Sex abusers are more frightened of being caught by paedophile hunters than the police, according to claims in a new documentary aired recently.
Online vigilantes secretly film set-up meetings and then post footage on the internet.
Public shaming is more terrifying than being snared by cops because jail sentences are so lenient, say officers.
Det Sgt Andy Nash, of the eastern region special operations unit, said: “There is a fear from the people who we engage with of meeting a vigilante because there’s a whole public broadcast issue that goes with it.
“They are less concerned about meeting police officers.
“Whether that is because we don’t broadcast it live on Facebook for their families to see or because the sentencing is, until recently, so poor, I couldn’t tell you.”
Police say vigilantes who trawl the web posing as abusers to unmask real perverts hamper their inquiries.
The revelations emerge in Channel 4 documentary Undercover Police: Hunting Paedophiles. The programme shows detectives going undercover to bust child sex abusers.
The National Crime Agency warned last year that the UK had 300,000 child sex predators – and the pandemic is thought to have made the problem worse.
DS Nash is calling for online predators to be sentenced on “harm intended” rather than damage caused, so there is a bigger deterrent.
The eye-opening programme will air tonight (February 8) at 9pm.
The news comes just days after a court heard how a paedo named Elvis Presley was caught arranging to meet a girl he thought was 14.
Instead, it was a paedophile hunter group posing as the teenager.
Presley, who pleaded guilty, was sentenced to a total of 27 months in prison.
He will have to serve up to half that period in custody before being released on licence and was made the subject of a 10-year sexual harm prevention order.
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