Police have expressed concerns about online paedophile hunters after prosecutions relying on evidence from vigilante groups soared to four a week.
Senior police officers have criticised groups who pretend to be children online in a bid to snare child sex abusers.
They have even suggested they can go beyond the law and could be guilty of crimes such as blackmail, extortion and varying forms of violence.
Freedom of Information data has revealed the numbers of people convicted of child grooming offences have increased five-fold between 2013 and 2018 from just 68 to 359.
Figures also show that more than half of those prosecutions relied on evidence gathered by online paedophile hunters.
Senior police officers have criticised groups who pretend to be children online in a bid to snare child sex abusers. File image used
According to the BBC, of the 403 people prosecuted for attempting to meet up with a child following sexual grooming in 2013 – 250 cases used hunters’ evidence.
Assistant Chief Constable Dan Vazjzovic, of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said that often so-called paedophile hunters act solely in their own interest.
Children’s charities have also expressed concern they are not mindful of children’s safeguarding when they carry out their stings – often streamed live on social networking sites such as Facebook.
Assistant Chief Constable Vazjzovic told the BBC: ‘When these groups say they are acting in the interests of children, largely they are acting in their own interest, with their self-aggrandissement and their desire to exercise force against so-called perpetrators of child abuse.
‘They don’t put measures to safeguard children, they don’t put in measures to identify other offenders who may be connected to the people they are targeting.
‘They are more interested in putting a video online of them carrying a sting.’
According to the BBC , of the 403 people prosecuted for attempting to meet up with a child following sexual grooming in 2013 – 250 cases used hunters’ evidence. File image used
An NSPCC spokesman added: ‘Despite their best intentions, tehir actions might put more children at risk of harm by driving offenders underground, endangering ongoing police work and the legal process, or result in innocent people being targeted.’
This week two brothers from Scotland were in court after being found guilty of trying to meet underage girls for sex with the help of a paedophile hunter group.
William, 36, and Christopher, 31, Kennedy, of East Kilbride, Scotland, believed they were talking to 14-year-old girls on adult dating sites.
They chatted online before bombarding them with explicit messages and obscene photos.
But the men, of East Kilbride, Scotland, had separately been speaking to members of vigilante groups who then streamed stings on the pair live on Facebook before calling police.
The brothers were arrested within days of each other after police visited the home they shared with their shocked mother.
Both appeared at Hamilton Sheriff Court and admitted sending messages of a sexual nature in an attempt to communicate indecently with a child and sending a sexual image.
William admitted offences from July last year including making arrangements to meet an underage girl for sex. He is due to be sentenced next month.
Christopher had earlier admitted offences between June and July last year and was handed a two year supervision order.