Published Thursday, 19 September 2013
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Journalist Lucy Cavendish told This Morning that vigilantes should not be allowed to operate in a modern, lawful society and that they only run the risk of driving real offenders underground.
"They're creating a sense of terror in everybody - that everywhere we live, everywhere we go, there are paedophiles surrounding us," she said.
"It's up to parents to actually monitor what their children are doing, and the police working in those areas very effectively. It's not up to individuals to become sort of a superhero complex."
It's illegal. It's Old Testament. You can't go out lynching people. What if you get it wrong?
Lucy Cavendish, journalist
But former detective and child protection expert Mark Williams-Thomas suggested that 'vigilante' was not the appropriate term and that people should be encouraged to be public-spirited.
"I'm all for people out there collecting information about known offenders or suspects and passing it to police," he said.
"I think vigilante gives the impression that you're going to go and do something forcible against someone - you're going to have some physical impact.
"What these people are doing is engaging with individuals, pretending to be a young child and then arranging to meet them."
According to Mark, the main issue police have is that members of the public who take it upon themselves to take such action lack training and expertise.
"Potentially, they're not collecting the evidence which would be sufficient to put to a court," he said.
Lucy argues that no one has ever been convicted as a result of action taken by vigilantes and that it is extremely dangerous to point fingers.
There is also a danger that members of the public undertaking their own 'honey-trap sting operations' could unwittingly jeopardise an uncover operation already in place by police.
"They do need to understand where the limits are," Mark admitted.
"What they shouldn't be doing is meeting these people. I have seen a couple of these videos and I have to say that the conversations taking place are evidentially very poor."
These are people who are trying to safeguard children.
Mark Williams-Thomas, child protection expert
On the issues of vigilantes going too far, he added: "If they - as they say they are - are doing this for the protection of children, then it's absolutely wrong to go after anyone who criticises them."
Mark also warned that posting so-called evidence or allegations online could compromise any chance of a conviction, or actually lead to putting children at risk.
The Association of Chief Police Officers said in a statement that it did not encourage vigilantism.
"One of our worst fears is that groups such as these are infiltrated by the very people that they're trying to identify," a spokesman said.
"As they have no formal vetting or security processes, they simply can't guard against it."
Anyone who suspects cases of online grooming should call their local police. If you think a child is at immediate risk, you must call 999.
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