24 Hours in Police Custody is full of compelling stories about crime and punishment – but the latest episode To Catch A Paedophile is particularly worth a watch.
Forty-one-year-old Lee walks into Luton police station and says, “I’ve come to hand myself in. I’ve done something really bad.” It turns out he’s been talking online to someone he believed was a 12-year-old girl named Sophie, and had arranged to meet her.
It transpires that Sophie is actually an adult couple who pose online as underage girls in a bid to catch paedophiles, before calling the police or demanding they hand themselves in.
While Lee responding to being questioned is fascinating enough, it’s the ‘paedophile hunters’ (as they call themselves) who are really intriguing.
The couple call themselves Team Fear, and go by the names of Chris and Christina (Children Have Rights In Society). After meeting Lee in the street, they then post a video of their confrontation on their Facebook page.
In some ways it’s brave, impressive, and many people in their community they’re seen as protectors of vulnerable children. Understandably, they have a lot of support.
But on the flip side, there’s something deeply uncomfortable about watching Team Fear challenge these men in the street and post the video on Facebook for the world to see.
Lee’s wife sees the video of her husband being branded a paedophile on the high street before she’s even been told what he’s in custody for. And the mob mentality of people posting about the “scumbags” makes an already very sinister situation seem that bit more disturbing.
Most importantly of all, the vigilantes pose a real threat to the case against Lee. The hunters refuse to take their video offline until Lee is charged, but if the Crown Prosecution Service feels that there’s been entrapment and Lee hasn’t fully committed the offence himself, all the evidence could be undermined.
And if the CPS doesn’t charge Lee, then what do they do with him? They can’t keep him in custody, in which case he’ll be free to keep talking, or worse, to underage girls.