BBC News reported yesterday that a man from Warwickshire has been posing as a young girl on the Internet in an attempt to catch suspected paedophiles.
The man, who reportedly calls himself ‘Stinson Hunter’ poses as a 14 or 15 year old girl on dating sites, and arranges meetings in public places. The BBC report carried a quote from the man:
“They’re on the back foot, they’re thinking they’re meeting a child and they’re accosted by two blokes, or three blokes sometimes, obviously we make sure we tell them there’s going to be no violence.”
It appears that Stinson Hunter, along with 2 or 3 others, set up and film the men who turn up to meet the fictional teenage girl.
The BBC reported that a police spokesperson confirmed that a man was ‘arrested on suspicion of inciting a minor to engage in sexual activity’, after footage [presumably of the man turning up to meet a 14/15 year old girl] was posted on YouTube.
That offence doesn’t exist. It is likely that the offences that would be charged are:
- causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity (SOA 2003 s 10) (max sentence 14 years)
- arranging or facilitating a child sex offence (SOA 2003 s 14) (max sentence 14 years)
- grooming (SOA 2003 s 15) (max sentence 10 years)
Are Stinson Hunter and his associates committing an offence?
Well, it rather depends on exactly what Stinson Hunter and his associates do when these men turn up to meet the fictional girl.
Battery – A battery is committed when a person intentionally and recklessly applies unlawful force to another.
Common assault – An assault is committed when a person intentionally or recklessly causes another to apprehend the immediate infliction of unlawful force.
It is possible when the men accost the alleged paedophiles, that they are guilty of common assault or battery.
False imprisonment – Imprisonment must involve confinement to a limited area: mere restriction on freedom of movement, such as blocking one exit from a house while allowing another, does not qualify. In other words the boundary must be a closed loop of 360°. (Taken from the Law Commission consultation paper on Kidnap)
Kidnap – (An aggravated form of false imprisonment) The House of Lords defined kidnapping as an attack on and infringement of the personal liberty of an individual, consisting of the taking or carrying away of one person by another by force or by fraud, without the consent of the person so taken or carried away and without lawful excuse, R v D 1984 1 AC 778
For kidnap and false imprisonment, there is a defence of lawful excuse, however this may be difficult to establish successfully. See this cautionary tale of a citizen’s arrest.
Civil law Stinson Hunter and his associates may also be liable in civil law. Assault and battery and false imprisonment are torts; they are instances of trespass against the person. Interestingly, this dual character (being both a criminal offence and a civil tort) dates back to the 13th century.
Sex offences It may be that they are also guilty of arranging or facilitating a child sex offence, SOA 2003 s 14. Even though there is no ‘real’ child, the suspected paedophiles are likely to be guilty of one of the offences listed above.
The police naturally were keen to discourage members of the public taking the law into their own hands:
“We do not encourage vigilantism of this kind and would warn those who take this approach that they could be breaking the law.
“They could also be disrupting criminal investigations and compromising the safety of vulnerable victims who would be best protected by the police.”
But what about the citizen’s arrest element to this?
As we covered earlier in the week with the emergence of Batman in Bradford, citizen’s arrests can be problematic. However, in this case, it is unclear exactly what Stinson Hunter and his associates are doing. It appears that they aren’t performing a citizen’s arrest, and are merely ‘catching’ them and recording the meeting.
What about entrapment? Isn’t that illegal?
Well, when police conduct amounts to state generated crime, it may be that the court can stay the indictment as an abuse of process.
However, here, that appears to be highly unlikely. There are numerous cases where police have posed as young girls and boys in chatrooms and the like and arrange to meet men and women. At the meetings the men and women are usually arrested.
There are also many incidents where journalists have done the same. Some cases are R v Tonnessen 1998 2 Cr App R (S) 328, R v Barnett 2008 1 Cr App R (S) 61 and R v Pennant 2009 EWCA Crim 845. In some instances, the court will reduce a sentence to take account of the element of agents provocateur.