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‘Paedophile Hunters’, Criminal Procedure, and Fundamental Human Rights



‘Paedophile hunters’ have attracted global media attention. The limited literature on paedophile hunters, which documents their emergence in contemporary liberal democracies, pays scant attention to how their use of intrusive investigative methods may threaten the procedural rights of suspects and undermine the integrity of the criminal justice system. This article fills this normative ‘gap’ in the literature. It draws upon media coverage, criminal procedure jurisprudence, and criminological scholarship to analyse the regulation of paedophile hunting in English and Welsh law. The article suggests that domestic law does not afford adequate protection to due process and the fundamental human rights of those falling under the paedophile hunter's purview. Unless paedophile hunting is constrained by a narrower and more robustly enforced regulatory regime, it should not be permitted, let alone encouraged, in contemporary liberal democracies.
ISSN: 0263-323X, pp. 1–28
‘Paedophile Hunters’, Criminal Procedure, and
Fundamental Human Rights
Joe Purshouse
‘Paedophile hunters’ have attracted global media attention. The limited
literature on paedophile hunters, which documents their emergence in
contemporary liberal democracies, pays scant attention to how their use
of intrusive investigative methods may threaten the procedural rights
of suspects and undermine the integrity of the criminal justice system.
This article fills this normative ‘gap’ in the literature. It draws upon
media coverage, criminal procedure jurisprudence, and criminological
scholarship to analyse the regulation of paedophile hunting in English
and Welsh law. The article suggests that domestic law does not afford
adequate protection to due process and the fundamental human rights of
those falling under the paedophile hunter’s purview. Unless paedophile
hunting is constrained by a narrower and more robustly enforced
regulatory regime, it should not be permitted, let alone encouraged, in
contemporary liberal democracies.
This article analyses the regulation of the activities of so-called ‘paedophile
hunters’. It suggests that paedophile hunters, as citizens using proactive
policing methods, can pose a unique threat to the fundamental rights of those
whom they target, which lawmakers and practitioners have not adequately
Although there are variances in how different groups operate, paedophile
hunters predominantly pose as children on social media platforms and in
online chatrooms and lure potential child sex offenders to an ostensible illicit
School of Law, University of East Anglia, Norwich Research Park, Norwich,
NR4 7TJ, England
I am grateful to Findlay Stark, Paul Roberts, Ian Edwards, Rob Heywood, Craig Purshouse,
the anonymous reviewers, and members of the Editorial Board for their comments on
earlier drafts of this article.
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution
and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
© 2020 The Authors. Journal of Law and Society published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Cardiff University (CU).
sexual encounter. Here, the suspect is confronted by the hunters, who then
typically report the alleged crime to the police and post video footage of the
confrontation on social media.
Paedophile hunters are amateurs. Their operations often require little more
than a broadband connection and a camera phone. Though employing crude
methods, these groups are incredibly popular, sometimes attracting hundreds
of thousands of followers to their social media pages. Some paedophile-
hunting groups have assisted the authorities in bringing child sex offenders to
justice. According to data obtained by the British Broadcasting Corporation
(BBC), evidence provided by paedophile-hunting groups was used to support
150 of the 302 prosecutions for the offence of meeting a child following
sexual grooming in 2017.1The official line of the police is that these groups
should not be encouraged and may face prosecution for any offences that
they commit.2However, paedophile hunters are very rarely prosecuted for
offences.3On the back of their popularity and purported success, senior
police figures have even reached out to paedophile-hunting groups to offer
vague opportunities for collaboration in the fight against child sexual abuse.4
These groups are controversial, and some have attracted negative attention
after engaging in vigilante tactics, inciting criminality, and smearing innocent
people.5This raises the question: are these overtures to paedophile hunters
This article answers the question affirmatively. It suggests that many of
the investigatory practices of paedophile hunters are antithetical to numerous
core values and functions of the criminal justice system. The under-regulated
paedophile hunter may also undermine state-sanctioned efforts to prevent,
detect, and prosecute child sex offences. The article brings normative legal
analysis to what has, up to this point, been a largely descriptive conversation
among criminologists. This criminological literature documents developments
in citizen-led policing, but pays scant attention to how paedophile hunters’ use
of proactive and intrusive investigative methods may threaten the procedural
rights of suspects and undermine the integrity of the criminal justice system.
1 BBC News, ‘“Paedophile Hunter” Evidence Used to Charge 150 Suspects’, 10 April
2018, at <>.
2 S. Bailey and M. Skeer, National Guidance on Responding to Online CSA Vigilante
Groups (2017).
3 It is only in cases where paedophile hunters resort to violence that they tend to be
charged. J. Simpson, ‘Paedophile-Hunters Are Warned Off by Police after Brawl’
Times, 19 April 2017, at <
are-warned-off-by-police- after-brawl-2cbzcpkpg>.
4 BBC News, ‘Recruit “Paedophile Hunters” Call to Help Police’, 5 July 2017, at <http:
//>; K. Sandeman, ‘Why Nottinghamshire
Police Could Strengthen Links with Paedophile Hunters’ Nottingham Post,
9 October 2018, at <
nottinghamshire-police-could-strengthen- links-2090840>.
5 BBC News, ‘“Paedophile Hunter” to Face Criminal Charges’, 14 February 2018, at
© 2020 The Authors. Journal of Law and Society published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Cardiff University (CU).
The article is structured in four parts. The f irst traces the emergence of
paedophile hunting, situating the practice, and police responses to it, in social
context. The next three parts consider the impact that paedophile hunting
has on the criminal process, and those subject to it, through reference to
the following broad, and somewhat overlapping, areas: the administration of
justice; due process and procedural rights; and stigmatization and collateral
intrusion. Cumulatively, these parts demonstrate that English and Welsh law is
failing to adequately regulate the activities of paedophile hunters. 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.
There is an unsurprising political and public unanimity regarding the
wrongness of child sex offences, and the threat posed by the ‘paedophile’.6
Following a small number of high-profile cases of child abduction, rape, and
murder since the 1980s, public anxieties have been oriented away from the
sexual abuse of children by family members and towards the threat posed by
strangers.7In England and Wales, these cases led to expansive law reform
covering numerous areas, including disclosure schemes designed to empower
parents to check if sex offenders could gain access to their children,8and an
overhaul of the system governing police information-sharing practices and
6 There is no offence of ‘paedophilia’ in English criminal law, and it is more accurate
to speak of ‘child sexual abuse’ or ‘child sex offending’ when referring to the sorts
of crimes that paedophile hunters seek to remediate. However, given this article’s
focus on the intersection between public and legal responses to crime, I use the
terms ‘paedophilia’ and ‘paedophile’ not to refer to any kind of psychological or
neurological disorder, but as expressions that are widely recognizable and have
popular currency in the media. A similar approach is used in other works. See,
for example, E. Campbell, ‘Policing Paedophilia: Assembling Bodies, Spaces and
Things’ (2016) 12 Crime, Media, Culture 345.
7 This trend has occurred despite research indicating that the vast majority of child
sexual abuse is perpetrated by an adult offender known personally to the victim.
Y. Jewkes and M. Wykes, ‘Reconstructing the Sexual Abuse of Children: “Cyber-
Paeds”, Panic and Power’ (2012) 15 Sexualities 934, at 935; L. Radford et al., Child
Abuse and Neglect in the UK Today (2011).
8 The child sex offender disclosure scheme (sometimes referred to as ‘Sarah’s Law’
owing to the fact that the scheme was introduced following a campaign by the family
of eight-year-old Sarah Payne in the aftermath of her kidnap and murder) was rolled
out across police forces in England and Wales in 2011. Suffolk Constabulary, ‘Sarah’s
Law’, at <>.
© 2020 The Authors. Journal of Law and Society published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Cardiff University (CU).
criminal records checking.9Such offences have since become a mainstay of
tabloid and broadsheet newspapers.10
Jewkes and Wykes note that this recent construction of the ‘dangerous
paedophile’ in media discourses and policy initiatives was instrumental in
changing patterns of social interaction to put emphasis on the safety and
security of children.11 Information technology and the internet have given
child sex offenders new opportunities to offend, making images of child
sexual abuse easier to distribute and children more accessible. Offenders can
now utilize social media platforms to ‘groom’ children online: establishing
friendships with children, gaining their trust, and lowering their inhibitions
for the purpose of sexual abuse.12 The emergence of this form of criminality
in cyberspace has only served to heighten concerns, posing a novel threat to
children that is more difficult for parents to understand or manage.
Online grooming has prompted innovative societal responses to predatory
behaviour.13 These innovations are imbricated within broader trends towards
what has variously been described as the ‘nodal governance’,14 ‘pluralization’,
or ‘privatization’15 of policing, whereby the organization of crime control has
transitioned away from state-centric, ‘top-down’ action to a more diversified
assortment of activities that encompasses a range of quasi- and non-state
actors.16 According to Jones, various factors motivate these trends, including
growing demands for policing and security services outstripping the resources
of public providers, a degree of direct privatization and hiving off of
policing functions as part of central government reform programmes, the
changing nature of public space, and a range of broader structural changes
in contemporary industrial societies that have contributed to growing concerns
about risk and insecurity.17
The responsibility for policing child sex offences online is being taken up
by numerous non-state actors and organizations, including internet service
providers, social media platforms, and charities, who act in different ways
to monitor and report the activities of paedophiles.18 Using the example
of Facebook, Yar notes how the social media platform has been inspired
to take pre-emptive action against online sexual abuse, which includes
9 H. Oliver and L. White, ‘Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006: The Implications
for Employers in Educational Settings’ (2008) 20 Education and the Law 235.
10 T. Thomas, Sex Crime: Sex Offending and Society (2016, 3rd ed.) 1.
11 Jewkes and Wykes, op. cit., n. 7, p. 935.
12 Thomas, op. cit., n. 10, p. 3.
13 Campbell, op. cit., n. 6, p. 346.
14 S. Burris et al., ‘Nodal Governance’ (2005) 30 Aus. J. of Legal Philosophy 31.
15 T. Jones, ‘The Governance of Security: Pluralization, Privatization, and Polarization
in Crime Control’ in The Oxford Handbook of Criminology,eds.M.MaguireandR.
Morgan (2012, 4th ed.) 841.
16 M. Yar, ‘The Policing of Internet Sex Offences: Pluralised Governance versus
Hierarchies of Standing’ (2013) 23 Policing and Society 482, at 488.
