VIGILANTES snared a paedophile who contacted a 13-year-old online.

The teenage girl became suspicious when she received inappropriate messages from a man on Facebook so alerted her parents.

They enlisted the help of Shadow Hunters UK, a voluntary group who claim to expose child predators, to catch him.

The man had continued to chat to the young girl online, unaware the conversation was now in the hands of a decoy.

A Shadow Hunters spokesman, known as JR Hunter, said: “The chat got pretty vile, pretty quickly.

“The predator told the girl he wanted to rape her, then asked her if she knew what rape meant.”

The decoy, known as Chelsea Hunter, had control of the teenager’s Facebook account for a few weeks and led the man to Victoria Recreation Ground, Portslade, where he was later arrested by police.

Following the sting, Ian Collard, 28, of George William Mews, Portslade, was arrested at the park on Victoria Road.

Collard appeared in custody at Brighton Magistrates Court on June, 4 where he pleaded guilty to attempting to meet a 13-year-old girl to engage in sexual activity following online grooming.

He was released on bail and will return to the same court for sentencing on July 3.

JR Hunter said: “In respect of the real child, we would like to thank the parents of the child for their co-operation and we are happy that they came to us to sort this out.

“We believe that if the police worked alongside groups like ours, more successful and robust prosecutions would be made.

“We are volunteers but we are well versed in the laws surrounding this and also a lot of our team have safeguarding qualifications.

“We also run a support page for anyone who has been a victim of abuse.”

A concerned parent commenting on a Facebook post about the arrest said: “Oh my God that’s so scary, I live so close to Victoria Park and my daughter goes there to meet her mates.

“Thank you so much for the info, I will keep my eyes and ears open and post if I hear or see anything.”

SHADOW Hunters UK, formerly Sub-division, is an organisation run by three volunteers aiming to expose child predators around the country.

They were contacted by the parents of a 13-year-old girl in the Portslade area who were concerned about messages of a sexual nature she had been receiving online.

The man had been messaging the young girl for around three hours, despite being fully aware of her age.

“I’m looking at the chatlogs now,” said Shadow Hunters spokesman, JR. “Only four messages in she told him she was only 13.

“He asked her if she had a boyfriend and she said ‘no, I’m too young’.

“He replied “too young for what?”

Using the girl’s login details as supplied by her parents, a decoy took over the conversation.

“The chat became very sexualised, he was asking what she would do in certain situations, what she wears in bed and if anything is exposed.”

The decoy is experienced in dealing with online predators and kept her responses brief and non-leading to avoid being accused of entrapment, JR said.

“We had enough for a sting after about a week.

“We knew it was only going to get worse.

“It was decided we would use an adult decoy to lead him to the park, a strategy we sometimes use as it removes it from the child completely and it’s safer.

“His messages to the adult decoy turned sexual very quickly too and he agreed to meet at the park.”

It was here the Shadow Hunters apprehended the man, Ian Collard, and the police were called to make the arrest.

JR said: “We are disappointed he is only going to the magistrates’ court for sentencing as the sentence will be short. “Ideally sentences for this kind of crime should be harsher to act as a deterrent and make these predators think twice about behaving in this way.”

When asked about how police forces respond to vigilante groups like Shadow Hunters UK, JR said: “We are not trying to hinder the police with our involvement in any way, we just want to help catch these people.

“We don’t have the time or the resources the police do, but we are well versed on the law involved in our activity, it is something we have researched well.”

The group carries out stings all over the country and just last weekend caught up with four predators, he added.

JR said: “On Saturday we did one in Leicester then drove to Halifax for another straight afterwards.

“Then on Sunday, we went to Diss, then over to Norwich.”