BBC News Internet Grooming Answers Investigation Private Investigators

BBC TV 6 O'Clock News
Internet Grooming

BBC News - Internet Grooming

Private Detectives Internet Grooming exposé on BBC TV News. This broadcast dominated the programme as a special report

We worked with the BBC 6 O'Clock News team to investigate approaches made in Internet chat rooms to under-age girls. Starting from scratch, we created an internet "identity" for a 14 year old girl, giving her a name, identity, photographs, email address, mobile phone number, amateur website and life history. Acting in this guise, an experienced Internet investigator then went into chatrooms and waited. In the past, when mounting this sort of operation, we have been targetting a suspected individual on behalf of business clients (who may be concerned about the activities of an employee) or parents (who have been concerned about who has approached their children

On this occasion, we were looking for general reaction rather than befriending a specific target - but even we were surprised at the response that followed.In a short time period, our "girl" (in reality a male detective) was approached by 66 men. Our arrangement with the BBC was for her to openly declare her age - 14 years old and a Year 10 student - at which only half of the men who had approached her backed down, the others variously maintaining conversation, some building her trust. Some of the contact's approaches were sexually explicit, others more subtle

One man, who was aware that our "girl" was 14 years old, pressed to meet her during internet conversations. He repeatedly asked for her mobile phone number, which was eventually exchanged for his. An exchange of text messages began and eventually, with one of our female investigators stepping in to be our girl's "voice", mobile phone calls. While seeming to be open, the man gave little information about himself, frequently telling the girl not to keep a record of their internet conversations and to delete his text messages

He was confident online, but withdrawn on the telephone, however he still pressed to meet her, specifying that she should be on her own and tell no-one where she was going. "She" insisted that she should bring a "friend", to which he reluctantly agreed - although encouraging her to get rid of her friend at the first opportunity and before she and he physically met. By this time we had identified the man and had a photograph which we believed accurate

With great planning, the meeting which had by now been arranged was covered. One female investigator acted as the girl, with a colleague playing her "friend", both wearing school uniform as the scenario that had been established was that they would be returning from an extra-curricular school activity.Elaborate security was put in place as the girls had to be watched for the whole of a train journey in addition to the meeting, always ready to act should there be any threat or danger. BBC cameras were present from beginning to end

Arriving at the rendezvous by train, the girls, still dressed in their school uniform, headed for the footbridge where she was to meet him. Security was already in place on both sides of the bridge and we knew he had arrived, having sited himself and his motorbike on the far side of the bridge to enable a getaway (much play had been made by him of taking her for a ride on his bike during the chatroom conversations)

The girls played in view, then "friend" departed, leaving our undercover investigator seemingly alone (although not, at any time, more than a few seconds from any security people). When he could see the coast was clear, he came on to the bridge where our girl was waiting for him, occasionally skipping. He introduced himself. She acted nervous, shy - her persona on the net was one of a lonely girl, no father, few friends, moved to a new town, and the man had played on this in conversations to gain her trust

In ten minutes conversation he was constantly trying to move her towards his parked motorbike on the opposite side to where her home was located. He was, of course, unaware of being filmed, and that our investigator was wired. At a given signal, a BBC correspondent and cameraman approached the man from behind while our undercover girl kept him in conversation. He was interviewed on camera, at first trying to push the camera away, then hesitantly answering the interviewer's questions, again conforming his full awareness of the girl's supposed age

Meanwhile, a somewhat shaken "14 year old" had been spirited away to safety. He left, on his motorbike, followed by our own motorbike outrider who was there to ensure the man was safe - we have a duty of care, regardless of the individual. Our rider only had a short journey as the man was pulled over by a waiting police car half a mile away

With the BBC running a further "piece to camera" as the man was put into the back of a police car a massive sense of relief was evident in our team, who adjourned to our base hotel for a long debrief. See/hear this story. We are frequently involved in this kind of operation, however this time it was rewarding to see our efforts made public as a major news item and referred to by Baronesss Thornton in the House of Lords

Nowadays, social networking sites have evolved that can be the beginning of similar problems. For further examples, do look at some of the other pages on this site including a transcript of online conversation, information on social networking sites, chatroom dangers, and chatrooms If you have concerns about people your children have come into contact with, or believe you may have this sort of problem within your company, call us on 01483 200999

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