17 Jones, op. cit., n. 15, p. 847.
18 Yar, op. cit., n. 16, p. 489.
© 2020 The Authors. Journal of Law and Society published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Cardiff University (CU).
removing the profiles of registered sex offenders and mobilizing users to
report inappropriate sexual behaviour through its ‘child protection app’.19
The combination of policing pluralization and the internet has created new
avenues for citizens to ‘get involved’ in policing. The police have used social
media to ‘crowdsource’ the analysis of public CCTV footage, harnessing
the efforts of scattered social media users to assist in the identification of
suspects captured on CCTV, at minimal cost.20 Recently, internet users have
gone beyond providing auxiliary support to the police. Nhan, Huey, and
Broll analysed the role that crowdsourcing played in the aftermath of the
Boston Marathon bombings in April 2013.21 According to the authors, the
public, through the online forum Reddit, conducted their own investigation
into the bombings, drawing on the diverse experiences and expertise of forum
contributors to analyse relevant information. The authors found that such
citizen-led investigations were a potentially useful source of professional
knowledge and labour, largely untapped by the police.22
Paedophile hunting might be characterized as a similar form of grassroots
pluralized policing endeavour, with a key difference being that it blends online
interactions with real-world confrontations. This article does not set out to
examine in depth the similarities and differences between paedophile-hunting
groups. However, some preliminary points are worth noting. First, paedophile-
hunting groups adopt varying methods and practices. Some groups, for
example, have engaged in violence against targets,23 while others have
tried to act in a professional way, training new members of their group,
displaying an awareness of the laws governing criminal investigations, and
providing evidence that leads to successful prosecutions.24 One notable point
of divergence is on how groups disseminate footage of their confrontations
with targets. Some do not post videos before a target has been convicted of
an offence, whereas others live stream confrontations straight to their social
media pages, making no effort to conceal the target’s identity.25
19 Id.
20 D. Trottier, ‘Crowdsourcing CCTV Surveillance on the Internet’ (2013) 17
Information, Communication & Society 609, at 610.
21 J. Nhan et al., ‘Digilantism: An Analysis of Crowdsourcing and the Boston Marathon
Bombings’ (2017) 57 Brit. J. of Criminology 341.
22 Id., pp. 348–349.
23 N. Shaw, ‘Judge Slams “Wild West Culture” of Vigilante Paedophile Hunters’ Devon
Live, 10 May 2018, at <
wild-west-culture- 1551190>.
24 K. Hadjimatheou, ‘Citizen-Led Digital Policing and Democratic Norms: The Case of
Self-Styled Paedophile Hunters’ (2019) Criminology and Criminal Justice,at<https:
25 R. Malcolm, ‘Paedophile Hunters Live Streamed Moment They Confronted
Man Who Thought He Was Meeting a 14-Year-Old Girl’ Nottingham Post,
13 July 2019, at <
hunters-live-streamed- moment-3088530>.
© 2020 The Authors. Journal of Law and Society published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Cardiff University (CU).
Paedophile hunters are also ‘networked’ to some extent.26 Some groups
have been known to share information about how they operate with other
groups. Groups have also divided the labour of running a sting operation,
with one group running the online part of the operation before sharing the
evidence with another group, who then carry out the confrontation.27 In some
circumstances, paedophile hunters seem to form part of a broader ‘web’ of
‘self-help’ security provision.28 For example, in Northern Ireland, the police
have investigated links between paedophile hunters and loyalist paramilitary
groups.29 The position of paedophile hunters in the broader web of policing
provision is complex, and merits further research falling beyond the scope of
this article.
Online citizen-led policing has its uses. Indeed, paedophile hunters’
evidence has been used in numerous successful prosecutions for child-
grooming offences, including cases involving repeat offenders.30 The police
have acknowledged that they are overwhelmed by a significant rise in online
child sex offences,31 but as citizens attempt fill this policing ‘gap’, which
has emerged in the digital age, the challenges that these attempts pose
to established laws governing criminal investigations demand detailed and
careful consideration. Three factors, taken together, make paedophile hunting
a particularly useful case study of online citizen-led policing, against which
to test its proper legal limits.
First, generally speaking, paedophile hunting goes further than other forms
of online citizen-led policing, such as crowdsourcing or reporting abusive
content, in that it involves the use of proactive and covert methods. Paedophile
hunters frequently engage in covert online conversations of a sexual nature
with targets, before meeting, confronting, and, sometimes, detaining them
in real space. They play a role in facilitating the activities that they seek to
suppress by creating fictitious online profiles for their targets to groom. While
deceptive ‘honey-trap’ techniques are nothing new, they are not typically
26 J.-P. Brodeur, The Policing Web (2010) ch. 9; Campbell, op. cit., n. 6, p. 346.
27 BBC News, ‘Hull “Paedophile Hunter” Sting Targets Innocent Couple’, 6 November
2019, at <>.
28 Campbell, op. cit., n. 6.
29 C. Barnes, ‘Shame of Northern Ireland Paedophile Hunters’ Belfast Telegraph,12
February 2018, at <
of-northern-ireland- paedophile-hunters-sins- of-the- lynch-mob- revealed-
30 L. Elvin, ‘Paedophile Hunters Catch Same Offender Twice with Two Separate
Sting Operations’ Independent, 1 February 2018, at <
uk/news/uk/crime/paedophile-entrapped-same-hunters-twice-nathan- wilson-child-
31 BBC News, ‘“Do Not Jail All Paedophiles”, Says Chief Constable’, 28 February
2017, at < all-paedophiles-
© 2020 The Authors. Journal of Law and Society published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Cardiff University (CU).
geared towards assisting the authorities to mount criminal prosecutions.32 The
use of such covert and deceptive methods represents something of a step-
change in online citizen-led policing, and raises pressing questions regarding
the extent of the threat that this activity poses to the fair trial and privacy rights
of suspects.
Second, some groups routinely engage in a punishment ritual by shaming
their targets online. They tend to subject targets to prolonged face-to-face
confrontations, demanding that their targets answer for any alleged crimes
and disseminating footage of these confrontations to their followers on social
media.33 This represents a departure from the typical role played by citizens
in policing, passively serving as the extra eyes and ears of the police. Other
groups, such as foxhunt saboteurs, often engage in face-to-face confrontations
when disrupting suspected illegal activities.34 However, paedophile hunters
are doing this on a scale that has not previously been seen in England and
Wales, and domestic policymakers have yet to seriously grapple with the
problems that this might pose for the criminal process.
Third, as paedophile hunters seem to have created a public perception of
themselves as a force for good in the fight against child sex offences, they
may have made it difficult for the police and courts to take appropriate steps
to deter their activities.35 As paedophile hunting continues to grow, clear
thinking on its compatibility with core criminal justice values is vital, the
more so because the policing of child sex offences has become, for perfectly
understandable reasons, an emotive issue in the public mind. If paedophile
hunters are perceived by the public to be ‘doing something’ about child sexual
abuse, there is a danger that policy makers and practitioners sensitive to this
public mood may take too placatory a stance towards these groups.
Paedophile hunting may undermine the proper administration of justice in
numerous ways, owing to the haphazard methods of evidence gathering by
some paedophile hunters, and their frequent failure to comply with the rules
32 G. Diebelius, ‘“Honeytrap” Killer Who Led Boyfriend, 16, to Death Is Freed and
Deported’ Metro, 12 May 2019, at <
led-boyfriend-16- death-freed-deported- 9503715/>.
33 Campbell, op. cit., n. 6.
34 R. McGrath, ‘Meet the Saboteurs Who Say They’re Cracking Down on “Illegal
Hunting”’ Liverpool Echo, 1 December 2018, at <
35 In September 2017, YouGov conducted a survey of 3,405 adults in Great Britain.
Fifty-eight per cent of respondents suggested that the police working with paedophile
hunters would be worth it if this led to more predatory paedophiles being caught, 25
per cent suggested that the police should find alternative ways to apprehend child sex
offenders, and 17 per cent responded ‘Don’t know’. YouGov, at <
uk/opi/surveys/results#/survey/f239f61c-9c54-11e7-8370- e14fde485354>.
© 2020 The Authors. Journal of Law and Society published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Cardiff University (CU).
of criminal evidence and procedure. First, some paedophile-hunting groups
have adopted investigatory methods that may not stand up to scrutiny in
court. A prominent example is the use of adult images and profiles to initiate
interactions with their targets, before the decoy ‘admits’ that he or she is under
the age of consent.36 This tactic enables paedophile hunters to test the virtues
of adult dating site users who may begin an interaction with someone whom
they believe to be an adult dating site user, but then continue to engage in
conversation after the decoy has informed the user that he or she is really a
child. There are times when such a tactic may prove fruitful. For example, in
Rv. Patel, following a paedophile-hunting group’s use of this tactic, the police
seized the target’s electronic devices and found hundreds of child pornography
images and several chat logs, which revealed that the target had been engaged
in online communications with several other children.37
However, this tactic is dangerous as it could give those who wish to harm
children grounds to dispute mens rea for an offence and escape justice.38
The question of whether a paedophile hunter’s target believes he or she was
illegally communicating with a child is, of course, a matter for the tribunal
of fact to decide, weighing all of the evidence in a given case. That said, in
using an image of an adult as part of a sting operation, which is predicated
on the target attempting to groom a child, paedophile hunters make the
tribunal of fact’s task needlessly difficult. This particular technique also risks
inadvertently subjecting those who are innocently using a social networking
site to meet adults to the harrowing ordeal of a paedophile-hunting sting.
English and Welsh law could exacerbate these problems. Often, targets
of stings are charged with attempting to ‘meet a child following sexual
grooming’ under s. 15 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, read with s. 1 of
the Criminal Attempts Act 1981. The s. 15 offence is drafted in such broad
terms that a paedophile hunter’s target may have to do very little before
committing the offence. As originally enacted, s. 15, when read with s. 1 of the
Criminal Attempts Act 1981, required proof that the defendant communicated
with a child at least twice, and travelled to meet the child, with the intention
to commit a specified sexual offence on the child.39 Following a series of
amendments, which aimed to define s. 15 more narrowly,40 the actus reus for
this offence now requires as little as a single, non-sexual communication and
an attempt to arrange a meeting with a child, whether or not any such meeting
36 Rv. Walters and Ali [Crown Court of Newcastle, 6 April 2017], at
< walters-and- r-v-
37 Rv. Patel [2019] EWCA Crim 1058.
38 For example, under s. 10 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, a defendant could
conceivably claim that, owing to the use of an adult profile image, he or she had
reasonable grounds to believe the ‘child’ was over 16.
39 Sexual Offences Act 2003, s. 15 (as enacted).
40 Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, s. 73 and Sch. 15; Criminal Justice and
Courts Act 2015, s. 36.
© 2020 The Authors. Journal of Law and Society published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Cardiff University (CU).
ever takes place. Such a broadly drawn actus reus may make it difficult for
the tribunal of fact to discern the true intentions of a defendant, especially
where paedophile hunters use adult images and profiles to initiate interactions
with their targets, before the decoy ‘admits’ that he or she is in fact under the
age of consent. The combination of minimal interaction between targets and
decoys in a paedophile-hunting sting, and the use of adult profiles to initiate
interactions, has served to create confusion as to the precise motivations of
targets on a number of occasions.41
Poor investigatory practices such as this might also have the effect of
unduly diverting criminal justice resources from sex offenders who pose a
considerable risk to the public towards low-risk offenders, the so-called ‘low-
hanging fruit’.42 In their own covert investigations, the police tend to focus
their resources on dangerous offenders, whereas paedophile hunters focus on
low-risk targets that may not even have been tempted to offend, but for the
activities of paedophile hunters.
Concerns about the effect that paedophile hunting may have on police
resources have also been expressed by the National Police Chiefs’ Council
and the National Police Child Protection and Abuse Investigation working
group.43 The two policing governance bodies circulated an internal guidance
document to police investigators, which articulated the view that the
contributions of paedophile hunters to police investigations may be more
hindrance than help, as significant input by the police is often required to
manage and develop the evidence that these groups provide.44
There are further risks to the administration of justice that may arise,
depending on precisely how a particular paedophile-hunting group operates.
