Channel 4’s ‘Paedophile Hunter’: vigilante justice or dangerous undermining of the law?

by Laura Fulton, contributor

Channel 4 has never shied away from tackling taboo topics. Captivating its audience with unconventional documentaries such as the ‘Sex Education Show,’ ‘My Big Fat Fetish,’ and ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’, their latest creation seems to be no different when it comes to its sense of controversy and intrigue.

‘Paedophile Hunter,’ which aired 1st October, saw online predators exposed by Stinson Hunter and his associates, who posed as underage girls and boys on social networking sites. Once caught out, Hunter passed along the evidence of their criminal activity to police, as well as posting it online. In fact, despite the questionability of Hunter’s methods, he has achieved moderate success, uncovering between sixty and seventy perverts and triggering the convictions of ten.

The question, however, is not whether Hunter’s approach is successful, but whether should he be attempting to bring about what he decides to be justice at all. Hunter claims that all of his actions are within the law. He, along with his associates, exercise a policy of “no hostility,” and never entice potential criminals into sending incriminating messages or images.

He says that “if they choose to take the rope and hang themselves, it’s their choice.” Indeed, it does appear that the individuals targeted are all too willing to expose themselves as paedophiles. After arranging to meet for sex with who they believe to be underage, the individuals are startled to find themselves face-to-face with Hunter, who then reveals his intentions to deliver the details of their messages to the police.

Twitter users were divided over the issue. Some posted praise for Hunter and his team, criticising the lack of policing of online grooming and expressing their satisfaction that these perverts, or “dirty scumbags,” as one Twitter user described them, were being found out. Others held more legalistic opinions, asserting that crime should be left to official bodies of law, and not self-appointed “heroes.”

Warwickshire Police also affirmed this opinion. Condemning Hunter’s actions, they said that vigilantes of this sort could, “be disrupting criminal investigations and compromising the safety of vulnerable victims who would best be protected by the police.” Even Hunter himself doesn’t condone this kind of activity. He said, “It might be irresponsible, but if I can help one person not be hurt, then it’s worth it and I’m prepared to take the fall for it.”

The most extreme case to come about from this vigilante ‘justice’ is the suicide of a 45-year-old man Hunter exposed online. Michael Parks was arrested in May 2013, on suspicion of agreeing to meet for sex with who he believed was a twelve-year-old girl. After the arrest and public exposure, Parks committed suicide a month later. His ex-partner, though not attempting to justify Parks’ behaviour, expressed her disapproval of Hunter’s actions. She raised questions of whether Hunter copycats would go on to enact unlawful and perhaps violent judgement on those they deem criminals. Additionally, she criticised his lack of training and the irresponsibility of this activity. She said that “he had no idea that Michael had a history of mental health problems. I mean, God forgive, that Michael had our son the day [he killed himself] and decided to take his son with him.”

Regardless of this, Hunter remains steadfast in his convictions. He says, “I want [people] to focus on what I’m saying and what’s going on and what your kids are doing online – given the current climate with Rotherham. I want change, I want the government to do something.”

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