“My son works with one of those paedophile hunters.”
It’s enough to catch anyone’s attention, when you’re just sat on their couch, chilling.
They worked together as chefs in a County Durham pub. That was all that was said, at first, but for the next couple of weeks, I couldn’t take the idea from my mind. And the more I thought about the concept – working class people rising up, taking the law into their own hands, rooting out men who wanted to have sex with children, who were actively seeking to have sex with children – the more I understood this was a book I needed to write.
I got in touch with the man who inspired Billy, my novel’s main character. He invited me into his house and was honest, not only about his work as a paedophile hunter, but about his past history of abuse and how it affected him. I met him numerous times, a man many would class an outsider, part of an underclass, someone to be feared. I found a good man, striving to move forwards, honest, too honest some would suggest. I respect him hugely, I always will. I love the man, as I do the woman who inspired Stacey, the mother of his child, a beautiful woman and mother who again, was honest about her work as a hunter and her own past. They took me in, as one of their family. They trusted me.
Next, I saw the woman who inspired the hunter Michele. I’ve only met her a couple of times, but I’d trust her with my life. The first thing this woman did, except for welcome me into her home and make me a cup of tea, was to log onto Facebook and show me how many friend requests her thirteen-year old decoy girl had received in the past two days.
This was the moment things hit home. There were eighty-seven friend requests in just two days, and that was just for one of Michele’s decoy profiles.
We flicked through the profiles of the men who had sent friend requests to her thirteen-year old decoy. We read the messages they’d sent her, some a little seedy, some downright disgusting, but most of them friendly, on the surface level, reaching out to an underage girl in the hope they could strike up an online relationship, with the fantasy of something more.
All that time with Billy and Stacey, discovering their own lives, what they thought about the work they did, then half an hour with Michele and it was like I’d been punched in the gut. Yes me, a middle-aged man who’s never been abused in his life. All that previous online reading I’d stopped, because it was too horrible, because I didn’t want to believe it: about high-society paedophile rings operating for decades, preying on vulnerable children; about scum like Jimmy Saville being allowed to abuse, time and time again, despite so many knowing what he was doing. There’s a lot of guilty people about, and it’s definitely not just the abusers. And there, in front of me, as we flicked through Michele’s mobile phone, was proof that paedophilia was widespread, on every estate in every town and city.
Michele showed me past messages of men she’d already caught, how their chats turned from trivial and friendly to pushing and perverted. I saw photographs of erect penises, watched videos of them masturbating, heard what they said to whom they believed were underage girls. We looked at their profiles and found real underage girls on their friends list. Michele confessed to feeling sick at the thought of them being groomed, that they may have been abused already. She put me in touch with Gary, the hunters’ boss.
I met Gary in a carpark where he often stung paedophiles with his team. He revealed how they operated, why he created the group and how he managed his team, then admitted they were revealing just the tiny tip of a giant iceberg. He answered my numerous questions over the following months, arranged for me to meet him outside court and spend time with him as paedophiles his hunting group had stung, were sentenced. I walked into court with him, sat down with him next to one of these paedophiles, and I realised what a strong man Gary was, doing all this work for free, incredibly long hours, seven days a week and often very disturbing. I watched the magistrate read out the paedophile’s previous offences, not only against fake decoy children, but against real children as well. Please don’t fall for the argument that these are not real children the men are targeting, so therefore we should be far more lenient. These are men actively seeking to groom and have sex with children, and they’re usually connected to real children as well as decoys. And don’t sell me that entrapment argument, not with hunting groups like these, who do not reach out to anybody, but simply wait for people to come to them. Respect to Guardians of the North, to Dark Justice, and all those hunting groups that work alongside the police, not instead of them. They are not vigilantes; they are a community service doing their best to protect our children.
When I’d written all my notes and transcribed all recorded interviews, I began to plot and write. That’s when I realised I’d have to write from the point of view of paedophiles, I’d have to enter the mindset of men who wanted to have sex with children, show their fantasies and reveal some of their previous abusing. It honestly never occurred to me this was something I would have to do. But Paedophile Hunters is similar to crime fiction, yet instead of detectives we have normal working class folk, struggling with their own lives and trying their best to catch ‘wrong ‘uns’. And instead of serial killers, whose point of view we dip into as the narrative progresses, for the purpose of depth and suspense, we have paedophiles. Thankfully, somehow, I’m able to compartmentalise in my head; I’m not sure how sometimes, but I can. I can put my writer’s head on and take it off again, just like I can usually return from a long shift in a hostel for homeless young people and leave that version of me back there. It’s useful, most of the time.