As we have seen, some groups publicize their activities on social media
and publish the personal information of individuals targeted. This could
jeopardize subsequent criminal proceedings. As Smith explains, the integrity
of the trial process may be compromised where ‘extraneous material is
introduced into the process, as it potentially is when prejudicial commentary
is made available to the members of the public who will eventually constitute
the jury’.45 The Contempt of Court Act 1981 established a strict liability rule
41 G. Bennett, ‘Judge Throws Out Court Case Involving Man Detained by “Paedophile
Hunter”’ Bristol Post, 29 August 2018, at <
bristol-news/judge-throws-out-court-case-1949588>; K. Dickinson, ‘Paramedic
Who Was Caught Trying to Meet Boy, 14, by Paedophile Hunters Suspended’
Chronicle, 14 April 2018, at <
news/paramedic-who-caught- trying-meet-14526779>.
42 Hadjimatheou, op. cit., n. 24.
43 Bailey and Skeer, op. cit., n. 2.
44 Id.
45 A. T. H. Smith, Reforming the New Zealand Law of Contempt of Court: An
Issues/Discussion Paper (2011), para. 2.5.
© 2020 The Authors. Journal of Law and Society published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Cardiff University (CU).
prohibiting any ‘publication’46 that creates a substantial risk that the course of
justice will be seriously impeded or prejudiced, subject to certain conditions.47
Under this Act, paedophile-hunting groups may attract liability not only for
any prejudicial material that they post about a target, but also for prejudicial
comments posted on their pages by third parties. Here, the paedophile-hunting
group is a distributor of the post, and their exemption from liability is subject
to them taking reasonable care not to distribute such material.48
We do not know how many times the poor investigative practices of
paedophile hunters have jeopardized potential criminal prosecutions or
otherwise led to the unnecessary expenditure of police resources. Given
the nature of the prosecution process, poor evidence-gathering practices are
unlikely to result in a decision to prosecute the target, and thus are probably
also unlikely to come to light through media reporting of this process. Even
the reported examples of paedophile hunting, however, lend support to the
view that this activity can interfere with the proper administration of justice.
If maximizing the number of successful criminal prosecutions was the sole
concern of policy makers, then it might well be the case that paedophile
hunting produces a net gain; the free-of-charge evidence supplied by these
groups might be useful to the authorities more often than it is detrimental to
their own investigations. However, this is not self-evident, and it is not the
only concern. There is a real danger that untrained paedophile hunters may
undermine due process and violate the fundamental human rights of suspects.
There are numerous cases where this general threat to targets’ fair trial and
privacy rights has materialized. In April 2018, a paedophile-hunting group,
ironically named Protecting the Innocent, issued a public apology after live
streaming a confrontation with an innocent, mistakenly identified target.49 As
well as mistakenly identifying targets, paedophile hunters may also misuse
the power of citizen’s arrest. During many of these filmed confrontations,
paedophile hunters tell suspects that they are making a ‘citizen’s arrest’, but
this is a narrow legal power.50 There is a heavy burden on the citizen who is
46 ‘Publication’ is a term taken to include ‘any speech, writing, or other communication
in whatever form, which is addressed to the public at large or any section of the
public’. Contempt of Court Act 1981, s. 2.
47 Id.
48 Rv. F[2016] 2 Cr. App. R. 13.
49 G. Newton, ‘Yorkshire Paedophile Hunters Make Public Apology for Falsely
Shaming Innocent Man on Live Sting’ Yorkshire Post, 24 April 2018, at
public-apology-for-falsely-shaming-innocent-man- on-live-sting-1-9133413>.
50 The law permits an individual who is not a police constable to make a citizen’s arrest.
However, this power is narrower than the police powers of arrest. It applies only
© 2020 The Authors. Journal of Law and Society published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Cardiff University (CU).
contemplating making an arrest, as he or she must carefully consider whether
a constable could have made the arrest, even if no constable is present at the
scene of the confrontation.51 In cases where, in the end, no crime has been
committed, or even in cases where it would be reasonably practicable for a
constable to make the arrest instead of a paedophile hunter, hunters could be
liable for false imprisonment. False imprisonment does not require any use
of force or violence by the defendant, provided that the words said or things
done by the defendant amount to a complete restraint on the person52 and the
defendant is not lawfully exercising powers of arrest.53 Given the prevalence
of this tactic of making a ‘citizen’s arrest’ in videos shared by these groups,
it is perhaps an indication of police sensitivity to paedophile hunters and their
followers that hunters are seldom prosecuted for falsely imprisoning their
In many stings, paedophile hunters play a role in encouraging the
criminality that they seek to remediate, by engaging in sexual communications
and arranging meetings while posing as a child. Here, liability for encouraging
or assisting an offender in his or her attempted grooming offence could be
made out.54 As Stark suggests, for this offence, liability would be dependent
on whether the ‘reasonableness’ defence in s. 50 of the Serious Crime Act
2007 applies to non-state entrapment cases.55 However, as paedophile hunters
are not acting under any official state authority, and it is questionable whether
they are acting for the purpose of preventing crime, as opposed to garnering
a large internet following or virtue testing, it is not clear that they would be
covered by the s. 50 defence. Given the broad actus reus, paedophile hunters
are also usually secondary parties to the attempted s. 15 offence, unless their
enterprise is a complete failure.56 Undercover police officers are not generally
to more serious, ‘indictable’ offences, and can only be exercised where the citizen
reasonably believes that the suspect is committing the indictable offence. Police and
Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE), s. 24A, as inserted by Serious Organised Crime
and Police Act 2005, s. 110.
51 R. C. Austin, ‘The New Powers of Arrest: Plus Ça Change: More of the Same or
Major Change?’ (2007) Criminal Law Rev. 459, at 469; G. Pearson et al., ‘Policy,
Practicalities, and PACE s. 24: The Subsuming of the Necessity Criteria in Arrest
Decision Making by Frontline Police Officers’ (2018) 45 J. of Law and Society 282.
52 Bird v. Jones [1845] 7 Q.B. 742, at 748; Alleyne v. Commissioner of Police of the
Metropolis [2012] EWHC 3955 (QB), para. 171.
53 Walker v. Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis [2015] 1 W.L.R. 312, at 326
(applying Collins v. Wilcock [1984] 1 W.L.R. 1172).
54 Serious Crime Act 2007, s. 44.
55 Id, s. 50; F. Stark, ‘Non-State Entrapment’ (2018) 10 Archbold Rev.6,at8.
Entrapment is a tactic whereby a person is encouraged to commit a crime so that he or
she can be prosecuted for it. M. Redmayne, ‘Exploring Entrapment’ in Principles and
Values in Criminal Law and Criminal Justice: Essays in Honour of Andrew Ashworth,
eds. L. Zedner and J. V. Roberts (2012) 157; H. L. Ho, ‘State Entrapment’ (2010) 31
Legal Studies 71.
56 Accessories and Abettors Act 1861, s. 8, as amended by the Criminal Law Act 1977,
s. 65.
© 2020 The Authors. Journal of Law and Society published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Cardiff University (CU).
prosecuted for these secondary offences as part of sting operations, owing to
the fact that they are acting under a duty to the public to enforce the law.57
However, paedophile hunters are operating without any state authorization
of their activities, and by parity of reasoning they are also outside policies
and practices of immunity from prosecution, including the ‘reasonableness’
defence in s. 50.
Despite extensively researching legal databases and newspaper reports of
paedophile hunting, the author has not come across a single reported case
where paedophile hunters have been prosecuted for encouraging or assisting
their targets. The CPS’s legal guidance is also conspicuously vague about
how paedophile-hunting stings often involve the commission by paedophile
hunters of these offences.58 The guidance merely stipulates that offences
committed by paedophile hunters ‘may include, but are not limited to assaults,
public order offences, or possession of indecent images offences’.59
The law does set limits on paedophile-hunting investigations, whether
or not the groups themselves observe them. Where paedophile hunters
egregiously undermine the fundamental rights of suspects, they may attract
various forms of civil or criminal liability. Although this is not an exhaustive
list, paedophile hunters could foreseeably attract liability for offences against
the person (assault, actual bodily harm, false imprisonment), other serious
crimes (blackmail), and civil wrongs (defamation, assault). Some paedophile
hunters have faced charges for this more flagrant law breaking.60
Since 2018, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has taken a
more robust stance against paedophile-hunting activities. Despite reportedly
providing assistance and advice to paedophile-hunting groups in the past,61
the PSNI and the Public Prosecution Service have launched a review of
paedophile-hunting cases with a view to charging hunters as well as their
targets with any offences that they might have committed in the past.62 This
57 Rv. Latif [1996] 1 W.L.R. 104, at 112; Nottingham City Council v. Amin [2000] 1 Cr.
App. R. 426, at 431.
58 CPS, ‘Vigilantes on the Internet: Cases Involving Child Sexual Abuse’ (2019), at
< internet- cases-involving-child-
59 Id.
60 A. Forrest, ‘Paedophile Hunters Deny Holding Two Men against Their Will
as They Face Trial for False Imprisonment’ Independent, 5 April 2019, at
exposure-leeds-false-imprisonment- assault-court-a8856681.html>.
61 C. Young, ‘PSNI Provided Paedophile Hunters with Official Statement Sheets’ Irish
News, 25 April 2019, at <
2019/04/25/news/psni-provided-paedophile-hunters-with- officials- statement-
sheets-1605490/>;Belfast Telegraph, ‘Police Tell “Paedophile Hunters” What They
Need for Court – But Say Stop What You’re Doing’, 6 February 2018, at <https:
// hunters-
what-they-need- for-courts-but- say-stop- what-youre-doing-36572782.html>.
62 V. Kearney, ‘“Paedophile Hunter” to Face Criminal Charges’ BBC, 14 February 2018,
at <>.
© 2020 The Authors. Journal of Law and Society published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Cardiff University (CU).
follows a famous case where paedophile hunters from a group called Silent
Justice were convicted for a series of public order offences after confronting
a journalist who was reporting a story on their activities.63 This seems to
suggest that the response by law enforcement agencies to paedophile hunters
has been varied, even within individual force areas. It appears that police
forces are treading a fine line between their duty to act on credible evidence
of child sexual abuse (even if this is supplied by paedophile hunters) and their
responsibility to discourage vigilantism and other forms of public disorder.
Courts may also intervene to safeguard due process at trial. Paedophile
hunters are under no legal obligation to have regard to any relevant Police and
Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) Codes of Practice when carrying out
their investigations. This is because, unlike some local or central government
officials, or, in some circumstances, store detectives, paedophile hunters are
not ‘charged with the duty of investigating offences’ under s. 67(9) of PACE,
as they are not under ‘any type of legal duty, whether imposed by statute or by
the common law’, to investigate offences.64 However, any evidence gathered
through the use of questionable or illegal investigatory practices (for example,
by trespassing onto private property) could potentially be excluded at the
discretion of a trial judge.65 Moreover, where paedophile hunters ‘interview’
their targets without adhering to the relevant PACE Codes of Practice that
govern police interviews, this could provide the necessary conditions for the
exclusion of a successfully elicited ‘confession’ by paedophile hunters under
s. 76 of PACE.66
Are these legal protections sufficient to adequately safeguard the rights
of suspects from the activities of paedophile hunters? The frequency with
which these rights are undermined seems to suggest not. This might be
because paedophile hunters are still able to circumvent other important legal
safeguards that exist to regulate police investigations. Unlike the police,
paedophile hunters are under no obligation to seek prior authorization for
their covert online investigations. Moreover, as will be discussed, there is a
greater reluctance for courts to exercise their discretion to stay proceedings as
an abuse of process where an accused is entrapped by a non-state party such
as a paedophile hunter, rather than by the police. These two areas, where there
63 This case also illustrates the dark underbelly of some paedophile-hunting groups.
Two of the members of Silent Justice had criminal histories themselves and had been
investigated in relation to alleged links to organized crime. BBC News, ‘“Paedophile
Hunters” Convicted of Intimidating BBC Reporter’, 7 February 2019, at <https://>.
