Over in Adelaide, the citizen who hunted down paedophiles in a vigilante fashion now faces court for his actions. However, the general public is now looking to pay his legal fees.
The operations were reminiscent of those performed on the US television show To Catch a Predator.
42-year-old Adelaide man Rich Warner posed as a boy online in order to identify child groomers and lure them to designated locations, where he would film and arrest them, before contacting police and posting the videos online.
The “Adelaide Pedo Hunter” filmed and posted videos of two such sting operations. He met one of the suspects at Torrens Park train station in Adelaide’s south, performed an arrest on the middle-aged father-of-one and interrogated him for almost an hour before police arrived. Officers then accompanied the suspect to his home where they seized electronic devices.
Mr Warner has since been charged with aggravated assault, using a carriage service to menace and harass or cause offence and publishing the identity of a person charged with a sexual offence. It is an offence in South Australia to publish the identities of those charged with sexual offences until and unless they plead guilty or have been committed for trial.
He has been granted police bail and will face Adelaide’s Magistrates Court next month.
Criticism by police
Police have been highly critical of Warner’s conduct, calling it “dangerous” and warning that it could compromise police investigations.
“Police are bestowed (…) direct powers through the law to prevent and detect crime – it is our job,” Detective Superintendent Mark Wieszyk remarked, adding:
“There are many reasons for this, including the complexities involved in being able to present a fair case in court, where there is a natural justice and compliance with the rules of evidence.”
The judge disagreed. “Vigilante offences are to be discouraged… even more so where the perceived crime may be unsavoury to the attackers, but is no crime in law at all.”
“When evidence exists, people will take appropriate action to investigate and undertake criminal charges where appropriate… However, when evidence becomes legally tainted, it has no value to the wider community.”
He called upon members of the community to, “pass on any information you have to police, don’t take this onboard yourself.”
The officer explained that one of the homes seen on Mr Warner’s videos was vandalised despite the alleged predator not living at that address, which he says highlights the dangers of vigilantism.
Despite this, the community appears to be firmly behind Mr Warner, showering him with praise and even funding his legal defence.
Warner reached his target of $5,000 for his legal fees within days of setting up a GoFundMe campaign.
“All of what has happened has been done by friends in community,” he said. “I’m overwhelmed with community support and want to say a huge thank you for starting up the support page, for helping contribute to legal costs.”
“The public would be completely shocked if they had any idea of the magnitude of the problem.”
The case of case of Bonnet v R NSWCCA 234 confirmed that the law treats vigilantes no differently to other members of the public.
The defendant in that case, Ms Bonnet, was part of a group who attacked 42-year-old Mr Venn, a man she believed was having a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old girl.
Ms Bonnet was convicted of “robbery with deprivation of liberty” and sentenced to imprisonment.
She appealed the severity of her sentence on the basis that, among other things, the judge did not properly consider her vigilante motivations.
The judge disagreed, noting that “vigilante offences are to be discouraged by general deterrence, and even more so where, as in this case, the perceived crime may be unsavoury to the attackers, but is no crime in law at all.” The appeal was dismissed.
Victims Commissioner Michael O’Connell has called upon members of the public to help police to identify suspects, but cautioned against taking matters into their own hands.
“One of my concerns is that people who are vigilantes around the world have created more harm than good when you look at the overall picture of their contribution to our safety, and the people that they say they are trying to protect,” he stated.