POLICE have discouraged ‘paedophile hunters’ from taking vigilante action, after a report revealed such groups are putting a strain on police resources.

A GMP officer flagged the groups as a ‘key challenge’ facing the force in a Salford council report earlier this year, saying GMP has seen an ‘increase in demand regarding vigilante groups’.

The police often have to provide additional safeguarding measures for suspects and their families when the groups use live-streamed confrontations, a superintendent has said.

GMP set up ‘Op Drachma’ in January 2018 to collect intelligence on organised child abuse activist groups and their activity.

They said they wanted to understand whether the groups may pose a threat in terms of vigilantism. 

Paedophile hunter groups often pose as children on the internet in an attempt to catch predators through sting operations.

But a superintendent has told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that the groups can create more work for the police, who have to instigate additional safety measures for suspects and their families when vigilantes live-stream confrontations over social media sites – especially when the suspect is vulnerable.

The Salford council report, which went before a health and wellbeing board in February, did not say how many groups are operating in the city-region. 

But it did say that the GMP had seen an ‘increase in demand regarding vigilante groups’, which it said ‘puts pressure on resources’.

A Freedom of Information sent by the LDRS revealed that the force received 146 reports of vigilante groups in 2017 and 2018, 129 of which were understood to relate to Greater Manchester.

Manchester city centre and north Manchester was highlighted as the hotspot with 18 reports, followed by Rochdale with 17 and Salford with 15.

Superintendent Gwyn Dodd told the LDRS: “GMP follows the advice of the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) in relation to vigilante activity, which recommends that police forces do not ‘work with’ or ‘endorse’ the activity of anti-paedophile groups. The NPCC has issued guidance on dealing with incidents involving organised child abuse activist groups (OCAGs), which have been adopted into GMP policy.

“Such groups are not governed by any legislation or evidential requirements, such as those the police adhere to when investigating online child sexual abuse and exploitation. The legislation and guidelines are in place to protect all parties involved and to prevent the inappropriate targeting of vulnerable individuals.

“Any reports to the police regarding online grooming of children are dealt with robustly whether through OCAGs or other members of the public or reports from social media sites themselves.  I would encourage the public to report such concerns of any online profile to Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command through the official channels.

“Live streaming of confrontations, particularly where the suspect has learning disabilities or is otherwise vulnerable, lead to the police having to instigate additional safeguarding measures for the suspect and/or their family.

“GMP policy states that any online footage which contravenes Facebook or other social media guidelines is reported to the internet company with a view to having the video removed, if the OCAG refuses to remove it voluntarily.” 

The LDRS contacted two north west-based paedophile hunter groups for a comment but received no response.