Two paedophile hunters face jail after targeting innocent father who they humiliated on 14-minute livestream and wrongly accused of being a rapist and sexting a child
- Sam Miller and James Moss’ target was publicly ‘berated and humiliated’
Newcastle Crown Court heard Miller and Moss were part of the paedophile hunter group Child Online Safety Team, whose videos can attract over 1,000 viewers, and wrongly believed the man they confronted that day was already a convicted rapist.
Prosecutor Gavin Doig said the live streaming of the ‘sting’ showed the groups’ motivation was ‘publicity and grandstanding, not the detection of offenders’ and added: ‘The live streaming and telling him it was being viewed by a large number of people increased the impact and the trauma suffered.’
In the shocking video, which was played to the jury on day two of the trial, the man can be seen being restrained on the pavement and being berated by members of the group.
James Moss (pictured here) could become one the first paedophile hunters in the UK to be locked up for vigilante activities
At one point, a voice said to be Miller’s is heard screaming: ‘You are a danger to kids. You are one of the most dangerous people I’ve caught.’
The court heard after the group called the police to the scene the man was questioned and held in custody for 17 hours before he was released without charge.
He was left with suicidal thoughts, wore a scarf or mask in public, said his family were affected and called what happened to him ‘cyber bullying’.
He told police: ‘Fair enough if I was convicted and jailed but innocent until proven guilty, not in their eyes, you are guilty full stop.’
Miller, 29, of Hutton Court, Anfield Plain, Stanley, County Durham and Moss, 58, of Laburnum Avenue, Blyth, Northumberland, were convicted of false imprisonment after a trial, where they insisted their activities were to protect the public.
Together with Sam Miller (pictured here) the pair humiliated a dad live on the internet for ‘publicity and grandstanding’, Newcastle Crown Court has heard
The pair were due to be sentenced today (FRI) but Judge Julie Clemitson adjourned the case until June 23.
The judge told the men: ‘All options are very much on the table.’
Mr Doig told the court during the trial the group was more concerned about ‘Facebook likes’ than upholding the law and tracked down and detained internet users because they cared ‘about notoriety, about bullying others and about acting as pretend policemen’.
He said ‘amateur groups’ have sprung up across the country and started hunting for internet offenders, without the proper technology or training the police have.
The groups pose as children online and set up sting operations to catch predators.
Mr Doig said some groups are well intentioned, whereas others are less so and added: ‘The prosecution case is the amateurs in this case cared as much, if not more, for self publicity, about notoriety, about bullying others, about acting as pretend policemen as they did about stopping online offending.’
The court heard it was on February 6 2020 Miller approached the police and told them an internet user, who he wrongly claimed was a convicted rapist, had communicated with a decoy profile he was running.
The court heard Miller told police the man had not committed an offence during the online conversation but went to his house that night regardless.
Mr Doig said: ‘At 9.15pm Mr Miller called the police and told them not only had he decided to detain the man, he had already done it. The defendant Moss was with Miller at that time.
‘They didn’t take time to call the police before they acted but made time to live stream the events on Facebook, so we can see some of what went on.
‘The man said he was forced to the ground and held there and had a torch shone in his eyes while being questioned. Only after this process was Miller to call the police.’
The court heard the man was interviewed by the police but it was determined he had not committed any crime.
Miller arriving at Newcastle Crown Court today where his sentencing was adjourned
Miller has previous convictions for impersonating a police officer, violent disorder and witness intimidation.
Moss has never been in trouble before.
Mr Doig said Miller appeared to be the ‘self-appointed leader’ of the Child Online Safety team and received a letter from North Yorkshire Police in April 2020.
This advised him to cease his activities as inviting potential paedophiles to public places created a risk, could hinder police investigations and result in him falling foul of the law himself, but he appeared to ignore the correspondence.
Gordon Carse, defending Miller, who handed in character references, said: ‘He believed what he did was right.’
Mr Carse said Miller, who has family responsibilities, is no longer part of COST and added: ‘He has stepped back from it and there are no plans to go back into it.
‘Prison will punish him but is unlikely to address the underlying causes of his offending.’
Peter Eguae, defending Moss, told the court: ‘To act outside the protection of the law certainly was not his intention.
‘He will not be a vigilante again. He has learned a sad, long and valuable lesson.’
Mr Eguae said Moss is described in his character references as a ‘gentle giant’.
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