Paedophile hunters ‘overstepped the mark’ when confronting suspects, court told
A group of paedophile hunters “overstepped the mark” when they falsely imprisoned and used violence against men they suspected of being child sex offenders, a court has heard.
The group, called Predator Exposure, confronted two men on separate occasions after they had taken part in online chats with group members posing as teenagers.
The members, who live-streamed the confrontations on social media, detained and verbally abused both men and used unnecessary violence against one, who was held in a headlock and physically dragged out of a shop against his will, Leeds Crown Court heard.
The six defendants deny the offences and claim they were making lawful citizen’s arrests.
Tom Storey, prosecuting, told the court: “The members of this group, and those working with them, overstepped the mark and went far beyond the bounds within which they should have operated.
“In short, the prosecution say that the way in which they behaved on these two occasions involved the commission by them of the criminal offences of false imprisonment and assault.”
The jury of seven men and five women heard that the first incident happened in August 2018, when four of the defendants went to the home, in the Normanton area of West Yorkshire, of a man who had taken part in online conversations with a Predator Exposure member posing as a 14-year-old.
They took the man, who was diagnosed with ADHD as a child and is believed to be on the autistic spectrum, into the back garden of the house and prevented him from leaving, even when he asked to be allowed inside to fetch his medication, the court heard.
One of the defendants, Phillip Hoban, 43, can be heard on footage taken by the group calling the man a “filthy c***” and asking him if he would prefer to be called “a nonce or a dirty bastard”, the jury was told.
Mr Storey said: “It is clear from the footage that (the man) was extremely scared and upset by what was taking place and, at times, he clearly did not understand.”
He added: “At one point he began crying.”
The second incident happened in January 2019 when five of the defendants went to the home of another man, in the Chapel Allerton area of Leeds.
The court heard that they chased the man to a nearby shop and some tried to physically drag him outside.
Mr Storey said: “(The man) was forced up against the counter, which he took hold of in an attempt to prevent the defendants pulling him out of the shop.
“Hoban’s way of dealing with this was to place his arm around his neck from behind and to pull his head back – what might be termed a headlock – while telling him he was under citizen’s arrest.”
The barrister continued: “The way in which the defendants went about this, and the violence they used, went way beyond anything that might have been necessary to detain him.”
After the man was “bundled” outside the shop, Hoban physically held on to his clothing while calling him a “dirty, horrible bastard”, a “child rapist” and an “animal”, the jury heard.
Both men were arrested on suspicion of inciting a child to engage in sexual activity but, while Mr Storey said the prosecution accepts that the conversations between the men and the decoys did amount to criminal offences, neither of the men was charged.
The court heard that the six defendants were arrested in February.
Mr Storey said some of the group had previously been issued with “cease and desist” letters telling them to stop what they were doing but they had chosen to ignore the warnings.
Hoban, a former professional mixed martial arts fighter, told police he set up Predator Exposure a couple of years ago.
He said in an interview that they always confront their suspects before contacting the police because he had once provided police information about a suspected paedophile and it had taken eight months before anything was done.
He, and the other defendants, denied assaulting the man in the shop and said they had used reasonable force to prevent him from trying to get a weapon or destroy the store.
Hoban, from Beeston, Leeds, and his son, Jordan McDonald, 19, from Farnley, Leeds, are both charged with two counts of false imprisonment and one of common assault.
Jordan Plain, 26, from Leeds, and Dean Walls, 52, from Moortown, are each charged with one count of false imprisonment and one of common assault.
Kelly Meadows, 40, from Leeds, is charged with two counts of false imprisonment and Christine James-Roberts, 60, from Headingley, Leeds, faces one charge of false imprisonment.
The defendants deny all the charges.
The trial continues.
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