64 Rv. Bayliss [1994] 98 Cr. App. R. 235, at 238; Rv. Dhorajiwala [2010] EWCA Crim
1237, para. 18.
65 Under s. 78 of PACE, a trial judge has the discretion to exclude evidence if its
admission would have such an adverse effect on the fairness of the proceedings that
the judge ought not to admit it. Rv. Morley [1994] Crim. L.R. 919, at 920; Rv.
Shannon [2001] 1 W.L.R. 51, at 70.
66 Rv. Dhorajiwala, op. cit., n. 65.
© 2020 The Authors. Journal of Law and Society published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Cardiff University (CU).
is seemingly a significant disparity between police and paedophile hunter
regulation, are explored in turn below.
1. Should paedophile hunters be authorized as Covert Human Intelligence
Sources (CHIS)?
As we have seen, paedophile hunters often rely on covert surveillance methods
to gather evidence, setting up fake social networking profiles to engage in
interactions with targets and collect incriminating evidence. If the police
covertly develop online relationships in a similar way, as they often do in their
own investigations, their conduct in all likelihood would engage the target’s
right to respect for private life under Article 8(1) of the European Convention
on Human Rights (EHCR),67 thus requiring the police, under Article 8(2), to
justify their conduct as lawful, and necessary in the pursuit of a legitimate
aim. Accordingly, police officers must seek CHIS authorization, as defined
by s. 26(8) of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA), before
engaging in a covert surveillance operation of this kind. RIPA sets limits on
the powers of the police to authorize the use of CHIS, requiring authorizing
officers to be satisfied that the use of CHIS is both necessary (in pursuit
of a purpose specified in s. 29(3))68 and proportionate. No such constraints
apply to paedophile hunters, who are not, it seems, exercising a public
function on behalf of a public authority.69 This is concerning, particularly
as reports emerge that police officers are providing support and advice to
paedophile hunters,70 effectively encouraging paedophile hunters to engage in
investigatory practices that they themselves would not be able to do without
obtaining, and operating within the parameters of, CHIS authorization.71
The need for authorization is pressing where the police offer guidance and
support to paedophile hunters. Indeed, in MM v. Netherlands, the European
Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) held that where an individual had been
guided and assisted by a public authority to collect evidence in a criminal
67 Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, CETS
005. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has held that Article 8 protects
the right to establish and develop personal relationships, which, of course, is a
cornerstone of social networking and participation in online interactions in chatrooms.
S and Marper v. UK (App nos 30562/04 and 30566/04) [2008] 48 EHRR 1169, para.
66; M. O’Floinn and D. Ormerod, ‘Social Networking Sites, RIPA and Criminal
Investigations’ (2011) Criminal Law Rev. 766, at 780; A. Gillespie, ‘Regulation of
Internet Surveillance’ (2009) 4 European Human Rights Law Rev. 552, at 562.
68 The two most relevant purposes for the topical focus of this article are perhaps ‘for
the purposes of preventing or detecting crime or of preventing disorder’ and ‘in the
interests of public safety’.
69 Human Rights Act 1998, s. 6; Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, Sch. 1.
70 Sandeman, op. cit., n. 4; Young, op. cit., n. 62; Belfast Telegraph, op. cit., n. 62.
71 J. Simpson, ‘Police Praise Us for Job Well Done, Say Vigilante Paedophile Hunters’
Times, 26 April 2017, at < for-
job-well-done- say-vigilante- paedophile-hunters-gsjs7pjnr>.
© 2020 The Authors. Journal of Law and Society published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Cardiff University (CU).
case, the actions of the individual could be imputable to the public authority,
thus engaging the responsibility of the state under Article 8 of the ECHR.72
The balance of ECtHR jurisprudence in this area does seem to suggest that
where police officers offer assistance, equipment, or advice to paedophile
hunters without first authorizing their conduct, this constitutes a violation of
the Article 8 rights of targets.73
There is ambiguity in cases where the police do not explicitly assist or equip
paedophile hunters, but develop more subtle or implicit working relationships.
This is illustrated in Rv. Walters and Ali, where a joint application for a stay of
proceedings was refused. Langstaff J observed that it was not a precondition
of admissibility of evidence that private citizens acting as paedophile hunters
should be expressly subject to CHIS authorization, or behave as if they are
when conducting their investigations.74 In this case, Dark Justice, a self-
described paedophile-hunting group, targeted the defendants. Each defendant
interacted with a false persona, created by Dark Justice and placed on a social
networking site. Each defendant was led to believe that he was interacting
with a girl of 13, and, subsequently, each defendant engaged in conversations
of a sexual nature and made attempts to meet the child. Langstaff J rejected
the defendants’ suggestion that the controls on police investigations in RIPA
were unlawfully sidestepped by Dark Justice and the police, who sought to
rely on their evidence. In short, Langstaff J observed that there is no need
for the police to authorize paedophile hunters where the police do not ‘use or
conduct’ them for the purposes of RIPA, Pt. II, but paedophile hunters are not
exempt from any liability arising from their conduct.75
While this might be true in cases where the police do not in fact ‘use
or conduct’ paedophile hunters to act as CHIS, Langstaff J adopted an
unduly narrow interpretation of the phrase ‘use or conduct’ in this context.
Langstaff J held that the police or the CPS are not ‘using or conducting’ those
who fall within the definition of CHIS merely by accepting the evidence
offered by them, and that they are only ‘using or conducting’ CHIS when
they specifically ask CHIS in advance to provide information, covertly.76
Langstaff J drew support for this construction from an example contained
in the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Code of Practice, issued under s.
71 of RIPA.77 The example details how no authorization would be required
where Y volunteers information to a representative of a public authority about
a work colleague out of a sense of civic duty. However, Langstaff J did not
seem to recognize that this hypothetical provided slender support for his
72 MM v. Netherlands (App no 39339/98) [2004] 39 EHRR 19, para. 39.
73 Av. France (App no 14838/89) [1994] 17 EHRR 462, para. 36.
74 Rv. Walters and Ali, op. cit., n. 36, para. 42.
75 Id., para. 23.
76 Id., para. 39.
77 Home Office, Covert Human Intelligence Sources Code of Practice (2014), para.
2.24. This Code has since been superseded by a revised version: Home Off ice, Covert
Human Intelligence Sources Code of Practice: Revised Code of Practice (2018).
© 2020 The Authors. Journal of Law and Society published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Cardiff University (CU).
conclusions regarding the relationship, or lack thereof, between the police and
Dark Justice. Here, Y is not acting as CHIS at all, as ‘he has not established
or maintained (or been asked to establish or maintain) a relationship with his
colleague for the covert purpose of obtaining and disclosing information’.78
Langstaff J did not acknowledge the contextual differences between Y’s
conduct and the typical paedophile-hunting sting.
The Code of Practice stipulates that public authorities should avoid
inducing individuals to engage in the conduct of CHIS either expressly or
implicitly without obtaining CHIS authorization.79 What might count as an
implicit inducement? This is a fact-sensitive matter of judgement, but the
Code of Practice does suggest that those who, like many paedophile-hunting
groups, covertly gain access to personal information and voluntarily disclose
this information to the police ‘on a repeated basis’ need to be ‘managed
appropriately’, and may need to be subject to CHIS authorization.80 Indeed,
in a revised version of the Code of Practice, the following clarifying sentence
is added to the section on defining and authorizing CHIS:
An authorisation should be considered, for example, where a public authority
is aware that a third party is independently maintaining a relationship (i.e.
‘self-tasking’) in order to obtain evidence of criminal activity, and the public
authority intends to make use of that material for its own investigative
This seems to speak precisely to circumstances in which paedophile hunters
are repeatedly supplying evidence to the police, and suggests that Langstaff
J’s interpretation of ‘using or conducting’ is too narrow.
One objection to a wider interpretation of ‘use or conduct’ might be that, in
acting on evidence provided by paedophile hunters, the police and the CPS are
only performing their legitimate duties to prevent and prosecute criminality.
Indeed, this objection may have merit in some cases – for instance, where a
group provides evidence of criminality, without acting covertly and without
breaking any laws. However, in many of the cases discussed in this analysis,
paedophile hunters are developing covert relationships for the purposes of
gathering evidence and are relying on state law enforcement agencies to
develop and prosecute cases that they initiate.82 In these circumstances, the
state becomes the partner in a joint undercover policing enterprise, where
paedophile hunters circumvent the safeguards in RIPA and the state uses
the fruits of their labour to mount criminal prosecutions. At the point that
state law enforcement agencies become aware of this partnership, they should
seek to formalize the relationship through the CHIS authorization process. To
continue accepting evidence provided by these groups and turn a blind eye to
78 Id. (2014), para. 2.24.
79 Id., para. 2.23.
80 Id.
81 Home Office, op. cit. (2018), n. 78, para. 2.26.
82 Bailey and Skeer, op. cit., n. 2.
© 2020 The Authors. Journal of Law and Society published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Cardiff University (CU).
how that evidence is gathered is to signal tacit approval of these activities and
implicitly induce them.
A useful analogy can be drawn between RIPA, Pt. II and how the courts
have interpreted the scope of omissions liability when delineating the limits
of the substantive criminal offence of aiding or abetting an offender under s.
8 of the Accessories and Abettors Act 1861, as amended by the Criminal Law
Act 1977. In this context, it is sufficient for an individual to be held liable
for aiding or abetting if he or she has ‘full knowledge of the facts which
constitute the offence’ and there is ‘some form of voluntary assistance in
the commission of the offence’.83 Here, passive tolerance of criminality in
circumstances where D has a power (but not necessarily a legal duty) to take
reasonable steps to intervene in itself constitutes voluntary assistance and thus
meets the actus reus requirement of aiding and abetting.84 In this context,
the law already recognizes that an individual or body can provide implicit
assistance or inducement to another by passively tolerating their conduct in
circumstances where they have knowledge of it and have a power to take
reasonable steps to intervene.
Any interpretation of the police’s obligations under RIPA that would permit
them to circumvent their responsibilities under Article 8 to engage in covert
surveillance operations only where such surveillance is lawful, proportionate,
and necessary, by tacitly inducing or assisting paedophile hunters to act as
an unregulated proxy, is wholly unsatisfactory. It is not in keeping with the
Code of Practice, or the intentions of Parliament in enacting RIPA, Pt. II,
which sought to provide robust regulation of covert criminal investigation
Moving forward then, the term ‘use or conduct’ should be given broad
interpretation. ECtHR jurisprudence suggests that Article 8 can be violated
not only where the police ask groups to operate undercover on their behalf,
but also where they equip, assist, or induce groups to do so. ‘Use or conduct’
may not be amenable to exhaustive definition, but where the police know
of paedophile hunters acting covertly and supplying evidence on an ongoing
basis, they must carefully consider formalizing the relationship so that the
rights of targets are safeguarded by the protections in RIPA.
