A controversial new documentary following the actions of a so called “paedophile hunter" who publicly shames men he accuses of grooming children has sparked fears that it could encourage copycat vigilantism.
Stinson Hunter, an unemployed former drug addict who went to jail for arson, is shown in a new Channel 4 documentary posing online as an under-age child before being approached by men sending explicit messages, videos and pictures.
Hunter, who said he first witnessed child abuse while he was in care, then lures the men to a house where they are confronted, filmed with handheld cameras and mobile phones, and asked to explain themselves.
The 31-year-old then hands the evidence, which has helped in 10 convictions and includes confrontations with dozens of men including soldiers, teachers and solicitors, to the police and publishes it on his website.
One man killed himself last year after being questioned by police when confronted over footage posted on the internet.
His Facebook page, where he describes himself as a "journalist", has more than 100,000 likes and features videos of the men he accuses which are met with praise from thousands of social media users.
But one of Britain’s leading lawyers in the field of child sex offending told The Independent that the film could inspire copycat vigilantes.
“There is a risk, everything is a risk. The other side of the risk is that the public will demand a higher level of police activity in this very same area," Hugh Davies QC told the newspaper.
A vigilante, like Hunter, “is not going to preserve evidence as well as the police," he warned.
Jim Gamble, the former head of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop), said the Government can "learn" from Hunter's actions, saying he understood "the frustration" that drove Hunter to target suspected internet predators.
Gamble said: "Some people with very little training are proving just how easy it is to go out there and catch individuals. They are able to go online with little or no training and very quickly they're shooting fish in a barrel.
"The fact of the matter is this, that needs to be done by law enforcement and whilst I don't see any justification in reality for vigilantes doing what they do I think it provides the evidence for the Government, if it's needed, that actually this works."
Gamble said his actions created "a risk" to himself and other people and one man, Michael Parkes, 45, killed himself after being confronted by evidence gathered by Hunter.
Parkes' partner, who was also interviewed for the Channel 4 documentary, said she "may agree" with Hunter going online to gather evidence but said publishing the videos was "what probably tipped him over the edge".
Hunter told film-maker Dan Reed: "We set the profile. It's like a rope and if they choose to put the rope around their neck and hang themselves that's their choice. We've not pushed them."