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Ohannes

The Paedophile-Hunting Vigilantes Who Came to Nottingham

23 November 16 words: Bridie Squires

In 2016, 29-year-old Nottingham man Ricky Slade was confronted by a paedophile-hunting action group at Nottingham Train Station. He was later charged with three attempts to incite a child to engage in sexual activity and one attempt to meet a child for sexual activity, and died while in custody awaiting his sentence. The group who confronted him goes by the name  The Hunted One. We spoke to one of their members about what they do.

 

How many are involved in your group and how did you all meet?
We're all mates, we've known each other for years. There's about six of us who go out on the scenes, and a couple of people who are doing the chats. Everyone knows each other.

I’ve seen TV programs like To Catch a Predator, and a documentary on Stinson Hunter, but I didn't realise there were many more of these kinds of groups...
We know of three groups. There's a local one called Internet Interceptors; the man who started our group was with them, but only for a few weeks. He didn't like the way they operated, thought he could do it better on his own and has proven he can.

Why did he want to start the group in the first place?
Me and the guy who started it have both got people close to us who were abused as children. He rang me up about it when he was starting out and I was game for it straight away. It's gotta be done properly, and that's what we're about mostly.

Have the police advised you against what you do?
They did in the beginning. All the police we come across - obviously they say it off record because they're not allowed to say it on record - but the police we're working with closely, especially down our own way, are happy for us to continue because of the way we're doing it.

When you say the way that you're doing it...
100% conviction rate. We're not wasting police time. With the way we do things, and with the evidence we give them, they don't have to do much. We put everything in files, in number order of the chat logs, photos. Anything that's been sent, it's all given to them. We go to the police station while they're doing the sting, and a couple of us are outside making DVDs so they're not waiting around for it. The police are quite happy because we go in there with everything prepared.

When you talk about evidence, do you ask the men to bring along something, say a condom, so that it shows intent?
No, we don't entice anything. There's nothing in our chats, and nothing to encourage them to do anything. Everything that's done or suggested is from the people we are chatting to – nothing is suggested from our behalf at all. As soon as you do that it's entrapment, and straight away we wouldn't have a case. It's pointless, because it's wasting our time and wasting the police's time. If there's any ever mention of condoms, it's all coming from the people we're speaking to.

We'd never go out catching paedophiles if we didn't know for sure we've got the right person. We also do a lot of stuff in the background, before we go out, to find out as much about them as we can. A lot of information about their life – what they've done, what they do, if they've ever been done before. One had his name changed so there was no information out there about him, but I don't think people realise just how much information you can get off the internet. It's not like they give the information that we want. We do check things out. And if it doesn't check out, we carry on.

It seems like it's a hard line to tread when it comes to entrapment...
Yeah, it is. As soon as we mention anything of a sexual nature, they will class it as entrapment. We've been doing it for a year and we've learnt the law now. As you do more chats, you do get better. If you see the amount of chats we're doing per week, it's unbelievable. Nobody believes us when we say how rife this is we can have forty or fifty chats going a week per person who does the chats. We have two main people who do them, and then we have others who do it in between stuff. I've just started doing the chats myself, I'm learning how to do it so we can try to catch some more.

Have you all got day jobs too?
I'm at work as we speak. I'm a painter and decorator by trade, one's got a little business that he runs, my cousin's a gas engineer, my other mate's a labourer. The other two work together in air conditioning. We all work.

Where do you find the time? You're travelling all over the country...
Scotland, Wales, down south near Cornwall and that. We go all over, we're away a lot, and we're all self-funded. The main six of us who go out all chip in together, help each other out. We've all got families and kids, so it's hard, and our partners find it hard. I think the way they get through it is that they're all mates, they all help each other out when we're not about. I know it sounds a bit of a cliché, but we're all like a family, we all support each other. 

Some say paedophilia should be treated as a mental illness...
I can't see it being a mental illness. It's not a mental illness. It's a sexual preference towards children, it isn't what people would class as normal - it's a different way of thinking. I think it's disgusting, I don't know how you could fancy a child.

Have there been any instances where people have been violent towards you?
Oh yeah. You're gonna get it now and then. We’ve only had it two or three times, and I think we’ve done 37 or 38 stings. Three or four of us have all done security at some point or another in our lives, so we’re not stupid. We know how much force we can and can’t use. It’s not just going out and catching a paedophile we have to educate ourselves about the law, which changes fairly regularly, and stay within it.

How are you all dealing with this psychologically?
It’s very hard, we do it with the support of each other. Again, it sounds really cliché, but we do. I go home and I speak to my wife. The chat part of it is very hard. You have to switch yourself off. They think they are talking to a child, so you have to look at it like we’re saving them from talking to each other. We do have a laugh and a joke about a couple of things, because we have to make light of what is really a horrible situation, you know? Sometimes you have to make digs to stop yourself from going insane, it is mentally draining.

Do you ever feel sorry for them?
You do. When you’ve been in a chat and you’ve been talking to them for so long, you do get wrapped into the conversation a little bit. Obviously we have to be careful what we’re saying, but you do feel like you get to know them. One chat went on for seven months. It’s a very long time.

There was one a little while back, and when we approached him, he broke down crying. But I think when you come away and have a look back over the chat, you realise that you can't really feel sorry for him because I haven't forced him to say anything. There are times when you do feel a bit guilty, but you have to take a step back and look at what he has been saying to what is potentially a ten-year old or a nine-year old, and go, "Nah, why should I feel sorry for him?" That is the way we have to deal with it.

It's very emotionally charged. What kind of complaints do you get from people?
You know what the world's like. There's always someone out there ready to slag you off. We've had people call us thickos [laughs] because you say things, and when it's live on video to the world, you can't take it back. The other day, I said something stupid like 'You think you're clever, but we're cleverer!' It don't even make sense! But sometimes you get tongue tied, you know. We're going to try and improve on the videos, try to talk to them more.

What would you say to someone who accused you of encouraging a witch-hunt mentality?
We're all human beings, and we've all got different opinions, it's just I've got better things to be doing with my time than arguing with people about whether we're doing this wrong or doing that wrong. We believe we're doing the right thing, and the 100% conviction rate speaks for itself, so we obviously aren't that bad at what we're doing.

We do take some things into consideration, like we are trying to calm the swearing down because it ain't nice for people to hear. But, like you say, it's so emotionally charged, and they say things that can really push your buttons. We've all got our own families and sometimes we do get emotional, you can't help that.

100% conviction rate. But they don't necessarily get sent down for years and years...
The thing that we hear from the judges is that it was their intention to meet a real child. And I will say this – does it take a child to get raped for them to take it seriously? Because it is us on the other end of the computer, but they don't realise that. As far as they know, it's a child. I wouldn't go and rob a house if I knew there was going to be someone there waiting for me. Same as them they're not going to go out and meet up because they think it might be this paedophile hunting group.

What's the end goal? Is this a long-term thing?
Our ultimate goal is that we want the law changed. We think children should be protected a lot better than they are in this country they don't have voices, they don't get heard. 1 in 40 children are being groomed and abused online, that's a statistic from 2014, from the NSPCC website. They know there's a problem there, and I don't know why they're not sorting it out.

Was there anything else you wanted to say?
The biggest message is to please be aware of what your kids are doing online, because it's so easy to cover it up. And these paedophiles are very clever about hiding what they're doing and how they're doing it. They can gain the child's trust and brainwash them into thinking that everything's okay and what they're doing's okay. The biggest message we can give is that we'll be about, and we'll stay about, we'll keep doing it. But please, watch what your children are doing online. That's the biggest message we're trying to promote.

The Hunted One website

 

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