There was no point having my hunters catch the same type of paedophile over and over again though; that doesn’t make a gripping story. I intensified the narrative as the story progressed. Back I went, to those horrible stories of elite paedophilia, of the powerful abusing the vulnerable, as they have done so in so many different guises throughout history. I researched the dark web, the mindsets of paedophiles and the addictive nature of fantasy, particularly that of a deviant sexual nature. I watched porn, legal adult porn, but I never once saw an image of child abuse or accessed the dark web. There was no way I was putting images into my head that would never leave again. And yet, the whole process must have had an impact upon me, because when I’d finished the novel, I was so relieved I pledged not to start another in the whole of 2020, but rather spend more time with my family and be creative in other ways. And when I gave Paedophile Hunters to someone to read through, she reached halfway then wouldn’t continue, asking if I’d become anaesthetised to the horrors within. We discussed this. You can’t possibly feel the impact of a novel that you’ve created, in the same way someone else, reading it for the first time, might. My friend reminded me crime novels had moments of horror, but they built towards them through suggestion and foreshadowing. I went back through my novel and played with the balance between graphic and suggestive, transforming some of the former into the latter. But the story is still terrifying and graphic in places. It’s a step up from all those crime novels we see everywhere these days, and it’s more terrifying because it has to be, because it’s real, it’s all around us. Pick up the papers. Look at social media. Corona virus dominates right now, understandably so, but beforehand, and afterwards, you’ll see articles on sexual abuse and paedophilia on a daily basis, and not just from your local estates. Prince Andrew, Jeffrey Epstein, Harvey Weinstein, all those Catholic priests and Muslim grooming gangs, children’s homes where sexual abuse was widespread. You’ll see headlines that talk of an older man ‘having sex’ with a fifteen year old girl, and hopefully say to yourself no, that’s not sex, that’s rape. You’ll remember articles stating 114 files of sexual abuse including politicians were somehow ‘lost’, by Theresa May or Leon Brittan. Then there’s the investigation into Child Sex Abuse, where several chairs resigned, or were persuaded to step down. And then there’s the stories many of you won’t know about, such as that of Melanie Shaw. Feel free to Google her.
So why didn’t I get an agent or publisher for this book? You tell me; it’s written well enough, it’s topical enough, and there’s a public appetite for such stories. Paedophile Hunting teams are hugely popular on social media. Newspapers love to use the videos of their stings on their websites. Perhaps the publishing world don’t want to go there. Perhaps they’d rather turn a blind eye, like the rest of society, like all those people in Rotherham, Nottingham, Newcastle and Telford, like all those people with Saville, Epstein and Weinstein. Is this what society has come to? Is this what art is these days? So sanitised we only want something that looks nice and matches our curtains? That doesn’t reveal and provoke? This is not the purpose of art, surely, and nor is it the purpose of writing. True, there is a place for the sanitised, the safe and comfortable, but there should always remain a place for truth, however uncomfortable it may be at times. And in the case of Paedophile Hunters, the majority of the story is about the hunters themselves, rising up from their own abuse, conquering their own demons by snaring abusers. And these hunters are people we should be proud of. Read the book and tell me you disagree, I dare you.
When I finished the novel, I approached Gary, the hunters leader, and said I wanted to donate some of my profits to his group, to cover traveling costs and car maintenance. No, he said, I don’t want your money. I’d rather you gave it to real children, to charities that support abused children. That is the measure of the man, and the people in his team, and so that is what I’ll do …
Imagine: a paedophile grooming a twelve-year old girl, then going to have sex with her. But it’s a trap, and instead, he’s confronted by Billy, a twenty-five year old cage-fighter who’s been to prison three times and was abused in childhood.
Join Billy, his pregnant girlfriend and their fellow hunters, as they come to terms with their own abuse by posing online as children. Discover a community taking matters into their own hands, snaring paedophiles from all walks of life, from so-called family men and loners, to procurers working for rich and powerful paedophile rings.
Richard W Hardwick, acclaimed writer of The Truth About Prison and Kicked Out, spent a year with the most notorious and successful paedophile hunting gang in Britain. This is what he found …
Buy my book, take a photograph of it and tag me in it on Facebook or Twitter, and I’ll donate fifty percent of my profits to charities that support abused children, or adults that were abused as children. The power of story can illuminate even the darkest of places. It resonates inside us and has done so since before we learned to read and write, when oral story-telling was all we had. If you’re lucky, you had loving parents that read to you as a child and helped open your mind. Here is a story that is difficult at times, but important, and that needs telling. And here is a way to make a small difference. Thank you.
Paedophile Hunters can be bought here …
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