Judge summons police to court after delays in '˜paedo hunters' case
Police must explain progress in a case against three alleged paedophile hunters accused of targeting suspected sex offenders and trying to menace an investigative journalist, a judge has ordered.
Officers were directed to attend Belfast Magistrates’ Court amid concerns at the time being taken to gather all outstanding evidence.
George Keenan, 34, Richard Curtis, 33, and Tim Heron, 28, face a series of charges linked to alleged meetings with named individuals at a number of locations in Northern Ireland.
They included counts of false imprisonment, attempting to cause suspects to leave places of occupation and common assault.
Keenan, of Glenwood Court in the Dunmurry area of Belfast; Curtis from Albert Road in Carrickfergus, Co Antrm; and Heron, of Cloverhill Vale in Bangor, Co Down, are also jointly charged in connection with an incident involving BBC reporter Kevin Magee earlier this year.
Mr Magee was allegedly confronted by a group at a coffee shop on Botanic Avenue in south Belfast.
Footage of the encounter showed the journalist, who was making a news report on the activities of paedophile hunter groups operating in Northern Ireland, then being followed outside as he made his way to a car.
The defendants are all charged with disorderly behaviour and attempting by force, threat or menace to cause Mr Magee to refrain from broadcasting a television interview.
Keenan and Heron are accused of obstruction as part of the same incident on February 6.
All three men are currently on bail while they wait for a preliminary enquiry to establish if they should be committed for trial.
One of their lawyers has claimed police had supplied group members with a “paedophile hunting manual” which involved a 19-point plan on how to achieve best evidence.
Those alleged instructions are expected to form the basis of an attempt to have the case against the three accused thrown out.
Their legal teams plan to argue charges should be dismissed because guidance from police on how to carry out their activities amounted to an abuse of executive power.
At Belfast Magistrates’ Court defence counsel Mark Farrell, who represents two of the accused, pressed for an update on proceedings.
A Crown lawyer confirmed the files have been allocated to a senior prosecutor, but disclosed that CCTV, video footage and social media evidence remains outstanding.
Stressing the case is approaching the six-month point, District Judge Fiona Bagnall responded: “All of the things you’re mentioning are within the control of the police.”
She listed a further review in two weeks time for full information to be provided.
Judge Bagnall added: “I want the officers here, and I want an explanation what they are doing about all of this outstanding material.”