CCTV Of Man Talking To Child In Shopping Centre Fuels Parental Paranoia

12/05/2014 16:50 | Updated 20 May 2015

CCTV images showing the moment a stranger approached a Jamie Bulger being led away by the evil pair Jon Venables and Robert Thompson 21 years ago still dwells in every parent's mind.

But, mercifully, that was a very – VERY – rare occurrence. But the legacy is that we now seem to suspect ANYBODY of being a child-snatcher, however innocent the scenario.

This morning's footage – issued by Derbyshire Police after a well-meaning/paranoid shopper alerted them (not the mother herself, please note) – showed a mother and her toddler son walking through the Intu centre in Derby, East Midlands, at 10.30am on Thursday. The mum walked slightly ahead of her child and a few seconds later a man wearing a dark jacket and a cap appeared.

He approached the 21-month-old and spoke to him before taking his hand. The mum then turned, said something, and the man said something back, then left. That was it.

Had the mum caught a pervert in the act of stealing her child? Or was the encounter something of nothing, but made sinisterly something by being captured on CCTV and then broadcast?

We all want to keep our children safe. It goes without saying. But is it healthy to live with this perpetual fear of Stranger Danger?

What would have happened, for example, if the innocent pensioner hadn't come forward to 'clear his name'?

What if he hadn't see himself on the CCTV footage online before a vigilante had recognised him from it?

What might have been the outcome then? An entirely innocent man strung up for the 'crime' of talking to a child? It doesn't bear thinking about.

Of course, some would say it's better to be safe than sorry, and that's perfectly understandable.

But isn't it sad that the first conclusion we leap to when we see a man talking to a child is: "Paedo."

This time no damage was done to anyone – child or man – but police deemed it necessary to issue a warning, regardless, adding further fuel to the fires of parental fear.

After the incident Detective Chief Inspector Nick Lamb said: "The gentleman was acting with good intentions, believing that the young boy had become separated from his mother.

"The man was a little confused and thought the child's mother was somebody else, and had tried to do a good deed in reuniting them."

And then issued this advice about what the public should do if a child appears to be alone - despite the fact the child WASN'T alone:

• Stay still with the child and do not lead them away from where you found them;

• Ask the child where their parents or guardians are, and look around for them;

• Consider asking other passers-by if they know where the child's parents might be;

• If the parents or guardians are not found, take the child to the nearest shop and contact a member of staff immediately;

• You can also call store security or police on 101.

Or how about this from: If you're a middle-aged or elderly man who wants to say hello to a child he recognises – perhaps his son or grandson's pal – turn the other way and pretend you haven't noticed them, lest you end up being broadcast to the nation as 'EVERY PARENT'S WORSE NIGHTMARE'.

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