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British soldier arrested on suspicion of child grooming

Silent Justice activists are frustrated that no charges have been brought against anyone arrested as a result of their investigations
Connla Young

A BRITISH soldier has been arrested on suspicion of attempting to meet a child following sexual grooming.

The 28-year-old was arrested in Aldergrove, Co Antrim, in July after he was identified by a high-profile sexual predator hunter.

It is understood the soldier was based a facility formerly known as RAF Aldergrove, close to Belfast International Airport.

The facility is now controlled by the British army and known as Joint Helicopter Flying Station Aldergrove.

Last night police confirmed they arrested a man after information was received.

A spokesman said: “Following information received and enquiries made by police a 28-year-old man was arrested in the Killead Rad area of Aldergrove on July 6 2017 on suspicion of attempting to meet a child following sexual grooming.”

He was later released on police bail pending further enquiries.

A spokesman for the army said: “We can confirm that a member of the armed forces based within Northern Ireland is assisting police with their enquiries.”

The Irish News understands the soldier used the internet to arrange a meeting with a person he thought was a 14-year-old girl.

It is claimed he had wanted to take the ‘child’ to a Co Antrim hotel.

However, the girl was in fact a well known paedophile hunter who uses the pseudonym James O’Neill.

He then provided details and made a statement before the arrest was made.

Mr O’Neill said last night that the soldier was one of six people he reported to police before joining the group Silent Justice earlier this year.

Since June Mr O’Neill has become one of the best known sexual predator hunters in Ireland and Britain. He regularly takes part in stings carried out by Silent Justice.

The group uses adult decoys who pretend to be children to lure potential predators via online chatrooms.

Once evidence of grooming has been gathered the suspect is confronted live on Facebook before details are given to police.

Although hunter-style groups have been active in England for some time, they have only recently started operating on this side of the Irish Sea.

As one of the most prominent hunter groups, Silent Justice came to wider public attention in August after it carried out a sting at the home of a Co Antrim man it said had exchanged messages with a person he thought was a 14-year-old girl.

The man, who was arrested at the scene and released without charge, later took his own life.

It can now be revealed that the Police Ombudsman has launched an investigation into the man’s death.

The incident generated debate around hunter groups’ tactics.

In a rare interview Mr O’Neill said he believes police may not have carried out a mental health assessment before releasing the man.

“Did they or did they not put this man through a mental health evaluation before releasing him on bail?” he asked.

A police spokesman said: “As there is a Police Ombudsman investigation ongoing, it would be inappropriate to comment any further.”

A spokesman for the ombudsman said it initiated the investigation after being told about the death following police contact.

Mr O’Neill said he regrets how the confrontation ended.

He also voiced frustration after the PSNI seized several mobile phones belonging to the group in recent months.

He claims that since June the PSNI has seized three mobile phones belonging to him, along with a laptop computer.

Mr O’Neill says officers arrived at his home to seize the equipment earlier this year after he presented police with evidence about suspects.

He says one of the phones, which cost £800 and is on a £60-a-month contract, might not be returned until after any trial takes place.

He said he remains frustrated that no cases have been brought to court.

“Why on earth are these cases not put forward to the Public Prosecution Service? I don’t understand,” he said.

“As soon as we arrest anybody and everybody says, ‘Ah, we are going to get him remanded into custody’.

“No, we’re not.”

A spokeswoman for the prosecution service said last night: “To date we have not received any investigation files for consideration as to prosecution involving information provided by so-called paedophile hunters.

“Police have asked for prosecutorial advice in relation to ongoing investigations which have arisen from information provided by such groups and we are considering these matters.”

Mr O’Neill, who is the father of two young children, said that although he first considered becoming a hunter last year he did not get directly involved until this year.

“I have no history of abuse myself,” he said.

“The only way I can put it is I am a very, very protective father.”

Mr O’Neill said he believes paedophilia cannot be changed and that the north needs a group like his.

“It could be anybody. They have gotten away with it for ever over here,” he said.

“Yes, we have had other groups coming to Northern Ireland and doing a sting or two but never, never anything based here.

“And the only thing they are afraid of, the only thing that scares them is the exposure.

“That’s their fear factor.”

Detective Chief Superintendent George Clarke said: “Our job is to gather the best possible evidence to enable effective investigations that produce a charge and successful prosecution.

“Police will therefore seize and examine anything that may contain evidence.

“We do not seize or hold items for longer than is necessary for the purposes of investigation and or evidence to put before a court.

“It is the role of the Police Service of Northern Ireland to deal with those allegedly involved in this type of crime, not others.

“We are the professionals with the expert knowledge and experience to carry out rigorous investigations to the required evidential standard.”

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