2. Paedophile hunting as entrapment
The fair trial rights of those targeted by paedophile hunters may also be
undermined, as suspects are afforded inadequate protection from entrapment
in cases where they are enticed to commit offences by non-state agents. In
Rv. Looseley, the leading domestic case on entrapment, the House of Lords
83 Tuck v. Robson [1970] 1 W.L.R. 741, p. 744.
84 Id; A. P. Simester et al., Simester and Sullivan’s Criminal Law (2016, 6th ed.) 227.
85 ‘Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill’ debate, 381 H.C. Debs., col. 774 (6 March
© 2020 The Authors. Journal of Law and Society published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Cardiff University (CU).
held that the principal remedy for entrapment is a stay of proceedings for
abuse of process.86 The House of Lords set out numerous factors that the
courts should consider in separating acceptable and unacceptable forms of
police conduct, including (among other things) ‘whether the police did no
more than present the defendant with an unexceptional opportunity to commit
a crime’,87 whether there is reasonable suspicion of criminal activity,88 the
necessity and proportionality of the operation, and the degree of oversight
and supervision of the police operation.89 The focus for ordering a stay of
proceedings, then, is on remedying an abuse of police power. This seems to
suggest that entrapment in English and Welsh law is understood as a police-
directed activity. Commentators have also expressed doubts as to whether
a stay of proceedings should be available in so-called non-state or private
entrapment cases, where non-state actors have enticed an individual into
committing a crime.90 These commentators tend to focus on differences in
the role and conduct of state and private entrappers.91
On this basis, one might view the laws regulating entrapment as
inapplicable to paedophile hunters, who are characteristically non-state
actors.92 However, such a conclusion would be premature. In Rv. Looseley, the
House of Lords did not focus on private entrapment.93 Moreover, the domestic
courts have not completely closed the door on the prospect of ordering a stay
of proceedings in a private entrapment case. In Council for the Regulation of
Health Care Professionals v. General Medical Council and Saluja, Goldring J
concluded that private entrapment could lead to a stay of proceedings, but only
in exceptional circumstances, where the conduct of the non-state agent is so
egregious that reliance upon it in the court’s proceedings would compromise
the court’s integrity.94 This door was also left open by the ECtHR in Shannon
v. United Kingdom, where the ECtHR explicitly stated that private entrapment
might render proceedings unfair for the purposes of Article 6 of the ECHR.95
In Rv. TL, the Court of Appeal considered for the first time whether a
stay of proceedings for abuse of process should have been available to a
86 Rv. Looseley [2001] 1 W.L.R. 2060, at 2067.
87 Id., p. 2069.
88 Id., p. 2077.
89 Id., p. 2069.
90 A. Ashworth, ‘Re-Drawing the Boundaries of Entrapment’ (2002) Criminal Law
Rev. 161, at 174; D. Ormerod, ‘Recent Developments in Entrapment’ (2006) Covert
Policing Rev. 65; K. Hofmeyr, ‘The Problem of Private Entrapment’ (2006) Criminal
Law Rev. 319.
91 Hofmeyr, id., p. 332; Ho, op. cit., n. 55, p. 91.
92 Indeed, in Rv. Looseley, the House of Lords took a state-centric view when defining
entrapment as the commission of an offence by a defendant brought about by an agent
of the state. Rv. Looseley, op. cit., n. 87, p. 2066.
93 Hofmeyr, op. cit., n. 91, p. 324.
94 Council for the Regulation of Health Care Professionals v. General Medical Council
and Saluja [2007] 1 W.L.R. 3094 (henceforth, Saluja), at 3110.
95 Shannon v. United Kingdom (App no 67537/01) [2004], para. 12.
© 2020 The Authors. Journal of Law and Society published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Cardiff University (CU).
defendant on the basis that he had been entrapped by paedophile hunters.96
The respondent, L, allegedly made arrangements via WhatsApp to meet
a girl whom he believed to be 14 years old, so she could take part in a
threesome with him and his girlfriend. The person with whom L was actually
communicating was U, an adult male, who ran a paedophile-hunting group
called Predator Hunters. After U set up a sting and contacted the police,
L was prosecuted.97 At trial, L successfully applied to stay the proceedings
as an abuse of process relying on the entrapment principles set out in R
v. Looseley. The Court of Appeal subsequently allowed the prosecution’s
appeal of this decision, determining that, as U did no more than provide an
unexceptional opportunity to offend, the requirements of entrapment were
not satisfied. Lord Burnett CJ held that the trial judge erred in making no
distinction between the conduct of U, a private citizen, and agents of the
state when deciding whether to stay the prosecution as an abuse of process.98
Lord Burnett CJ acknowledged that misconduct by a private citizen might be
sufficient grounds for a successful application for a stay of proceedings, but,
in the absence of state impropriety, he observed that ‘the situations in which
that might occur would be rare’.99 Applying this general rule to the immediate
facts, he concluded that, given that U had committed no offences, did not take
the lead in interactions with L, and was scrupulous to avoid encouraging his
interlocutor in the proposed sexual activity, U’s conduct was far removed from
the sort that might attract a stay of proceedings.100
The judgement left some uncertainty over exactly where the line is to be
drawn between acceptable misconduct by paedophile hunters and misconduct
so gross that a stay of proceedings would be in order. What we might assume is
that in cases where paedophile hunters have manufactured or interfered with
the evidence to create a false impression that the defendant was engaged in
criminal activity, a stay of proceedings might be available (although the senior
courts have yet to confirm that even these circumstances are exceptional
enough in their egregiousness to warrant a stay). Conversely, at a minimum, if
paedophile hunters remain within the parameters of acceptable police-directed
undercover operations, as Lord Burnett CJ suggested U did in Rv. TL, then
it is plain that a stay of proceedings would not be available to the defendant.
Lord Burnett CJ’s interpretation of the rule in Saluja was sound, but it leaves
uncertain terrain between these poles. Given the growth of paedophile hunting
and the variation in the methods used by paedophile hunters, this lack of
clarity is regrettable.
It is also difficult to discern a principled basis for the distinction that
English law draws between private and state entrapment, at least in the
96 Rv.TL[2018] 1 W.L.R. 6037.
97 Id., p. 6039.
98 Id., para. 31.
99 Id., para. 32.
100 Id., para. 33.
© 2020 The Authors. Journal of Law and Society published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Cardiff University (CU).
context of paedophile hunting. Defenders of the distinction tend to focus on
the moral authority of the state to prosecute offenders, in cases where the
state’s agents have had a hand in cultivating or encouraging the offending.101
In cases of private entrapment, so the argument runs, the state has played
no part in the dubious methods of evidence collection adopted by the
private party and, consequently, it does not lose its moral authority to
use this evidence.102 However, as we have seen, the paedophile hunter’s
modus operandi often involves committing criminal offences, and some
of these groups are developing close ties with the police.103 Even if this
was a principled basis for treating private and state entrapment differently,
courts should still be alert to cases where the police contradict their oft-
stated condemnatory position on paedophile hunting by collaborating with
or assisting these groups.
Stark rejects the state/private distinction altogether, suggesting that the
main concern for domestic courts when considering a stay of proceedings
on grounds of entrapment should be whether the alleged activity involved
the manufacture of criminal behaviour.104 On this view, the problem is not
that the state has ‘dirtied its hands’ by engaging in illegitimate investigatory
techniques. Rather, it is that the state has endorsed entrapment as a legitimate
investigatory technique upon which a criminal conviction can be founded.105
Thus, where an individual goes to exceptional lengths to tempt another to
commit crime, owing to the nature of the activity, the court’s moral authority
to condemn the accused is compromised regardless of whether the individual
is a private citizen or a representative of the state. There have been reported
cases where paedophile hunters have engaged in such virtue-testing activities,
and courts at first instance have consequently stayed proceedings.106 Recently,
in Procurator Fiscal, Dundee v.P, a Scottish court also held that the
activities of two paedophile hunters in luring an individual to engage in illicit
sexual communications were inadmissible.107 However, this was overturned
on appeal in a decision that focused narrowly on the lower court’s competency
to consider the admissibility of the evidence before the trial had commenced,
and thus did not grapple with the entrapment-related issues.108 While the
willingness of courts at first instance to recognize the problems of excessive
101 D. J. Birch and C. Barsby, ‘Abuse of Process: Supply of Cocaine to Journalists Posing
as Drug Users’ (2001) Criminal Law Rev. 220, at 221; Hofmeyr, op. cit., n. 91.
102 A. Dyer, ‘The Problem of Media Entrapment’ (2015) Criminal Law Rev. 311, at
327; P. Roberts, ‘Normative Evolution in Evidentiary Exclusion: Coercion, Deception
and the Right to a Fair Trial’ in Criminal Evidence and Human Rights: Reimagining
Common Law Procedural Traditions, eds. P. Roberts and J. Hunter (2013) 189.
103 Simpson, op. cit., n. 72.
104 Stark, op. cit., n. 56, p. 8.
105 A. Duff et al., The Trial on Trial, Volume Three: Towards a Normative Theory of the
Criminal Trial (2007) 236.
106 Bennett, op. cit., n. 41.
107 Procurator Fiscal, Dundee v.P[2019] G.W.D. 16-247, para. 5.
108 Procurator Fiscal, Dundee v.P[2019] S.A.C. Crim. 7.
© 2020 The Authors. Journal of Law and Society published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Cardiff University (CU).
tempting and manipulation is encouraging, the senior courts of the United
Kingdom have yet to delineate how much more investigatory leeway should
be afforded to paedophile hunters than to the police when they actively tempt
their targets to engage in criminal activity, or to explicate a rationale for
affording this leeway at all.
The advantage of Stark’s approach is that it gives defendants increased
protection from this illegitimate investigatory practice at times when people
are more likely to be subject to it – namely, when they are targeted by
unregulated, untrained, or unvetted amateur sleuths. It also seems to better
capture why entrapment is objectionable, and why a stay of proceedings
is the primary remedy. Citizens should reasonably expect to be able to
go about their business without being subject to random virtue testing or
coaxed into criminal conduct. The criminal justice system exists to remediate
and deter criminal wrongdoing, and these functions are not served when
criminal conduct is manufactured. To the extent that courts ‘play their part’
by affording paedophile hunters investigatory leeway to engage in precisely
this manufacturing of criminality, they undermine their own integrity. Where
paedophile hunters create exceptional opportunities to offend, going beyond
the established boundaries of legitimate proactive policing by state agents, the
proceedings should be stayed.
