i Editor's Letter: Catching a sexual predator


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The Independent Online


We know that the police struggle to jail sex attackers. So how can a reporter catch a sexual predator – and collect enough evidence to secure a criminal conviction? One of i’s journalists, Charlotte Philby, has helped to do just that.

My old job, running our newsroom, threw up ethical teasers. When to deploy subterfuge. Whether or not to self-censor – for instance, if publication could carry tragic consequences for the subject of a story. And when to pull a reporter off a scoop because its pursuit poses a risk to their safety.

In November, we had to decide whether to let Charlotte meet a man who was posing as an academic, to dupe young women into having sex with him in return for a fictitious £15,000 university “scholarship”. Unless we could covertly record him, there was no proof – and he would carry on attacking. But at what point should she make her excuses and leave? Before she set foot in the apartment he’d rented, we decided. So we set up the sting in a café. An undercover reporter sat on the next table and the predator told Charlotte she must perform a sexual “practical assessment” to get the money. Bingo. We handed our footage to the Met and yesterday the man admitted trafficking and voyeurism. He faces a jail sentence.

It was not the usual fare for i’s pages. Yesterday’s guilty pleas, though, served to vindicate that considered use of deception in the aftermath of Leveson.

Twitter.com: @olyduff