A judge has warned members of online ‘vigilante’ groups who seek to expose sexual predators ‘to leave it to the professionals,’ as he handed a suspended sentence to South Yorkshire man caught attempting to incite sexual activity with decoy children.
The Recorder of Sheffield, Judge Jeremy Richardson QC, sentenced Luke Kelly, 22, to nine months in prison, suspended for two years, for two charges of attempted sexual communication with a child.
Kelly was caught as part of a sting by an online group which refers to itself as 24/7 Paedophile Hunters, prosecutor, Gordon Stables, told Sheffield Crown Court.
As he passed sentence, Judge Richardson said he had a message for those involved with such organisations, which he described as ‘vigilante groups’.
He said: “Chief constables around the country, courts around the country, including this court, make it clear that investigations and prosecutions for this form of criminality must be left to the professionals.
“Police officers and crown prosecutors understand the line between inciting a crime; encouraging a crime and that which is lawful.”
The court heard how Kelly, a father to a young a child, was caught attempting to incite girls he believed to be aged 12 and 13 to send sexual pictures and messages in August and September of last year.
Mr Stables told the court that both profiles had been set up on a social media app called ‘Nearby’ by adult women involved with 24/7 Paedophile Hunters.
He said Kelly initiated contact with both ‘girls’, who told him they were 12 and 13 respectively.
The court heard how Kelly purported to be much younger than he was, telling the 12-year-old he was 16, and the 13-year-old he was 14.
During conversations with the decoy girls, Kelly suggested meeting up to both girls, but later told police he ‘wouldn’t have gone through with it’, said Mr Stables.
The court heard how following the conversations with Kelly, members of the 24/7 Paedophile Hunters group attempted to confront Kelly at an old address of his they had found through the electoral register.
Mr Stables said the group subsequently handed the information to the police and provided initial statements, but failed to cooperate later on in the investigation.
Kelly, who has no previous convictions, pleaded guilty to the offences at an earlier hearing.
Defending, Andrew Smith, said: “The offending is serious, and does cross the custody threshold, but there is the opportunity for this man’s problems to be addressed, with the assistance of the probation service. He says he’s not interested in children, and we have to take that with a pinch of salt, but he did plead guilty.”
“He’s got a lot to lose [if he failed to cooperate with the terms of a suspended sentence order]. He’s got a young family, he’s got the support of his partner – who he’s no longer with, the support of his mother, and a job,” added Mr Smith.
As part of Kelly’s suspended sentence requirements, Judge Richardson ordered Kelly to complete 30 days’ rehabilitation activity requirement, a sex offenders’ treatment programme, told him he must come back to court for quarterly reviews of his progress and placed him on the sex offenders’ register for a period of 10 years.
Judge Richardson told Kelly: “Your conduct was filthy, you should be ashamed of yourself, and I think that you are.
“This unhappy aspect of your personality must be eradicated, and that’s why I want to keep a close eye on you.”