Confrontations uploaded to social media, and sometimes live streamed, are
perhaps the most striking feature of paedophile hunting. As discussed above,
there is an obvious risk to the fair trial rights of targets where footage of a
confrontation is uploaded before the conclusion of criminal proceedings. This
footage is often circulated widely and left open for comment by members
of the public, before a court has had the opportunity to make an order
restricting publication to safeguard the target’s right to a hearing in front of
an impartial jury.109 The dangers to the presumption of innocence110 have
also been exhibited above.111
This section considers how, even if a targeted individual is ultimately
found guilty, the practice of uploading filmed confrontations may have an
unjustifiably corrosive effect. Before discussing the consequences of and
justifications for this activity, it is worth reflecting on English and Welsh law’s
approach to this practice, which offers very little protection to targets. First,
paedophile hunters are not a ‘public authority’ and are not exercising a ‘public
109 See, for example, Rv.F, op. cit., n. 49.
110 The presumption of innocence is taken as a fundamental principle of political morality
that the treatment of an individual should be consistent with his or her innocence,
and not as a narrow doctrinal safeguard, grounded in a trial setting. A. Stumer, The
Presumption of Innocence: Evidential and Human Rights Perspectives (2010) 38.
111 Newton, op. cit., n. 50.
© 2020 The Authors. Journal of Law and Society published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Cardiff University (CU).
function’ under s. 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998,112 so a target could not
bring an Article 8 ECHR claim against the group directly. This leaves a cause
of action for misuse of private information. Article 8 of the ECHR, as enforced
via the Human Rights Act 1998, obliges courts to develop the common law
so as to give effect to that right by extending (if required) the tort of misuse
of private information.113 Here, again, the claim would in all likelihood fail.
Any such action would likely fall at the first stage of the Article 8 analysis. In
Kinloch v. HM Advocate, the Supreme Court held that the appellant’s Article
8(1) rights could not be engaged when he partook in criminal activities in
places where he was open to public view.114 Moreover, in In re JR38, the
Supreme Court declined the opportunity to draw a distinction with Kinloch
v. HM Advocate in circumstances where the applicant committed crimes in
public when aged 14, and footage of his involvement in criminal activity was
circulated to the local media in his community.115
Although human rights law does not (currently) protect individuals who
have footage of their confrontation with paedophile hunters circulated
online, the general principles of human rights law and, particularly, the
proportionality analysis that is implicit in Article 8 ECHR case law116 provide
a useful framework for structuring a normative evaluation of the practice.
This requires a consideration of the nature and seriousness of any conflicting
interests; an assessment of whether the measure pursues a legitimate aim; and
an analysis of whether the measure can be expected to achieve this aim, and
is proportionate.117
Thus, we should first examine some of the detrimental consequences that
can arise, and indeed have arisen, from the practice of disseminating footage
of confrontations. These consequences can be devastating for the individual,
who is likely to be stigmatized in his or her own community and will inevitably
become the target of malicious comments by followers of the group’s social
media pages. In some cases, those subject to such treatment have taken
their own lives, and, in the case of a 43-year-old man confronted by the
Southampton Trap group in 2017, an inquest concluded that social media
activity following the circulation of video footage of his sting online was a
causal factor that led to his suicide.118
Drawing on interview data collected in the United States from those who
have had their custody images circulated online by private companies on so-
112 YL v. Birmingham City Council [2008] A.C. 95, para. 103.
113 Campbell v. Mirror Group Newspapers Ltd. [2004] 2 A.C. 457, para. 16.
114 Kinloch v. HM Advocate [2013] 2 A.C. 93, p. 107.
115 In re JR38 [2016] A.C. 1131.
116 M. Kumm, ‘Constitutional Rights as Principles: On the Structure and Domain of
Constitutional Justice’ (2004) 2 International J. of Constitutional Law 574, at 579.
117 M. Klatt and M. Meister, The Constitutional Structure of Proportionality (2012) 8.
118 R. Hartley-Parkinson, ‘Man Killed Himself after Paedophile Hunters Exposed Him
for Grooming Girl’ Metro, 27 February 2018, at <
man-killed-paedophile-hunters- exposed-grooming-girl- 7344952/>.
© 2020 The Authors. Journal of Law and Society published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Cardiff University (CU).
called ‘mugshot databases’, Lageson and Maruna suggest that the circulation
of this information can disrupt traditional criminal justice processes:
Whereas police and prosecutors (representing the state) and journalists
(representing the public interest) have historically been key gatekeepers of
punishment practices, the internet has profoundly changed this model by
offering users easy access to criminal justice information and platforms to
actively engage in the stigmatization process by republishing, commenting, and
critiquing criminal records.119
The authors’ participants reported that the publication of their image and
criminal record online was stigmatizing and humiliating. Moreover, the
authors noted how this disruption to traditional criminal justice processes
could have a criminogenic effect.120 That is to say, the existence of
these permanent and ever-multiplying online records of an individual’s
confrontation with paedophile hunters might disrupt his or her efforts to
rebuild family ties and regain employment after serving his or her sentence,
and this disruption can, in turn, reduce the likelihood that the individual will
desist from criminal offending.
The idea that the degradation and stigmatization of an individual by society
can diminish his or her bonds to the community and push him or her
towards crime is well established in criminological literature, and has received
significant empirical support.121 Moreover, there is the potential that this
extrajudicial stigmatization online will unduly exacerbate collateral damage in
the lives of the targeted individual’s family members. Empirical research from
Levenson suggests that family members living with a registered sex offender
are likely to experience differential treatment and stigmatization as knowledge
of their family member’s criminal past filters out into the community.122 An
internal guidance document setting out the joint position of the National
Police Chiefs’ Council and the National Police Child Protection and Abuse
Investigation working group acknowledges these risks and suggests that
paedophile hunters often ‘have little or no consideration for any safeguarding
intervention required for vulnerable adults or children who may have contact
with the suspect’.123 The practice of uploading footage of confrontations will,
in all likelihood, accelerate and exacerbate any detrimental impact occasioned
by a paedophile-hunting sting, both for the target and also for his or her
immediate family.
119 S. E. Lageson and S. Maruna, ‘Digital Degradation: Stigma Management in the
Internet Age’ (2018) 20 Punishment & Society 113, at 115.
120 Id., pp. 125–126.
121 K. T. Erikson, Wayward Puritans: A Study in the Sociology of Deviance (1966); J.
Braithwaite, Crime, Shame and Reintegration (1989); D. P. Farrington and J. Murray
(eds.), Labelling Theory: Empirical Tests (2014).
122 J. S. Levenson, ‘Collateral Damage: Family Members of Registered Sex Offenders’
(2009) 34 Am. J. of Criminal Justice 54, at 65.
123 Bailey and Skeer, op. cit., n. 2.
© 2020 The Authors. Journal of Law and Society published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Cardiff University (CU).
From the above analysis, it is prudent to conclude that, even in less
damaging cases where, say, family impact is quite remote and footage
is disseminated post-conviction, this activity is likely to carry serious
implications for the individual’s private life. Any interests served through
dissemination should be justified in the face of serious countervailing
consequences. This raises the following questions: what is the aim of
disseminating footage, and could the activities of paedophile hunters in
pursuing this aim ever be considered proportionate?
Some groups have defended uploading videos of their confrontations on
the grounds that the public have a ‘right to know’ about child sex offenders
in their community.124 However, it is questionable whether the public has any
such putative right. First, it is not clear what this right entails. This is not a
claim right, such that any resident could sue the Government for failures of
notification that a person living in his or her community has been subject
to a paedophile-hunting sting. Such groups appear to be describing a bare
liberty, such that people are – currently – free to disseminate and receive such
information (provided that they do not defame the target or commit any other
civil wrong).
This is yet another area where paedophile hunters are able utilize social
media to engage in policing activities (here, quickly disseminating their work
to a mass public audience) but are not constrained by the rules that limit state
law enforcement agencies (police guidance limits the police identification
of suspects and arrestees to exceptional circumstances,125 and the House of
Lords is currently legislating to narrow the circumstances in which arrestees’
personal information can be publicized126). If the aim is simply to inform the
public of offenders in their community, then uploading video footage of stings
– where targets are often subject to (frequently abusive) interrogations in
states of acute emotional distress – seems to go much further than necessary.
A second aim of dissemination, some paedophile-hunting groups claim,
is to deter others from engaging in online child sexual abuse. On this view,
any negative consequences may be justified when taken in the round as the
publication of stings will reduce crime by sending out a clear message that
those who engage in this offending run the risk not only of criminal sanction,
but also of humiliation and stigmatization at the hands of paedophile hunters.
124 ITV, ‘Paedophile Hunter Group Defend Their Work after Eight Men Take Their
Lives after Being Named and Shamed Online’, 9 January 2019, at <https:
// their-
work-after-eight-men-take- their-lives-after-being-named-and- shamed-online/>.
125 College of Policing Guidance on this matter stipulates that ‘police will not name those
arrested, or suspected of a crime, save in exceptional circumstances where there is a
legitimate policing purpose to do so … A legitimate policing purpose may include
circumstances such as a threat to life, the prevention or detection of crime, or where
police have made a public warning about a wanted individual.’ College of Policing,
Authorised Professional Practice: Media Relations (2016), para. 4.2.
126 ‘Anonymity (Arrested Persons) Bill [HL]’ debate, 796 H.L. Debs., col. 418 (1 March
© 2020 The Authors. Journal of Law and Society published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Cardiff University (CU).
Thus, it is argued, the publication of videos may have a general deterrent effect
on would-be child sex offenders, and consequently safeguard children from
degrading or even violent sexual abuse.
It is perfectly legitimate for concerned citizens to safeguard the rights
of children within the parameters of the law and, as we have seen, the
dissemination of footage of confrontations is (typically) perfectly legal. It
seems understandable, then, that some groups have attracted popular support
for their efforts to deter future offending by stigmatizing targets. However,
none of this makes the practice of disseminating footage of stings desirable or
proportionate. First, the notion that disseminating footage of confrontations
will reduce crime is asserted without empirical evidence of this deterrent
effect. Although this idea – that more severe stigmatization administered
through this quasi-punishment will have a deterrent effect – might be
intuitively appealing to some, deterrence research suggests that increasing the
severity of punishments in this way is unlikely to have any significant effect
on crime rates.127 There is some evidence to suggest that a perceived high
risk of detection on the part of the potential offender may have a deterrent
effect for certain categories of offenders in favourable conditions,128 and,
in publicizing their stings so widely, paedophile hunters could conceivably
increase the general perception among potential offenders that they are at a
high risk of getting caught. However, it is not clear that child sex offenders
– who often lack empathy, act impulsively, and display anti-social personality
traits – make good candidates for this form of deterrence.129 Any measure of
stigmatization designed to deter offending behaviour should be underpinned
by reliable evidence of likely responsiveness on the part of the targeted
offender or potential offender. The circulation of footage of confrontations,
in all their grim detail, by paedophile hunters cannot be said to satisfy this
Even if this form of shaming could successfully reduce offending, there
is good reason for resisting its tacit acceptance as a legitimate citizen-led
response to child sexual abuse. Paedophile hunters, as private citizens acting
on their own intuitions, lack the constitutional standing to administer this
127 A. N. Doob and C. M. Webster, ‘Sentence Severity and Crime: Accepting the Null
Hypothesis’ (2003) 30 Crime and Justice 143; J. M. Darley, ‘On the Unlikely Prospect
of Reducing Crime Rates by Increasing the Severity of Prison Sentences’ (2005) 13
J. of Law and Policy 189.
128 A. von Hirsh et al., Criminal Deterrence and Sentence Severity: An Analysis of Recent
Research (1999) ch. 10.
