A sheriff has hit out at “vigilante” groups that ensnare potential paedophiles.
Sheriff Alastair Brown said their activities “put people at risk” after dealing with a Fife man caught up in a group’s sting.
Robert Stewart sent messages to a member of the paedophile hunter group, thinking he was communicating with a 14-year-old.
He appeared at Dunfermline Sheriff Court to admit sending sexually explicit messages and videos to the “girl” and attempting to cause a child to look at a sexual image.
Sheriff Brown said he had been entrapped and placed him on a payback order and the sex offenders register for six months.
He said Stewart, 79, of Page Street, Lochgelly, had been subject to “entrapment by a vigilante group, that is a group acting in an unregulated manner, using distinct techniques which are distinct and making false representations”.
He said the activities of such groups had been previously condemned by police in Scotland as well as in England and Wales, adding: “What they do puts people at risk.”
The sheriff said no harm has been done, because no child ever existed, but society disapproved strongly of the offences Stewart had committed and he had been the target of “public vilification including people attending at his home”.
The sheriff concluded: “In the reports I’ve read there is no evidence that he poses a risk to anyone.”
The court heard Stewart had been conversing with a vigilante group based in Stoke-on-Trent, in the belief he was speaking to a teenager called “Madison”.
Depute fiscal Jill Currie said the group contacted a similar one based in Dundee and told them about the messages being sent by Stewart.
Members from the Dundee group then went to Stewart’s home and challenged him.
This encounter was videoed and showed Stewart denying involvement and the paedophile hunters saying they would be contacting the police.
The depute said there were 50 pages of “extremely graphic” messages sent by Stewart, which she would be submitting as evidence.
Initially, Stewart had denied being involved when confronted on his doorstep by the campaigners.
However, the court was told he now accepted his guilt and blamed his actions on being “bored during lockdown”.
Defence solicitor James Moncrieff asked for the messages not be read out.
He said: “They are not the sort of thing I think should be read in court.
“The messages are of a very graphic nature.”
Mr Moncrieff said his client lives with his wife and is her carer, as she has various health problems.
He said: “He’s ashamed and disgusted at his behaviour.”