The rise in ‘paedophile hunter’ activity certainly divides opinion and can lead to some challenging ethical and judicial decisions.
This vigilante behaviour is something that as a police force we cannot condone, yet neither can we ignore. To be against them, we would be seen to be supporting paedophiles.
Although we rely on the support of the public in detecting all types of crime, vigilantism can put the ‘hunters’ at risk and even has the potential to jeopardise ongoing police investigations, particularly with their social media publicity.
I honestly do believe they do it for all the right reasons, because let’s face it, it’s not paying their mortgage.
But however well-intentioned their actions, there is also the risk of wrongly identifying a suspect or targeting their families, which can have wide-reaching and perhaps devastating consequences.
In my experience with the Fears, they have never been aggressive and have always remained polite. In fact, they are a pleasure to deal with. But it is not something I would recommend they or anybody else should do.
They don’t know what they could be going into.
In my case, the group had engaged in conversation with Christopher Aylward while pretending to be a 14-year-old school girl.
The chat developed into one of a sexual nature, and they arranged to meet Aylward in Luton with the intention of having sex.
The suspect arrived in Luton with his van, which contained two blankets and condoms. The evidence of his intent was there in plain sight.
To me, it defies logic that this man would genuinely believe a 14-year-old girl would want to meet and have sex with him. He is an adult and there could have been a genuine child victim at the heart of this case – for me that’s what makes him a danger to society.
He arrived at the pre-planned meeting location in the town centre, where he was challenged by the Fears and the police called.
While this remains a complicated grey area for law enforcement, we approached the CPS for charging advice and they agreed that there was enough evidence to charge this man with arranging and facilitating child sex offences.
Aylward made no admissions while in interview but owned up to his guilt at the very first court hearing.
The rise of social media over my time as a police officer is worrying to say the least. Paedophiles no longer need to access their victims through befriending them or their families – they can do it anonymously and from their own homes.
It’s becoming easier and easier for people who want to harm children to reach them.
I think there needs to be more education in the family home about the dangers of social media.
There is also an onus on the sites themselves, as well as government and us law enforcers, to better police the use of these networks so that children can’t fall into the grips of groomers.
As a father of twin boys, this does worry me. Having open and honest conversations with your children about their internet use, and understanding the risks yourself, is perhaps one of the most important lessons to be learned in the face of this type of crime.
Christopher Aylward, 53, of Preston Lane, Tadworth, pleaded guilty to the offence after the sting and was sentenced to 15 months in prison at Luton Crown Court on March 7, and must sign the sex offenders register for 10 years.
Sergeant Tom Hamm has been with Bedfordshire Police for 13 years and has spent his entire career with the force in Luton. The job featured in To Catch a Paedophile – the second episode of the new series of 24 Hours in Police Custody aired on Channel 4 at 9pm on Wednesday 27 April.