EVIDENCE collected by vigilante ‘paedophile hunters’ was used to charge at least 150 suspects last year, it has been reported.
Figures obtained by the BBC under Freedom of Information laws suggest there has been a seven-fold increase in the use of such evidence since 2015.
Two-thirds of the 43 police forces in England and Wales provided data in the probe, which also showed that in 2017 almost half of the cases of the offence of meeting a child following sexual grooming used evidence from the groups.
The data only confirmed the vigilante evidence formed part of the decision to charge a suspect and did not suggest it was the sole reason for criminal action.
The suggested rise in cases that rely on the evidence comes despite police chiefs warning of ‘significant risks’ which arise from paedophile hunters’ tactics.
These can include posing as children online to lure in suspects and set up real-world encounters in order to expose them.
Some police fear that the groups’ operations could interfere with genuine surveillance, while the ‘evidence’ they gather may not be of a high enough standard to use for prosecution.
In February, an inquest heard a man from Wickham killed himself after he was caught in a sting operation by online paedophile hunters the Southampton Trap group.
It came after the 43-year-old, David Baker, was confronted by the collective after he allegedly arranged to meet a 14-year-old child in a supermarket car park in Portswood, Southampton.
In January a former police chief told the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse that masquerading as a child online should become a criminal offence to help snare predators while deterring vigilante paedophile hunters.
Jim Gamble said the methods used by sting groups should instead be taught to a ‘citizen’s army’ of volunteers under police guidance.