129 R. K. Hanson and K. E. Morton-Bourgon, ‘The Characteristics of Persistent Sexual
Offenders: A Meta-Analysis of Recidivism Studies’ (2005) 73 J. of Consulting
and Clinical Psychology 1154; D. Fisher et al., ‘Comparison of Sex Offenders
to Nonoffenders on Selected Psychological Measures’ (1999) 43 International J.
of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology 473; T. N. Gingrich and J.
B. Campbell, ‘Personality Characteristics of Sexual Offenders’ (1995) 2 Sexual
Addiction & Compulsivity 54; S. Smallbone et al., Preventing Child Sexual Abuse:
Evidence, Policy and Practice (2008) 102.
© 2020 The Authors. Journal of Law and Society published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Cardiff University (CU).
measure as a form of quasi-punishment. It is the state’s responsibility to
punish criminal offending, and this responsibility should not be systematically
usurped by paedophile hunters in the way that it is when they take deliberate
punitive measures to stigmatize their targets. This conclusion rests on
social contract reasoning: it is the responsibility of the state to administer
punishments for those who have committed crimes, and not of individual
citizens (unless the state itself has chosen to delegate this function).130 This is
the prevailing model of criminal justice in liberal democratic societies, and its
practical justification lies in preventing the breakdown of social order that
would result if people were left to ‘take the law into their own hands’ in
responding to criminal offences.131
Where paedophile hunters administer their own quasi-punishments, there
is no transparency regarding the principles or values guiding their decisions.
The various paedophile-hunting groups to emerge, each with its own largely
ad hoc practices, are bound to produce inconsistent and unjust outcomes that
are contrary to the rule of law. These detrimental consequences have been
documented above. The dissemination by paedophile hunters of video footage
of confrontations with targeted individuals seems gratuitously stigmatizing,
and thus it does not strike a fair or proportionate balance between the interests
and rights of those targeted and the ostensible aim pursued by paedophile
hunters – namely, safeguarding children from sexual abuse. This stigmatizing
treatment of the target occurs in the absence of a principled basis or the sort
of coherent, evidence-based crime prevention rationale that might justify the
pains of a formal criminal sanction.
Any balanced analysis of paedophile hunting must recognize that these
groups are diverse. Some groups have collected evidence that has led to the
successful prosecution of repeat child sex offenders, and sometimes those
same groups have engaged in troubling practices. Other groups have engaged
in serious violence, and do not produce evidence that could be used in
a criminal prosecution. The main finding from the above analysis is that
English and Welsh law, both in books and action, seems to afford more
investigatory discretion to paedophile hunters than to state law enforcement
agencies. Paedophile-hunting groups can circumvent procedural safeguards
and regulations that exist to moderate state power and protect the human rights
130 See Ashworth, writing on the potentially deleterious impacts of increased victim
involvement in sentencing: A. Ashworth, ‘Is Restorative Justice the Way Forward
for Criminal Justice?’ (2001) 54 Current Legal Problems 347, at 367; M. Thorburn,
‘Proportionate Sentencing and the Rule of Law’ in Principles and Values in Criminal
Law and Criminal Justice: Essays in Honour of Andrew Ashworth, eds. L. Zedner and
J. V. Roberts (2012) 282.
131 Ashworth, id., p. 357.
© 2020 The Authors. Journal of Law and Society published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Cardiff University (CU).
of those subject to a criminal process. In praising these groups and offering
opportunities for collaboration, some police forces are tacitly encouraging
paedophile hunters to think that they can and should operate without having
regard to the limits that the legislature has imposed on police investigations.
In giving unduly narrow interpretation to procedural safeguards, such as the
CHIS authorization process and entrapment, the domestic courts have only
served to fuel this misconception.
Consequently, targets of paedophile-hunting investigations are not afforded
the same level of protection as those targeted in police-led covert
investigations. Empirical claims that the success of these groups justifies
affording this discretion are specious. They tend to overlook the various
risks of paedophile hunting and rely on unproven generalizations about the
deterrent effect of disseminating video footage of confrontations. Even if
empirical claims that paedophile hunting significantly reduces crime could
be substantiated, it is unprincipled to afford greater discretion to citizens to
conduct intrusive covert surveillance operations than to state law enforcement
agencies, which are not unproblematic by any means, but at least have the
mandate to act in the public interest to prevent crimes. It should not be
permissible for procedural safeguards and human rights laws to be bypassed
by groups of citizens who decide for themselves to engage in intrusive
surveillance, public censure, and shaming exercises. The idea undermines
the ethos of these provisions, which exist to ensure the fair trial rights of
suspects and to protect against arbitrary abuses of power. Yet English and
Welsh law, as it is currently constituted and applied, tolerates these protections
and safeguards being circumvented in this way.
There is good reason, then, for robustly regulating the activities of
paedophile hunters. One approach might involve creating a criminal offence
for impersonating a child in an online communication. Such an offence would
prohibit people from luring individuals to engage in illicit conversations
online and, thus, would effectively prohibit a key element of most paedophile-
hunting stings. This would clear up any ambiguity on behalf of the police and
the CPS over whether engaging in paedophile-hunting activities involves the
commission of a criminal offence, and would communicate a clear message
to law enforcement agencies that unregulated covert operations are not to be
tolerated. However, the downside of this approach is that the blunt instrument
of an all-encompassing criminal offence could prevent the police from using
strong evidence gathered by groups that are more cognizant of the rules of
engagement, and mindful of due process concerns.
To harness the benef its that more conscientious groups could provide, while
minimizing the risks where this activity is left without specific regulation, the
new criminal offence could incorporate a defence for those who are working
as part of a formal collaboration with the police. This could bring paedophile-
hunting activities into alignment with the regulations and policies to which
state law enforcement agencies adhere in their criminal investigations. While,
at this stage, calls from senior police figures for collaboration between the
© 2020 The Authors. Journal of Law and Society published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Cardiff University (CU).
police and paedophile hunters seem premature at best, and self-serving at
worst, there might be some scope for police–paedophile hunter collaboration
in future. The creation of an offence, with a defence for those working with
law enforcement agencies, leaves the door open to positive collaborations as a
possibility, while enabling and encouraging state institutions to take a firmer
approach in suppressing harmful paedophile-hunting activities.
However, there are at least two significant obstacles that would need to
be overcome before such collaboration could be considered viable. First,
any such collaboration would need to be resourced. It is difficult to see
how collaboration would work without considerable investment of police
resources to recruit, vet, train, equip, and supervise citizens involved in
collaborative operations. If restrictions on police resources really do explain
why paedophile hunting has emerged as a response to online child sexual
abuse, then it is not clear that formal collaboration offers the solution. Second,
as the above analysis indicates, it is also not clear that any paedophile-hunting
groups share the precise aims or values of state law enforcement agencies,
such that they would make suitable candidates for formal collaboration.
Whether or not such an offence and defence are ever enacted, it is crucial
that the courts and the prosecutorial arm of the state do more to deter and
denounce paedophile hunting. Where paedophile hunters commit criminal
offences in the pursuit of their targets (such as encouraging the commission
of the s. 15 offence), both hunter and target should be prosecuted so that
the conduct of both is meaningfully deterred. The CPS should issue clearer
guidance on the breadth of offences that these groups can – and often do –
commit, and the courts should not allow paedophile hunters to operate outside
the constraints of police-led covert investigations. The institutions of the state
have been too placatory towards paedophile hunters, and this approach is
being exposed for its shortcomings with each passing report of a paedophile-
hunting investigation gone wrong. A new approach is needed to safeguard not
only those subject to paedophile-hunting stings and their families, but also the
core institutional values of the criminal justice system.
© 2020 The Authors. Journal of Law and Society published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Cardiff University (CU).
... For example, numerous cases have ended in a suspect (and even victims of mistaken identity) dying by suicide (Campbell 2016;Favarel-Garrigues 2020;Gordon 2019) or being violently attacked (Farrell 2018;Favarel-Garrigues 2020;Miller 2018;Trottier 2017). The activities of pedophile hunters also potentially threaten the administration of justice and the application of due process (Purshouse 2020). The limited existing research also notes that pedophile hunter groups frequently hinder, rather than help, police in their efforts to apprehend alleged child sex offenders (Farrell 2018;Huey, Nhan, and Broll 2012;Purshouse 2020), and in some cases even become the subjects of police charges themselves (Favarel-Garrigues 2020; Purshouse 2020). ...
... The activities of pedophile hunters also potentially threaten the administration of justice and the application of due process (Purshouse 2020). The limited existing research also notes that pedophile hunter groups frequently hinder, rather than help, police in their efforts to apprehend alleged child sex offenders (Farrell 2018;Huey, Nhan, and Broll 2012;Purshouse 2020), and in some cases even become the subjects of police charges themselves (Favarel-Garrigues 2020; Purshouse 2020). While some evidence suggests that pedophile hunting groups have assisted police to obtain convictions against child sex offenders, it is not known how many police investigations have been hampered by the involvement of these groups, nor whether their activities have led to the unnecessary expenditure of police resources (Purshouse 20202020). ...
... While some evidence suggests that pedophile hunting groups have assisted police to obtain convictions against child sex offenders, it is not known how many police investigations have been hampered by the involvement of these groups, nor whether their activities have led to the unnecessary expenditure of police resources (Purshouse 20202020). Some policing agencies appear to support pedophile hunter groups (Huey, Nhan, and Broll 2012;Smallridge, Wagner, and Crowl 2016), seeing their activities as assisting their work, while others condemn pedophile hunting, due to its potential to compromise a case with improperly obtained evidence (Campbell 2016;Farrell 2018;Hadjimatheou 2019;Huey et al. 2013;Purshouse 2020). In Farrell's (2018: 86) words, the police response to pedophile hunting has been "confused and contradictory" (see further Favarel-Garrigues 2020; Hadjimatheou 2019). ...
Pedophile hunting – abetted by digital technologies – has spread rapidly, resulting in detrimental outcomes, including suicides of hunters’ targets. The scant research on these groups adopts a functionalist argument that they have emerged to fill a security deficit – to undertake work that police are incapable of due to resource and skill deficits in policing the cybersphere. This paper adopts a critical approach to argue that the expressive nature of such activities must be incorporated into explanations for their rapid spread across the globe. Specifically, pedophile hunting can be understood as embodying the performance of masculinities in the digital realm.
... On the other hand, the policing tactics of these groups can have numerous negative implications. The hunters may impede police investigations, violate fundamental human rights, and harm persons suspected of offences and their families (Purshouse, 2020). A few groups have participated in blackmail, provided misleading evidence in court, and have physically harmed suspects (Wiltshire, 2019). ...
Full-text available
The state has encouraged civilians to take control of their own security through partnership and self-governance. Resultantly, civilians involved in the provision of security are attempting to obtain legitimacy for their civilian policing efforts. To investigate the acquisition of legitimacy for civilian policing, this article analyses comments (n = 1036) from an e-petition launched by a pedophile hunting group seeking legality for their enforcement operations. Because the e-petition eventually became dominated by QAnon conspiracy followers, the article also examines the QAnon movement in relation to civilian policing. The findings provide insight into justifications for the legality of civilian policing that are supplied by the general public in their efforts to support such groups, the process of de-legitimatization of the policing capabilities of the state, and the risks of what I call legitimacy tethering , linking civilian policing initiatives to radical groups such as QAnon.
