A group of self-styled paedophile hunters have vowed to carry on seeking out child abusers after a jury cleared them of all charges following stings on two men.
The group, called Predator Exposure, “overstepped the mark”, according to prosecutors, when they confronted the men after they had taken part in online chats with group members posing as teenagers, Leeds Crown Court heard.
Six of the group went on trial accused of charges including false imprisonment and common assault.
After just over a day of deliberations, they were cleared of all charges following an eight-day trial.
Shouts of “Yes!” came from the public gallery where the defendants’ friends and family were seated.
Outside on the court steps the defendants and supporters wiped away tears and exchanged hugs and high fives.
Philip Hoban, 43, who set up the group, lit a thick cigar to cheers from supporters, and said: “This is just the first start and we’ll be back hunting, very soon. Tune in people.”
The group said they would be releasing a full statement on their website later.
Earlier jurors heard that the members detained and verbally abused two men and used unnecessary force against one, who was allegedly put in a headlock and dragged out of a shop against his will.
The defendants denied all the charges against them, claiming they were making lawful citizen’s arrests.
In August 2018, four of the defendants went to a home in Normanton, West Yorkshire, to confront a man who had talked online with a Predator Exposure member posing as a 14-year-old, the court heard.
The man, who had been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as a child and is believed to be on the autistic spectrum, was prevented from leaving his back garden and going inside his home to get his medication, and was left “extremely scared and upset”.
Another man was confronted by five of the defendants in the Chapel Allerton area of Leeds in January this year.
He was chased to a nearby shop, where some members of the group attempted to physically drag him outside to make a citizen’s arrest, the jury heard.
Both of the men who were confronted were arrested on suspicion of inciting a child to engage in sexual activity but, while prosecutors accepted the conversations between the men and the decoys did amount to criminal offences, neither of the men was charged.
Hoban, from Beeston in Leeds, and his 19-year-old son Jordan McDonald, from the Farnley area of Leeds, were found not guilty of two counts of false imprisonment and one of common assault.
Jordan Plain, 26, from Leeds, and Dean Walls, 52, from Moortown, Leeds, were found not guilty of one count of false imprisonment and one of common assault.
Kelly Meadows, 40, from Leeds, was found not guilty of two counts of false imprisonment, and Christine James-Roberts, 60, from Headingley, Leeds, was found not guilty of one charge of false imprisonment.