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Debates continue about paedophile hunters following local conviction

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Simon Fleet: Arrested by police at Pembroke Dock train station

THE DEBATE rages on as to whether the police are relying too heavily on so-called paedophile hunters in investigations regarding child grooming.

In Wales, from 2015 to 2017 there were 31 cases where the police began proceedings against grooming suspects, in 19 of which, police used evidence gathered by vigilante groups.

Despite an investigation by the BBC finding that police in England and Wales used such evidence at least 150 times in 2017 – a seven-fold rise in two years, Dyfed-Powys Police have denied using evidence gathered from vigilante groups. Over the past three years, Dyfed-Powys Police recorded 82 cases, and took proceedings forward against just one person, but have not used the evidence gathered in any cases.

This comes after a man from Pembroke Dock was caught by paedophile hunter vigilante group Silent Justice, and jailed for 28 months in February. Simon Fleet, aged 43, had turned up at the town’s railway station with the aim of meeting an underage girl for sex, but instead he was met by police officers who arrested him. Fleet, of Water Street, admitted attempting to engage in sexual activity with an underage girl.

Swansea Crown Court had heard how Fleet had swapped messages with the ‘girl’ via the internet and thought he had talked her into meeting him. In fact he was exchanging messages with a group posing as children and waiting to be contacted by adults. They then try to identify those that are attempting to groom children, tracking them down and confronting them before police are called.

Judge T Mervyn Hughes warned Fleet that if the girl had existed he would have received a far longer sentence. Fleet was made the subject of a sexual harm prevention order and told to register with the police as a sex offender, both for the next 10 years.

Silent Justice are so-called ‘Child Protection Enforcers’ with a Facebook page liked by over 5,000 people, with members acting as ‘decoys’ posing as children online. They are not without controversy, removing a post from its Facebook page following the suicide of an alleged offender in Northern Ireland in August 2017.

Last year, a Cardiff judge was critical of such groups, and accused them of giving misleading evidence after the collapse of an alleged sex offender’s trial.

Judge Thomas Crowther QC had said: “This case underlines why criminal investigations should be conducted carefully, meticulously and by those who are trained and qualified to do so.”

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) has spoken out on the issue, saying that: “While we have every sympathy for people concerned about suspected abusers, we believe that identifying offenders and investigating crimes is best left to the police.

“When members of the public take the law into their own hands it can run the risk of driving offenders underground, endanger on-going police work and the legal process or result in innocent people being targeted – all of which may put more children at risk of harm.

“If someone has concerns about a child’s safety the best way they can help is to alert the police. By speaking out they may be able to help investigations and contribute vital evidence.”

The debate about paedophile hunters has recently been the focus of a Channel 4 documentary, in which filmmakers followed around a group of the vigilantes.

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Hoax call wastes RNLI time and resources following large search

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A HOAX call left RNLI crews wasting vital time and resources yesterday morning (Jun 23) as they searched for a vessel which they believed to be taking in water.

St Davids RNLI, Angle RNLI and a Coastguard helicopter were involved in the search for nearly four hours.

St Davids RNLI said in a statement on Facebook: “At 06:20 this morning our Tamar launched on service to join in a large-scale search for a vessel which was reportedly taking in water.

“We proceeded at full speed to a position south of Skokholm island and commenced a search of a designated area, which was planned by Milford Haven coastguards.

“Also involved with search was Angle lifeboat and a coastguard rescue helicopter from St Athan.

“After searching for several hours, the coastguards received information that this was a HOAX call.

“This call had tied up vital rescue resources and come at a large cost.

“With this informatio,n all SAR assets were stood down. Our Tamar was rehoused and ready for service at 10:00.”

Among the comments on Facebook, the hoax phone call has been called ‘disgraceful’, ‘disgusting’ and ‘disrespectful’.

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Police call for vigilance to report illegal raves

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DYFED-POWYS POLICE is asking farmers and local landowners to be on the alert over the next few months for warning signs of any illegal gatherings planned for their land over the summer.

Gatherings – such as illegal raves – can cause considerable anxiety to the community and if they are not dealt with swiftly, they are difficult to stop or otherwise control, due often to the sheer numbers of persons involved and the safety aspects surrounding breaking up such an event.

Superintendent Robyn Mason said: “There is little doubt that these type of events are very well planned, organised and that local knowledge is important in drawing down the main group to a particular ‘vulnerable’ field, or area of land which has been targeted previously as a suitable venue.

“Farmers, landowners and local communities are encouraged to report any suspicious activity immediately to the Police; this may be an unusual numbers of vehicles, especially camper vans, vans or trucks in the locality, illegal trespassers who may be doing ‘recce’ of sites in advance of the event.

“I can assure local communities that Police will take the appropriate action to deter illegal gatherings and deal robustly with any criminal offences discovered or disclosed.”

Members of the public are also urged to be vigilant of persons who approach landowners or enquiring for land, in the guise of hiring for apparently acceptable activities such as gymkhanas and scouts/guides events.

Please contact Police on 101 with reports on any suspicious activity.

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Discover Coast and Cleddau boat trips launched at Milford Waterfront

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A NEW way to appreciate the spectacular Pembrokeshire coast has been officially launched at Milford Waterfront.

Discover Coast and Cleddau offers two exciting boat trips; ‘Discover Coast’ takes passengers on a guided tour around Skomer Island to see the array of wildlife while ‘Discover Cleddau’ explores the more tranquil waters around Benton, Cosheston Woodlands and Lawrenny.

Both trips celebrate the rich history of the Waterway. Suited to all ages from five upwards, what makes these trips unique is that all passengers are seated comfortably inside a heated cabin.

Director of Property and Tourism at the Port of Milford Haven which owns and operates the vessel, Clare Stowell, said “There is so much to see within the Milford Haven Waterway and out towards the islands that we’re confident both trips will be really popular. The trips form part of our wider strategy to transform Milford Waterfront into a vibrant destination where visitors will enjoy a memorable leisure experience.”

As well as the regular boat trips, a number of special tours will be publicised throughout the summer such as photography expeditions.

Excursions can be booked by calling the Skipper Gareth Light on 01646 696370; tickets are £25.00 per person with the boat departing from Mackerel Quay at Milford Marina.

For the latest information on Discover Coast and Discover Cleddau please follow Milford Waterfront on social media.

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