ColumnistsVogue Williams

Paedo hunters say they could catch a predator every day

Katie and Neil the paedophile hunters
Katie and Neil the paedophile hunters

As part of my current RTE series, I’m filming an episode called Trolled, Flamed and Minutes from Death.

It examines the dangers of social media and last week I spent a chilling evening with a married couple in the UK who are self-styled, online paedophile hunters.

This couple hunt down predators, baiting them with fake Facebook accounts. I was pessimistic about meeting them at first because I wasn’t so sure of their motives – surely hunting criminals is a job for the police

I left their house feeling very upset and very concerned about the safety of modern children.

To be honest, I left that house feeling that the web is a far darker place than I ever imagined.

The couple, Neil and Katie, are quite young, with five kids between them and a new baby who is only two weeks old.

They’ve named him Hunter, echoing his parents’ crusade. 

It’s a strong name and this is a strong couple taking to task the most depraved individuals.

Two years ago, Neil and Katie discovered that their then 13-year-old daughter had
received over 5,000 messages from a man in his late 30s on Facebook.

The messages start innocently enough – although I personally don’t think an older man messaging a child is ever innocent.

He eventually began saying the most depraved things to her and what he wanted to do to her, as well as attempting to arrange a meeting.

The couple were able to harvest enough facts about this guy to track him down and confront him in real life – and so began their mission.

To date, they’ve effected over 30 arrests, and the fact that the paedophiles they ‘hunt’ serve time sounds good on paper, but unfortunately as soon as these men leave prison, they set up new profiles and the vicious circle begins all over again.

Neil and Katie currently operate six fictitious profiles, posing as young girls and another one as a younger boy.

They spend weeks and months messaging these men, gathering information on them and eventually end up meeting them.

Instead of meeting a child, though, these creeps are confronted by a 6ft bodybuilder and his fearless wife.

A lot of these men see nothing wrong with what they do and instead of running they wait alongside the couple for the police to arrive.

They woo children online with promises of trips to McDonald’s and when they are caught  they’re often found carrying condoms, baby oil and alcohol – the blood-curdling tool-kit of a paedophile.

Katie and Neil say that they could catch a paedophile every single day if they had the resources because there are so many men targeting children online. So far they’ve identified only one woman.

I left their home feeling genuinely upset.

I don’t have a child but I have a newborn niece and the thoughts of anything like this happening to her, or any child, fills me with fear.

One of the men Katie and Neil are tracking is a member of a private Facebook page called Mums & Babies. It is just so shocking.

We have sex education in schools, but I think a class on the dangers of online grooming needs to be taught to young children and their parents.

No child should be allowed to have an online profile without a parent having access to it.

Neil and Katie switched on one of their Facebook profiles and within minutes we had two men chatting with us, thinking we were a 14-year-old girl.

It took less than three minutes before the conversation took a turn and they asked what we were wearing to bed.

Although Katie and Neil can’t stop every person they find online, they are sending a lot of these monsters to prison.

Some might call it lawless vigilantism, but I see it as a service to society.

Racy outfit is a winner

I’m a big fan of going to the races and an even bigger fan of getting to judge the Best Dressed competition.

Everyone makes such a huge effort with what they wear at the races and I think its nice that they have the chance to win an amazing prize.

I was judging at the Epsom Derby on Friday. I judged for them last year and it was such a great day again.

The woman we chose as a winner looked so beautiful – I was a little jealous of her outfit.

I went down in the morning and after some pictures we went around to find our finalists.

We had a gorgeous lunch and then sat down to pick the winner. After the final race I was DJing in the marquee, which is always great craic. It’s a good end to the day and its always really full of people ready to dance – the best kind of audience for any disc jock.

I wore my new trousers from Cos – I never leave Cos without buying at least three things, its one of my favourite high street shops.

My amazing headpiece was from Martha Lynn Millinery; she makes the coolest hats and they’re really different for the races. This one fitted in perfectly with my slightly tomboy look.

We haven’t heard the half of this bitter split

The big topic of the week has been the bitter split of Amber Heard and Johnny Depp.

Rumours of what happened have been flying around left, right and centre, but nobody actually knows what happened except the two people that were involved in that relationship.

Amber has claimed that Johnny assaulted her on more than one occasion and was fast to show the bruises to prove it.

She was also granted a temporary restraining order against him, but that  only hints at the full story.

The press reaction and the subsequent attack on Amber Heard’s character has been disgusting. All of her financial records have been made public in a bid to paint her as a gold digger.

I don’t think any successful, beautiful woman looks at Johnny Depp and sees ‘sugar daddy’.

He might be a bit paunchier lately, but he’s still a hot man. Sadly, it’s a far better story if Amber is painted as a calculated villain and not a victim.

We live in a world where women who have been raped would rather stay quiet than face the fear of being abused again by the court system.

Putting a woman’s sexual history on trial to make her seem promiscuous and ‘up for it’ is far too often a feature in rape cases.

Is the world really becoming so hard that now a woman who has said she was beaten by her husband is nothing but a gold digger?

My top was from Rebecca Rhodes. She is an amazing designer who created this top for me especially for Epsom. My shoes are from Kurt Geiger and they are currently living on my feet.