In 2018 in Scotland, child sex offender Mark Sutherland was snared online by a paedophile hunter purporting to be a 13-year-old boy.
Sutherland sent sexual messages and images to ‘the boy’ before arranging to meet him at Partick Bus Station, Glasgow.
There he was met by members of Groom Resistors Scotland, who confronted Sutherland and posted their meeting online. Subsequently he was jailed for two years.
Sutherland brought a legal challenge, arguing that his right to a private life, enshrined in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, had been breached.
At a hearing last month, [June] a panel of five justices, including the court’s president, Lord Reed, heard evidence from Sutherland’s legal team that police and prosecutors gave ‘tacit encouragement’ to such groups by often using the information they gather.
The Supreme Court – the highest court in the UK – rejected the argument, saying the method was lawful.
Jersey-based mother of two Cheyenne O’Connor, 27, has been described as the country’s most prolific paedophile hunter. Her efforts have led to the conviction of 25 child sex offenders, including two from Guernsey.
Posing as a child, she collects evidence online which she hands to police, but she does not confront people.
She said the Supreme Court’s ruling had not surprised her.
‘As far as I’m concerned the human rights of people like Mark Sutherland should not be considered,’ she said.
‘If the Supreme Court had ruled in his favour it would have only provoked more vigilantism from paedophile hunters.’
Delivering the Supreme Court’s ruling, Lord Sales said the appeal had been dismissed unanimously. He said Sutherland believed he was communicating with a 13-year-old boy and had no ‘reasonable expectation of privacy’ because a child could tell an adult. The authorities had a ‘special responsibility to protect children against sexual exploitation by adults’ and that overrode the right to privacy for such ‘reprehensible’ communications.
‘The interests of children have priority over any interest a paedophile could have in being allowed to engage in criminal conduct,’ the judgment said.