A top cop has confirmed police are investigating links between online paedophile hunter groups and loyalist paramilitaries.
Detective Chief Superintendent Paula Hillman also revealed that at least one individual involved in these vigilante gangs has been questioned by detectives about sexual assault.
The damning assessment by the head of the PSNI’s Public Protection Unit comes on the back of a Sunday Life investigation into the shadowy characters running these groups.
We have uncovered evidence that one individual, South East Antrim man Gary Harper, had more than £70,000 of criminal property seized by the Assets Recovery Agency.
Another so-called hunter George Keenan, who uses the pseudonym James O’Neill and who led the mob that tried to intimidate respected BBC investigative reporter Kevin Magee, is nothing more than a minor criminal.
While a third, who we cannot name at this stage for legal reasons, was questioned by police about a sexual assault on a teenage girl.
Despite their less than desirable backgrounds the trio all present themselves as the saviours of children across Northern Ireland.
They do this while hiding behind fake names and refusing to answer legitimate questions about their motives, methods and criminal records.
Harper, Keenan and the suspected sex attacker are all involved with some of the nine self-titled paedophile hunting groups currently operating in Northern Ireland.
The overwhelming majority of the evidence each of these mobs have presented to police so far is worthless.
Only three of the so-called ‘water-tight’ 110 cases they have cobbled together have been forwarded to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) for consideration.
Ten of the referrals were immediately binned because they contained no evidence whatsoever.
A further seven were returned by the PPS to the PSNI which closed them because they did not meet legal standards.
DCS Hillman, who has asked online paedophile hunters to stop live-streaming confrontations with targets because it wrecks any chance of prosecution, admits there are links between paramilitaries and some of these groups.
She told Sunday Life: “We don’t see any evidence of these groups being organised by loyalist paramilitaries, but there are people in these groups with links to loyalist paramilitaries.”
Referring to the criminal backgrounds of some of the paedophile hunters, DCS Hillman, who did not name anyone, added: “We have to disclose everything to the PPS when presenting the evidence gathered by these groups.
“This includes the backgrounds of individuals within these groups and their criminal convictions.
“There have been some serious allegations made about some of these individuals, including sexual offence allegations.”
The paeodphile hunting gangs regularly complain that they have been forced into vigilantism because the PSNI is not doing their job and ignoring sexual predators.
However, this is an outright lie and a simple look at court lists throughout Northern Ireland puts pay to this myth.
In the next week alone more than 70 individuals will appear in the dock charged with offences including rape, sexual assault, grooming kids online, and having child abuse images.
PSNI sources told Sunday Life that having to deal with flawed evidence put forward by online paedophile hunters — cases that have no hope of prosecution because they insist on broadcasting stings live — means they cannot work on genuine investigations.
They also point to the monumental cock-ups frequently made by these groups, whose members have no training in investigative techniques, evidence gathering or child protection.
One of these gangs, Team NI Protecting Kids which involves Gary Harper and sells branded merchandise on Facebook, recently surrounded the wrong house in Antrim town terrifying a single mother.
They only left the innocent woman’s property when confronted by local community workers who called the police.
Another group’s ‘investigation’ led to a law graduate being mistakenly identified as a paedophile and receiving a barrage of online abuse.
Cars have also been wrongly damaged, and last week the home of a GAA coach named as an alleged pervert was targeted by arsonists.
The UDA has also been using the Facebook pages to single out people they name as paedophiles.
Last month the terror gang assaulted two men in the Rathccole estate in Newtownabbey and smashed up a house in Tigers Bay in north Belfast after reading online allegations. The slipshod methods used by Northern Irish-based vigilantes has drawn the ire of established groups in England, who work successfully with the police and have secured dozens of prosecutions.
Stinson Hunter, who started the online paedophile hunter phenomenon in England and featured in a Channel 4 documentary, has accused Northern Ireland groups of criminality.
Criticisng their threats and seizures of phones, he tweeted: “That’s highly illegal, probably street robbery or at the very least theft. Very wrong to do that. The problem is people have their own agendas and do things for their own reasons.”
Hunter’s tweet was in response to footage broadcast last Tuesday night of a mob of paedophile hunters threatening and intimidating BBC reporter Kevin Magee, who had called to one of their homes earlier in the day asking for an interview. The baying crowd was led by loud-mouthed clown George Keenan, who bellowed at the award-winning journalist in a transatlantic accent: “You don’t come to my f*****g home, do I make myself clear. You wanna cause stress? I cause stress, this is what you call power in f*****g numbers.”
Convicted criminal Keenan, who is now facing arrest, has since closed his social media pages.
But before shutting them down the egomaniac could not resist posting two cringe-worthy video monologues on Facebook, which have since been deleted, trying to justify his actions.
Keenan’s little band of internet tough guys, whose identities Sunday Life is aware of, are also facing prosecution for a number of public order offences.
We cannot name them because of the impending legal action but can reveal they have connections to an online group styling itself Predator Catchers NI.
Among them is a Belfast bouncer described as a “plastic hardman” by other security staff in the city centre, a woman from Cookstown who is an unashamed UDA supporter, and a female loyalist from the Shore Road district of Belfast.
Not only are these online paedophile groups facing imminent criminal prosecution they are also the subject of ongoing civil litigation, as is social media giant Facebook which publishes their accusations.
A gang calling itself Nonce Catchers NI, run by east Belfast man Kenny Abbott, is currently being sued by a man identified as a paedophile on its Facebook page. The case was listed in the High Court last Tuesday with Abbott, who loyalist sources say is a “complete balloon”, named on the writ.
Predator Catchers NI is also the subject of legal action as is Team NI Protecting Kids.
The latter is in the process of being sued by the innocent Antrim woman whose house its members showed up outside, wrongly claiming a paedophile lived there while broadcasting it on Facebook Live.