jailed in 2018. Details of her crime are available on the UK Database:

Thirty-six police forces responded to FOI requests (5th minute). The responses revealed that between 2015-19:

- there were over 10,400 reports of women sexually abusing children

- Over 5,400 reports concerned children aged 11-17

- around 3,800 reports involved children under 11

(some forces didn't provide information on ages)

A FOI request was also sent to the Disclosure and Barring Service. I have requested a copy of the response received:

"There is evidence more female abusers are being flagged when applying for jobs with children or vulnerable adults than are being reported to the police."

The programme also referred to research by Dr Andrea Darling, who wrote this article on female teachers who abuse pupils:

Freedom of Information,

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Classification: OFFICIAL

Dear D. Moore,


Please see the attached document in relation to your information request.


Kind regards

Emily Dawson

Disclosure Officer

Information Management

Digital Policing

West Yorkshire Police, Admin 4, Laburnum Road, Wakefield WF1 3QS

Telephone: 01924 296006




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J Roberts left an annotation ()

CPS legal guidance regarding paedophile hunters (July 2020). Paedophile hunting groups are referred to formally as online child abuse activist groups (OCAGs):

'The term OCAGs in this context refers to individuals or groups of individuals who are members of the public using on-line activity to uncover or "catch" alleged paedophiles involved in on-line child sexual abuse or interested in meeting children for the purpose of such abuse. A wide range activity may fall under this umbrella term...'

'Police are encouraged to seek early investigative advice (EIA) in all OCAG cases using the EIA process available in each CPS area. This will assist officers to address any complex evidential issues, to focus their investigation and to bring to an early conclusion cases which are unlikely to meet the required evidential standard.'

Recently published Home Office report titled 'Tackling Child Sexual Abuse Strategy'.

'This ground-breaking Strategy sets out the Government’s ambition to prevent, tackle and respond to all forms of child sexual abuse.

5. Our goal is to ensure there are no safe spaces online for offenders to abuse and exploit children. Across the NCA, Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), National Cyber Force (NCF) and wider law enforcement, the Home Office will invest in the development of new technological capabilities to bring more technically sophisticated offenders to justice and help our partners identify and safeguard more victims and survivors. This includes enhancing the use of the UK’s world-leading Child Abuse Image Database (CAID).'

Dear Freedom of Information,

Thank you for your reply.

Ref. 20/21

You wrote:

'During 2019/20 there are 8,292 arrests which have one or more sexual offences linked. At 2 minutes per record this would equate to 276 hours.'

That's a lot!

I wish to refine my request as follows:

1. Number of crime reports for grooming offences recorded with an online marker attached, for 2019/2020.
2. Of which, the number resulting in a charge.
3. Of those resulting in a charge, the number involving a child decoy.
4. Of those resulting in a charge, the number involving a police decoy.
5. Of those resulting in a charge, the number involving a paedophile hunter group.
6. The paedophile hunter groups involved.

Yours sincerely,

D. Moore

Freedom of Information,

Classification: OFFICIAL

Dear D. Moore,

Thank you for your below refinement. However, please note that establishing 'child decoy' or other form of 'decoy' will still require relevant records to be manually read through, likely engaging a further Section 12 exemption response. It should also be noted that as the information being read through is a free text element, it may not always be clear during each read through whether a 'child decoy' was involved in any case.

As per the links provided in Section 16 Advice and Assistance in your original response we have previously published a response relating to online grooming and Online Child Sexual Exploitation Activist Group's (OCAG's).

Please advise if you wish to proceed with your request as it is below or submit a further amended refined request.

Kind regards
Emily Dawson
Disclosure Officer
Information Management
Digital Policing
West Yorkshire Police, Admin 4, Laburnum Road, Wakefield WF1 3QS
Telephone: 01924 296006

show quoted sections

D. Moore left an annotation ()

I didn't get the information I was seeking and have not pursued the matter. I have made a number of complaints to the Commissioner about responses I have received from other forces relating to paedophile hunters. Once these have been dealt with I may approach West Yorkshire Police again about the matter.

D. Moore left an annotation ()

Useful information:

Home Office counting rules - sexual offences (effective from April 2021)

'Sexual grooming

General Rule: One crime for each child.


1: A 60 year old male posted photographs of his teenage son on internet chat rooms and posed as his son. Following frequent internet chats with two 13 year old girls he encouraged them to travel to a London Station to meet him for sex.
Two crimes (class 88/1-88A).

2: A sports coach arranges for his 14 year old star pupil to meet up for a winter training week in Spain with him. He is arrested at Heathrow in possession of condoms and lubricants which he admits were for a sexual use on his star pupil.

One crime (class 88/1 –88A

'Principal Crime Example: see General Rules Section F and Annex C.

If a person has sexual activity with a child following grooming, record the substantive sexual offence only. A 40 year old male posted photographs of his teenage son on internet chat rooms and posed as his son. Following frequent internet chats with two 13 year old girls he encouraged them to travel to a London Station to meet him for sex. He has sexual intercourse with one of them and is arrested meeting the other girl.

One crime (class22/12 -22B) and one crime (class 88/1 -88A).'

BBC News (13/5/21)

'The body overseeing criminal sentences in England and Wales is proposing treating paedophiles who are caught in stings the same as abusers who harm real children.'

Impact Assessment, The Home Office
Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

Sex offender management (g/h pages 6-7/16-19/24-25/31-34/49-59/75-76/80)

Information on polygraphs (49)

'Government intervention is necessary to address this gap in criminal law and ensure that those that arrange or facilitate child sex offences targeting children under the age of 13 are sentenced considering the additional vulnerability of the intended victims.'

J Roberts left an annotation ()

You may be interested in this:

'National Police Chiefs’ Council Responding to Online Child Abuse Activists

2.2 Analysis of incidents of activism has revealed a mixed picture. Some activist groups have amended their mode of operation such that they pass packages of information to the police without having real world contact with the person suspected of offending behaviour. Whilst this is a positive development many groups continue to insist on carrying out a physical intervention and only notify the police post or concurrent to the event. This is less desirable for reasons that have been previously articulated. There is an increased prevalence of direct criminality where purported activists have no intention to notify the police but use the opportunity of an encounter to extort or rob.

2.3 The complex, nuanced and often overlapping nature of activism and volunteering make it difficult to be prescriptive as to the approach to be taken. It is not legally practicable for policing to develop memoranda of understanding or protocol of operation with activists without risking claims of abuse of process. Where the state is seen to circumvent statutory regulation by sub-contracting work to public volunteers it is highly likely that criminal prosecution will be stayed.'