Northern Ireland news

Police warn dating site users to beware of ‘predatory behaviour'

The PSNI has urged people using dating sites or apps to beware of predatory behaviour (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
Jonathan McCambridge, PA

Police have warned people using online dating sites or apps to ensure their safety when meeting someone for the first time.

Ahead of Valentine’s Day, the PSNI also said it would have officers on patrol in high footfall areas looking for “predatory behaviours”.

Detective Superintendent Lindsay Fisher said: “Whilst the majority of people using online dating sites and apps are doing so with honest intentions, our experiences show us there are people on there who may not be who they say they are, or who display sexual predatory behaviour.


The PSNI launched the Ask for Angela initiative in December (PSNI/PA)


“With people heading out this weekend to celebrate Valentine’s, we are likely to see an increase in people meeting someone they have been chatting to online, in person for the first time, and we want to ensure they do this safely.

“If you are making the decision to meet somebody for the first time face to face, make sure to meet in a public place, make friends and family aware of this meeting and your location and don’t be afraid to raise the alarm if something doesn’t feel right.

“People’s safety is of paramount importance to us so we are keen to hear from anyone this weekend and beyond who is concerned about the behaviour of someone they are talking to or have met online.

“We take reports like this incredibly seriously and will carry out a robust investigation to relentlessly pursue perpetrators.

“We will also have officers out and about on patrol in high footfall areas looking out for predatory behaviours and safeguarding those presenting as vulnerable.”

In December, the PSNI launched the Ask for Angela initiative to help identify customers in hospitality premises who are unsafe or feeling threatened.

Under the scheme, hospitality and security staff are trained that anyone who asks for “Angela” may be using a code to indicate they need help.

Almost 300 businesses have now signed up to the scheme.

Ms Fisher said: “Neighbourhood policing teams are out and about at this time, encouraging as many local businesses as possible to sign up.

“We know our hospitality sector is already committed to keeping people safe, by signing up to this scheme they are making a public pledge to help and support their customers when they need them the most.

“We have also just marked National Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week, where we revealed that last year 4,135 people reported sexual violence and abuse, 338 of which happened in online spaces like some of the popular online dating platforms and other chat apps.”

Joel Neill, operations director of Hospitality Ulster, said: “Northern Ireland’s hospitality industry prides itself on being a safe place to enjoy a day or night out.

“However, we can’t ignore the fact that sometimes people need help. It is vitally important that we continue in our efforts to safeguard everyone who comes through our doors.”