A top Kent Police officer is warning about groups taking the law into their own hands after a number of incidents in the county.
Vigilante groups of 'paedophile hunters' have recently tracked down suspected
sex offenders and confronted them in Kent.
In a recent incident at a large shopping centre in the county, a group reportedly streamed live footage of members confronting an alleged sex offender.
This has prompted Chief Superintendent Thomas Richards, Head of Kent Police’s Public Protection Unit to issue the following statement explaining the force's 'significant concerns' about people taking the law into their own hands.
"Targeting dangerous offenders and keeping children safe is a top priority for Kent Police and we understand people’s concerns regarding the internet activity of potential paedophiles.
"We have created specialist Paedophile Online Investigation and Child Sexual Exploitation teams who work to identify online criminality on a daily basis, sometimes using covert as well as overt techniques, and often in close partnership with other safeguarding organisations. Evidence-gathering is a very specialist job and can take considerable time and skill to ensure it is of sufficient quality to bring a high risk offender to justice.
"I would therefore urge anyone who believes they have information or evidence of online grooming, or knows that a suspect is planning to meet a potential victim, to contact Kent Police at the earliest opportunity so that police officers can deal with these meetings and capture the best possible evidence.
"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, and 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.
"I would add that whilst police have resources and expertise to protect the vulnerable and people with mental health issues, members of the public generally do not, and can cause such individuals to be placed at serious risk of harm.
"The positive news is that awareness among children and young people about the dangers of meeting strangers has grown considerably and incidents where children meet adults in these circumstances are extremely rare.
"We continue to invest in programmes to educate children regarding the risks posed online including presentations to primary and secondary age school pupils.
"There is also plenty of information on staying safe online available at www.ceop.gov.uk/  www.thinkuknow.co.uk  and www.getsafeonline.org.uk  "
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