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EXCLUSIVE: Fed up crime victims turn social media vigilantes to solve cases police can't or won't help with

April 13, 2019

ON CAMERA: Motorbike raiders break into a Harlow home (left) while burglar is filmed inside another house 

BRITS have become social media vigilantes to try to crack crimes in their area amid claims police are too stretched to solve cases, new research claims.

A staggering 45 per cent of people who were surveyed across the UK are members of social media crime-fighting groups, according to the study, with some users sharing CCTV of crimes at their homes and even filming crooks in the act on the streets.

The groups, often set up as Facebook Neighbourhood Watch or Crime Watch pages for local towns, see members post alerts about crime waves, CCTV of suspected criminals or suspicious vehicles and details of crimes they have suffered.

Others then try to identify the suspects before police are informed. 

They have largely been set up to combat rising burglary and car theft rates in their areas, amid claims police are not treating them seriously enough or responding quickly enough.

In many cases members report recovering their vehicles with the help of other members or recovering stolen property.

FISHY: A keen eyed motorist posted this slip up of false number plates on a white van on Facebook

Joy Emmett from Basildon, Essex, said: "Last year though I noticed a car parked outside where I lived that I didn’t recognise and assumed it was a visitor.

"Later that day I saw a post about a car that had been stolen and realised it was the same car. I was then able to ring the police to report it found and contacted the owner."

Vigilante Brett Ingram, also from Basildon, said he had seen posts about stolen cars on Facebook then followed them if if saw them on the road.

He said: "I have followed a few stolen cars and pulled them over. And messaged the people via Facebook to come and collect."

He did not go into how he pulled them over or what happened to those driving the vehicles. 

In some cases people have filmed suspected criminals in the act and posted the footage online, including a filmed confrontation between residents and men in a van fly tipping a van load of commercial waste outside a park used by Scout groups was posted on a forum centred around Chingford, east London.

 

RED HANDED: A fly tipper is filmed in the act and then confronted on camera in Chingford (Facebook)

There are concerns from some quarters that images of innocent people could be posted online in connection with a crime or that postings such as CCTV or other evidence used in a subsequent court case could risk jeopardising the trial. 

Last month residents in Bridlington, East Yorkshire, posted footage of a man burgling a house.

In a separate incident in the town images of burglars taking a safe from a pub were also posted before police released any appeals.

In some cases people's images are being uploaded even if it is not clear if a crime has been committed.

In Essex a man who took a car battery left in a front garden was shamed and in Camborne, Cornwall, video of a man who stopped and looked at a house was uploaded.

Tracy Ringwood set up the Camborne group after suffering a burglary in which three bikes were stolen and a caravan twas trashed.

CREEPY: Rob Baker returned to his Witham home in Essex to find two men inside before he posted footage 

She said police refused to investigate, adding: "I decided to create this group, so the community can get their word out straight away if they had a crime committed, because I know first hand how horrible it feels with the lack of support."

The research by home security company safe.co.uk found 43 per cent of online crime fighters were active on groups at least once a week.

It said London has the highest population of online vigilantes at 48 per cent followed by Glasgow at 46 per cent and Sheffield with 44 per cent.

WANTED: The Owner of Barnsley Antique Centre in Barnsley posted footage of a suspected thief 

Anthony Neary, Managing Director of safe.co.uk said: “It’s encouraging to see communities coming together to catch local burglars, and we’re glad to see that traditional ‘Neighbourhood Watch’ values haven’t fallen by the wayside. 

"Social media channels can be hugely effective, and it appears the trend to use them to fight local crime is on the rise."

On Facebook forums across the country we found posts with video released by residents showing an array of crimes in the act, including house break-ins, thefts from shops or of vehicles.

ATTACKED: Jakub Banik took to social media over his concerns (Facebook/Jakub Banik) 

Last month Slovakian student Jakub Banik, 22, took to an Essex Crime Watch Facebook group to warn people about violent muggers in Colchester who police had failed to immediately act against.

He told how he was punched five times in the head to the ground by one of two men who made off with his wallet.

Mr Banik said police told him he would be seen by officers "in a couple of days".

He wrote: "These guys are still out there. They can do this again tonight, tomorrow, next week. 

"I was lucky that those men did not carry a knife." 

BURGLARY: Two men crack a back door in Harlow before one returns to steal the car (Facebook) 

In February Michelle Gregory posted clear video of a house burglary where an Audi car was also stolen from the drive.

Two men in motorbike helmets are seen jemmying a back door open, before one returns without the helmet to take the car.

She posted: "Someone must recognise these scumbags who broke into my friends home in Harlow yesterday morning in broad daylight and stole their car. 

"One of their faces is completely uncovered! Please share away and get their faces round Essex."

The Met Police, which has the most groups in its area, does not endorse them.

These men posed as carers to get into an 82-year-old person's home according to a Facebook post 

A spokesman said: "This type of action could jeopardise or interfere with ongoing investigations, and our advice to anyone who has information about suspected criminal activity is to contact police so it can be investigated.

"Revealing the identity of a potential suspect could give them the opportunity to destroy evidence before police become involved.

"It could also lead to individuals taking action in an attempt to evade police. 

"This can divert significant policing resources which would be better invested in investigating and, where there is evidence, prosecuting individuals."

Simon Kempton, Police Federation operational lead, said: “There are examples of vigilante groups over-stepping the mark and are potentially jeopardising prosecutions."

He said police had set evidence gathering rules to follow. 

He added: "Evidence could be excluded from court later down the road as them posting this kind of content to social media could compromise ID evidence because it does not follow regulations."

 

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