Police have appealed to any parents concerned that their children could be being targeted by paedophiles on the internet not to turn to vigilante groups for assistance.
The plea comes after an online vigilante group posted a live video of a so-called “sting” on Facebook on Saturday, January 13.
The video shows representatives of the group confronting a young man in Banbridge, accusing him of having arranged to meet a 15-year-old girl for sex.
According to the PSNI, “a 23-year-old male was arrested on suspicion of attempting to meet a child following online sexual grooming.”
“He has since been released on bail with appropriate bail conditions in place pending further police enquiries,” a spokesperson said.
Appealing for people not to take the law into their own hands, or to turn to vigilante groups for assistance, Chief Inspector Jon Burrows said: “With regard to the arrest and live online stream of this incident, it is the role of the Police Service of Northern Ireland to deal with those allegedly involved in this type of crime and the subsequent investigations.
“We are the professionals with the expert knowledge and experience to carry out rigorous investigations to the required evidential standard.
“Those involved in this type of vigilante behaviour aren’t in a position to ensure safeguarding issues are addressed and their actions could have a detrimental impact on the criminal justice process.
“We would again ask that if these groups are motivated to help safeguard children, they need to bring any information they have about the identity of any person engaged in sexual offences against children to the PSNI immediately. These groups should not make arrangements to meet these individuals and should not share that information online.
“We would also ask parents to bring information such as this to us so that we can ensure a thorough investigation is carried out including gathering the best possible evidence to enable effective investigations that produce a charge and successful prosecution.”
The police have been criticised on social media for their handling of Saturday’s incident, with the vigilante group claiming officers were at the scene when the “sting” began, but then left and only returned almost an hour later after the young man being confronted telephoned them for assistance, by which time a large crowd had reportedly gathered in the area.
The member of the vigilante group who appears to be filming the video is heard to call officers “an absolute disgrace” for their slow response to the incident.
However, one officer is heard to respond: “We are not an absolute disgrace, what we are doing is the best we can.
“Unfortunately when you called a high risk domestic came in. We can’t be everywhere all at once.”
Responding to the criticism of the police response time, Chief Inspector Burrows said the initial call was received at 5pm and officers arrived at the scene at 5:40pm.
“We endeavour to respond to calls as and when they come in, however due to the volume, calls are prioritised where there is immediate risk to life or property. While it is necessary for police to prioritise calls, officers respond as efficiently and effectively as possible,” he said.
“As a police service, we are committed to providing a professional service to the community and on Saturday afternoon local police in Banbridge were also dealing with a number of other calls including an aggravated burglary at licensed premises, which one person has been arrested in relation to, and a burglary at commercial premises.”
Police have appealed to anyone with concerns about issues such as online grooming to contact officers on 101, or 999 in the case of an emergency.