Paedo hunters charged as police: 'advise against getting involved'
TWO self-styled "paedo hunters" have been arrested and charged with public order offences after confronting a suspected child groomer in a busy shopping centre.
Lee John Harvey, 20, and Joe Simpkin, 20, were each charged with one count of affray.
Both have been released on bail and were ordered to appear before Medway Magistrates' Court on May 10.
A spokesperson for Kent Police said a 29-year-old man from East London was arrested at Bluewater Shopping Centre on suspicion of grooming last Sunday.
It comes after police warned self-styled "paedophile hunters" who snare pervs in undercover sting operations could interfere in their work and potentially entrap innocent people.
Kent Police said it has "significant concerns about people taking the law into their own hands" and the methods used by vigilante groups.
It comes days after a brawl erupted at Bluewater Shopping Centre near Dartford on Easter Sunday when a group called The Hunted One confronted a man suspected of grooming a teenage girl.
Live broadcasts of vigilantes confronting suspected groomers have been streamed on The Hunted One Facebook page. The group has since said it will no longer go live on stings.
Other groups such as Dark Justice have helped jail paedophiles after handing evidence to cops and only making videos public after conviction.
The vigilante group recently won a landmark court case that means they can continue to pose as teenage girls online.
But the Kent force raised concerns about such undercover operations and said anyone with evidence of online grooming or knows a suspect is planning to meet a potential victim should contact police.
Chief Superintendent Thomas Richards, head of Kent Police's public protection unit, said evidence-gathering was a specialist job and it takes time and skill to bring an offender to justice.
He said: "We do have significant concerns about people taking the law into their own hands and the methods they use, and in some cases acting outside of the law.
"We would strongly advise against getting involved in, or setting up activities to entrap those suspected of intending to commit offences.
"Although seemingly well-meaning, this can significantly hinder our work, compromise on-going investigations and negate months of investigative work.
"There is also the risk that it can potentially identify people who are completely innocent and mistakenly associate them with grooming offences."
Mr Richards said targeting dangerous offenders and keeping children safe was a "top priority" for police, but the general public may also cause vulnerable people with mental health issues serious risk of harm.
In a statement on its Facebook page, The Hunted One said: "After careful consideration and team discussions, we have decided that in moving forward that we will no longer be going live for the stings as we don't want cases and evidence ruined after all our hard work in collecting the information for a successful conviction.
"The safety of our team as well as the general public is paramount."
In January the Hunted One - a secret group made up of concerned parents - released footage of cops arresting pervert Neil Prior who planned to meet a 14-year-old boy for sex at a McDonald's drive-thru.
Last year Mark McKenna, 38, was jailed for five years after he was duped by The Hunted One into believing he was meeting an 11-year-old girl for sex at Bluewater while his fiancee was away at a hen do.
Another group, The Guardians of the North, helped jail a shameless perv who tried to meet a 15-year-old girl and her 14-year-old friend for sex.
Meanwhile Dark Justice claims to have snared 40 perverts in a series of amateur stings.
Last week smirking peado Callum Jennings, 22, who was spared jail last year after he arranged to meet what he thought was a 13-year-old girl, was finally put behind bars for plotting to meet a real child.