A leading police officer has admitted that detectives may have to work with so-called paedophile hunters after a rise in the use of vigilante evidence in court.
Chief constable Simon Bailey, the national lead for child protection at the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said the groups are putting the lives of children at risk.
“They might not perceive it that way, but they are potentially compromising our operations,” he told the BBC.
However, he added: “I’m not going to condone these groups and I would encourage them all to stop, but I recognise that I am not winning that conversation.”
According Freedom of Information requests, last year 114 out of 259 court cases for the crime of meeting a child following sexual grooming (44 per cent) used evidence obtained by paedophile hunters.
In 2014, that number stood at just 20 out of 176 cases (11 per cent).
Police have consistently warned that the groups, which pose online as children in an attempt to lure paedophiles, could harm investigations.
However, Bailey said that working with them was now “something we’re going to have to potentially have to look at” but noted it “comes with some real complexity.”
Previously, Bailey warned that the stings could give suspects “the opportunity to destroy evidence before the police can investigate them”.
Earlier this year, after violence broke out in Bluewater shopping centre in Kent during a sting set up by a group known as The Hunted One, police issued a warning, arresting two paedophile hunters shortly after.
However, in April, a judge ruled that the vigilantes were on the correct side of the law, after lawyers acting for two men caught by a group called the Dark Justice accused the hunters of “diminishing the integrity of the court process”.
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But Mr Justice Langstaff ruled that there was no legal requirement for their vigilante activities be subject to controls.
Paedophile hunter Stephen Dure — known as Stevie Trap — told the BBC’s Inside Out that he welcomed Bailey’s comments.
“I’ve had policemen come up to me to shake my hand… to thank me. Whereas high-up police are trying to stop us,” he said.
“I think it’s great and just the idea they’re thinking about it excites me.
“I really look forward to it and hope it happens in the future, I would be very willing to work with the police.”
Dure said that the police had asked him not to livestream the stings, which he said he has agreed to.
The Hunted One, which has over 70,000 Likes on Facebook, also stopped live streams after the Bluewater brawl earlier in the year.