... o pozyskanie dowodów w wyniku aktywnej prowokacji policyjnej, w sytuacjach gdy doszło do ingerencji w tak podstawowe prawa jednostki, iż powoduje to nie tylko pogwałcenie specyficznej gwarancji, w którą nastąpiła nieakceptowana ingerencja, ale także do naruszenia gwarancji rzetelności rozpoznania sprawy 43 . Problematyka wyznaczenia granicy między legalnymi czynnościami państwowych służb, opartymi na prowokacji (sting operation), a nielegalną pułapką (en trapment), w wyniku której sprawca najczęściej podlega uniewinnieniu, stanowi 41 R. Sosik,Problematyka…,Problematyka…, także przedmiot szerokiej dyskusji w doktrynach amerykańskiego, brytyjskiego oraz kanadyjskiego prawa karnego 44 . ...
Full-text available
Założeniem artykułu jest przedstawienie w sposób możliwie przystępny złożonej problematyki prowokacji z udziałem prowokatora obywatelskiego, tzw. „łowcy pedofili”. Zjawisko działalności tego typu prowokatorów jest coraz bardziej powszechne na całym świecie, stanowiąc często przedmiot ożywionej dyskusji zarówno w mediach jak i w doktrynie prawa karnego. Pomimo znaczących różnic w praktyce orzeczniczej działalność ta nie doczekała się jednak szerszego omówienia w polskim piśmiennictwie. Autor koncentrując się wokół dwóch głównych zagadnień – odpowiedzialności karnej potencjalnego pedofila ujętego w wyniku takiej prowokacji oraz odpowiedzialności karnej prowokatora, w świetle art. 24 k.k. – podaje w wątpliwość zasadność przypisywania odpowiedzialności karnej osobom sprowokowanym, a także wskazuje na możliwość przypisania takiej odpowiedzialności dorosłym prowokatorom.
... It is the public shaming through live streamed stings that is of particular concern to police, not just because it violates suspects' right to a presumption of innocence (Purshouse, 2020), but because exposure risks them, their property and family being harmed. Given hunters' stated objective of keeping children safe, it is unclear to police how their persistence with live streaming achieves this. ...
Full-text available
Across several countries, ever-growing societal alarm about the threat of online child sexual exploitation has provoked a controversial civic response: volunteer pedophile hunting teams that expose predators in live streamed confrontations. Their practices have generated strong criticisms from a police force unsure how to engage them because they lack an empathic understanding of hunters’ lived experience. Through a three-year phenomenological ethnography of a UK hunting team, we advance efforts across organization research to theorize the role of lived experience in social action. Specifically, we deploy the phenomenological concept “way-of-being” to explain their use of extreme practices. Our interpretive account shows how the multiple ways-of-being that characterize the team’s lifeworld suffuse their practices with a complex layered affectivity that is constitutive of the commitment necessary for their persistence. This offers a phenomenological alternative to social psychological models of motivations for vigilantism while also advancing emotions research in organizational institutionalism and practice theory. Practically, our study contributes to the policing challenge of mitigating hunting's harmful effects by facilitating more constructive mutual engagement. This offers a possible pathway for addressing the broader challenge posed by epistemically closed, social media-enabled communities that act out their concerns in ways that disregard our common humanity.
There are an increasing number of cyber-vigilante groups in the United Kingdom who use the Internet as a tool for regulation and retributive justice. The policing of child sexual predators by citizen groups outside of law enforcement, commonly termed ‘paedophile hunters’, has evoked a range of responses among media commentators and the general public. This article explores public perceptions of vigilante justice in the United Kingdom via an online survey to assess the extent to which they are considered retributive. It focusses on the moral justice imposed by such groups and interrogates the relationship between retribution and doxing (the ‘naming and shaming’ tactics which are commonly actioned by paedophile hunting groups). The findings highlight three dominant responses to cyber-vigilantism: (1) public support for cyber-vigilantism; (2) doxing as a human rights issue; and (3) a lack of faith in the criminal justice system. This article is consequently concerned with the merits and drawbacks of retributive justice when led at a community level and critically examines perceptions of this form of citizen-policing.
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De vraag die centraal staat in deze thesis is: “Waarom zien mensen die ‘pedojagen’ zichzelf als een goede burger?”. Het opsporen, vernederen en beschadigen van (vermeende) pedofielen en pedoseksuelen zijn namelijk – net als pedoseksuele handelingen – gedragingen die strafbaar gesteld zijn bij wet. Waarom neutraliseren en idealiseren pedojagers hun strafbare handelingen terwijl ze tegelijkertijd pedofilie en pedoseksualiteit verafschuwen? En wat maakt hun acties tot moreel juiste handelingen? In deze thesis wordt beargumenteerd dat pedojagers zichzelf identificeren als goede burger omdat ze pedofilie – een fenomeen dat inherent gelinkt wordt aan ‘monsterachtigheid’ – proberen uit te bannen middels een ‘nobele’ jacht. Eerst wordt kort weergegeven wat pedojagers zijn en hoe het verschil tussen de begrippen ‘pedofilie’ en ‘pedoseksualiteit’ in de volksmond systematisch verkeerd wordt begrepen. Vervolgens wordt geanalyseerd waarom er een diepgewortelde maatschappelijke weerzin jegens pedofilie bestaat en hoe deze voortkomt uit motieven ter bescherming van het kwetsbare kind en uit onzekerheid over de eigen seksualiteit. Tot slot wordt geanalyseerd hoe deze weerzin daadwerkelijk kan leiden tot (soms gewelddadige) burgeracties waarin pedojagers zich moreel verheffen boven de (inhumane) jagende pedofiel.
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The concept of stigma and labeling has been central to the sociology of punishment since at least the writings of Durkheim and Mead. However, the vast transformations brought on by the expansion of the internet over the past 20 years suggest the need for revisiting the dynamics of labeling. While the power to apply extralegal criminal labels is now in the hands of many, stigma in the form of a digital footprint is arguably more difficult than ever to escape. This paper draws on two small studies to better understand these new dynamics of labeling: a discourse analysis of the motivations of online labelers and interviews with individuals struggling to cope with online labels. This evidence describes how the internet has become a fertile space for the expression of public anxieties about social problems and a digital prison that can discourage the labeled from engaging with the processes of reintegration.
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This article considers the dominant structure and patterns of policing as related to Internet-based sex offences. It is argued that the policing of Internet sex offences occupies an anomalous position, as compared to other forms of online offending. One the one hand, the policing of Internet sex offences partakes of a wider trend towards the dispersed and pluralised governance of crime, a trend that is in many ways typified by responses to Internet crime. One the other hand, Internet sex offences are policed in ways at odds with responses to other forms of online offending – most especially in the extent of time, attention and resources directed to such offences by state-centred agencies. The state-centric response to such offences can be understood by appreciating their position within a ‘hierarchy of standing’ amongst and between Internet crimes. ‘Hierarchies of standing’ define offences differently according to their perceived seriousness and urgency, drawing upon collective judgements about the vulnerability of victims, the dangerousness of offenders, levels of risk and extent of harm caused. Public, political, media and expert assessments of sex offences serve to place them at the apex of the ‘hierarchy of standing’, and as such drive expectations that they will be subject to urgent and concerted action by state agencies, rather than being delegated to the responsibility of non-state actors.
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A group of 140 child molesters (59 participating in community-based sex offender treatment programs and 81 incarcerated child molesters) were compared on a range of psychological measures to a group of 81 nonoffenders. Child molesters were found to be significantly lower in self-esteem, higher on emotional loneliness and personal distress, and to show deficits in victim empathy. Further differences were found between high- and low-deviancy offenders in terms of assertiveness, perspective taking, cognitive distortions regarding children, and emotional congruence with children. General empathy did not appear to be directly related to empathy for one’s own victim and the presence of cognitive distortions was only significant in high-deviancy child molesters. Some victim-blaming attitudes and distorted thinking regarding children and sex were found in the nonoffender group.
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The purpose of this study was to better understand the impact of sex offender registration and notification laws on the family members of registered sex offenders (RSO). An online survey was utilized to collect data from 584 family members across the U.S. Employment problems experienced by the RSO, and subsequent financial hardships, emerged as the most pressing issue identified by family members. The likelihood of housing disruption was correlated with residential restriction laws; larger buffer distances led to increased frequencies of housing crisis. Family members living with an RSO were more likely to experience threats and harassment by neighbors. Children of RSOs reportedly experienced adverse consequences including stigmatization and differential treatment by teachers and classmates. More than half had experienced ridicule, teasing, depression, anxiety, fear, or anger. Unintended consequences can impact family members’ ability to support RSOs in their efforts to avoid recidivism and successfully reintegrate. Implications for criminal justice policy and practice are discussed.
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A meta-analysis of 82 recidivism studies (1,620 findings from 29,450 sexual offenders) identified deviant sexual preferences and antisocial orientation as the major predictors of sexual recidivism for both adult and adolescent sexual offenders. Antisocial orientation was the major predictor of violent recidivism and general (any) recidivism. The review also identified some dynamic risk factors that have the potential of being useful treatment targets (e.g., sexual preoccupations, general self-regulation problems). Many of the variables commonly addressed in sex offender treatment programs (e.g., psychological distress, denial of sex crime, victim empathy, stated motivation for treatment) had little or no relationship with sexual or violent recidivism.
This article examines the English law on entrapment in the context of its application to cases of what I will term, "private entrapment", that is, cases where the accused claims to have been entrapped 1 into committing the offence with which he is charged by a private party, such as a journalist, whose actions were in no way authorised, supervised or endorsed (at least at the time of their commission) by the police or prosecuting authority. Despite the detailed analysis which the English courts have given to the issue of state-directed entrapment, 2 there is a noticeable absence of principled engagement with the issue of private entrapment. This deficiency is exacerbated by contradictory treatment of the issue by the Court of Appeal.
Following the decision of the House of Lords in the Looseley case there is a whole range of questions to be answered about the limits of proactive policing and the boundaries of entrapment. This article explores some of those issues, and suggests that more detailed guidance now needs to be drafted, after wide discussion of principles and practice.
The literature on the effects of sentence severity on crime levels has been reviewed numerous times in the past twenty-five years. Most reviews conclude that there is little or no consistent evidence that harsher sanctions reduce crime rates in Western populations. Nevertheless, most reviewers have been reluctant to conclude that variation in the severity of sentence does not have differential deterrent impacts. A reasonable assessment of the research to date-with a particular focus on studies conducted in the past decade-is that sentence severity has no effect on the level of crime in society. It is time to accept the null hypothesis.
This paper was prepared as an issues paper for the Crown Law Office, identifying points of difficulty in the New Zealand Law of Contempt of Court. It raises questions as to whether the current law, which is a mixture of common law and statute should be reformed, and possibly codified. Although primarily concerned with criminal contempts, and contempt by publication in particular (including publication via the new media) it also examines the law of civil contempt, which is committed primarily by failing or refusing to comply with a court order.
Public policy responses to child sexual abuse are dominated by interventions designed to take effect only after offenders have already begun offending, and after children have already been sexually abused. Comparatively little attention has been given to alternative prevention strategies - particularly to those aimed at preventing sexual abuse before it might otherwise occur. Considerable knowledge has been accumulated on the characteristics, modus operandi and persistence of offenders, the characteristics, circumstances and outcomes for victims, and the physical and social settings in which sexual abuse occurs, but little work has been done to systematically apply this knowledge to prevention.