The paedophile hunter: Vigilante's success adds to pressure for greater police resources in child sex crackdown

But officers on force where his 'decoy house' is based express concern about his methods

Fly-on-the-wall footage of a self-styled “paedophile hunter”, whose evidence has convicted ten sex offenders for grooming children online, will increase pressure on police to devote more resources to such covert operations.

Legal experts said there were “risks” that the Channel 4 film, on the controversial activities of Stinson Hunter, an unemployed former drug addict who served a long jail sentence for arson, acknowledged the “risks” that it might encourage copycat vigilantism.

In The Paedophile Hunter, broadcast on Wednesday evening, Hunter, 31, is seen sending messages purporting to come from a young girl to men on adult websites. A succession of men are “captured” and lured to a “decoy house” on a housing estate in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, where they are confronted by Hunter and his colleagues “Stubbs” and “Grime”, who film the men’s responses and post them on Facebook. One man is seen arriving with a bottle of wine to meet what he believes to be a child.

Filmmaker Dan Reed interviews the partner of a man named Mark, who committed suicide shortly after being confronted by Hunter as he went to meet a 12-year-old “girl”. The partner, mother of Mark’s young child, said she sympathised with Hunter’s intentions but disagreed with footage being published online. “He claims he is protecting children but what about my child, a real child who is going to grow up without a dad.”

At the film’s launch on Monday, Hugh Davies QC, one of Britain’s leading lawyers in the field of child sex offending, said 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.”

Mr Davies is legal advisor to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre (CEOP) and works with the Association of Chief Police Officers. He said the film gave an indication of the sheer scale of potential child sex offending. “The numbers are pretty terrifying,” he said. But a vigilante like Hunter “is not going to preserve evidence as well as the police”.

Mr Reed said: “One of our hopes in making the film would be that police from now on would be better resourced…you would hope there would be an injection of funding to the police so that they could expand their activities in this area.”

Hunter’s Facebook page has 100,000 followers and Reed said that some of the films of “captured” men went viral and attracted more than 1m views. The filmmaker said he was impressed by the “rigorous” nature of Hunter’s stings.

But the film showed that the Warwickshire and West Mercia forces are “very concerned about what [Hunter] does and his methods”, Reed said. At one stage in the documentary, a man flees from the decoy house and is pursued by Hunter and his team, holding their cameras, across the housing estate. Members of the public join the pursuit and passing motorists shout abuse at the “paedo”.

Reed said sections of the community around the decoy house were actively supportive of Hunter’s work. “I think everyone was aware of what was going on,” he said. “Some people certainly seemed to not be opposed to what was happening and to be aware and accommodate what was going on. I would say he has quite a bit of support.”

During the film Hunter is shown breaking down in tears as he hears that his evidence has resulted in the “vindication” of a criminal conviction. He tells the camera that he witnessed abuse while growing up in a children’s home but refuses to comment on whether he was himself a victim. “I got the strong sense that he was on a mission, he had had a troubled past and this was something he considered might do good,” said Reed.

Senior British police officer Jim Gamble, former chioef executive of CEOP,  tells the film: “Some people with very low training have proven just how easy it is to go out there and catch individuals. Very quickly they are shooting fish in a barrel. The fact of the matter is this – that needs to be done by law enforcement.”