Man arrested on suspicion of sexual grooming following ‘sting’ by paedo-hunters

The man was lured to meet what he allegedly believed was a 14-year-old girl

The alleged groomer was held while someone filmed him

Suspect is now released

Cops lead the man away

Ciaran O'Neill

A man has been arrested for alleged sexual grooming after a “sting” by so-called paedophile-hunters.

The man was lured to Dundonald Ice Bowl in County Antrim earlier this month to meet what he allegedly believed was a 14-year-old girl.

However, the entire operation was a set-up and he was pounced upon by a group of vigilantes when he arrived at the meeting point. Police officers were called to the scene.

A PSNI spokesperson told the Sunday World: “A man aged in his 50s was arrested on suspicion of offences including attempting to meet a child following sexual grooming in Dundonald on Monday, 1st May.

“He has since been released on police bail to allow for further police enquiries.”

A video of the incident at Dundonald has been posted online.

Cops lead the man away

At the beginning of the 10-minute video, the man is seen being restrained by a number of people outside the ice bowl building.

He is then led away to another part of the building’s perimeter.

At one stage, a woman informs the person videoing the incident another person is “phoning the police”, to which the man holding the camera says “no, not yet”.

He then tells the man being restrained by the other people he is being held “under 26A in Northern Ireland of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act”.

Section 26A of the Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 states that someone other than a police officer may arrest a person without a warrant if they are “in the act of committing an indictable offence” or suspected of committing an indictable offence.

The man filming the incident on a phone makes a number of allegations against the man being held, who at one stage asks a passer-by to call the police.

PSNI officers arrive on the scene around eight minutes into the video and the man is placed in handcuffs before being led away and placed in a police vehicle.

The man filming the incident thanks the police officers for their “quick response”.

While they claim they are protecting children online, the work of so-called “paedo-hunters” has been criticised by police and those within the court system.

During a court case in 2019, District Judge Bernie Kelly described the actions of such groups as “an affront to public justice”.

She reiterated her concerns last year during a case in which a man was charged with attempted sexual communication with a child following a ‘sting” involving a “paedo-hunters” group.

Judge Kelly said: “My single biggest concern is the capacity to adduce proper evidence to sustain the charges. There are issues around any non-police organisation carrying out investigations and how they fall within the requirement of admissible evidence, causing me to query potential outcomes.”

In relation to the same case, a defence solicitor said a video of his client’s detention was posted on Facebook, which “entered the public domain well before police were involved”.

“It’s very concerning that something was posted on social media and readily accessible by anybody prior to police interview.”

Suspect is now released

Judge Kelly said: “I am aware of the methods used and, while not predetermining anything in this case, I don’t think I have ever convicted a single person based on that form of evidence.

“So many parts of Police and Criminal Evidence (PACE) procedures have been completely ignored and run roughshod over, including statements that don’t comply.”

The PSNI have also previously criticised the action of such groups, insisting the police should be left to investigate alleged sexual crimes involving children.

The incident earlier this month was not the first time “paedo hunters” have used Dundonald Ice Bowl as a meeting point for their operations.

In March 2020, a 56-year-old man was arrested there after he went to meet a 15-year-old boy he had sexually groomed through a gay dating app.

A subsequent court hearing in December 2021 was told the man drove to the centre but backed out of meeting the boy at the last minute.

However, he was identified by the vigilantes who took his car keys and held him until police arrived.

The man was convicted, placed on probation for two years and told he must also complete 75 hours of community service.

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