Michael Duff took his own life after being branded a paedophile online
The daughter of a man who took his own life after being filmed by vigilantes has revealed the harrowing moment she saw a video on Facebook naming her father as a paedophile.
Michael Duff was questioned by police after footage allegedly showing him attempting to meet a 15-year-old for sex was posted online in July 2015 by a paedophile vigilante group known as ‘True Justice’.
The 67-year-old was questioned on suspicion of attempting to meet a girl under 16 following grooming and was later released on bail.
His body was found two days later at his home in Tyne and Wear.
His daughter Lesley only found out her father had allegedly messaged a 15-year-old old girl when a friend warned her about a video circulating on social media.
She told the Victoria Derbyshire programme: ‘My friend said, ‘look, I don’t really know how to say this to you Lesley, but there’s a video going round on Facebook – it’s your dad’.
‘It was on Facebook and I could already see mutual friends had viewed it, so there was nothing I could do.’
She told her daughter, then 15, ‘your grandad’s a paedophile’ – something she later regretted.
Someone she knew then posted a video of him being carried from his house to an ambulance in a body bag on Facebook.
Lesley on her wedding day, with her father Michael Duff
Michael Duff was questioned by police after footage allegedly showing him attempting to meet a 15-year-old for sex was posted online (pictured)
Lesley had not spoken to her father since the allegations were made and says she will never know the truth behind the claims.
She said she never suspected he ‘had another side which might lead him to contact a child’.
His death has left his family with unanswered questions regarding his alleged actions.
Lesley had not spoken to her father since the allegations were made
Lesley told the BBC: ‘This could have been a one-off thing where he’s done something stupid.
‘I know people would say, ‘well the thought was there’, but the reality is he may not have actually committed any crime at all.
‘We don’t know, because as soon as he [took his own life] the case was closed.
‘I don’t know what was on my dad’s computer, if anything, and I’m never going to know because somebody deemed to put it all over Facebook rather than letting police deal with it.’
The case was later referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission and officers contacted those who uploaded the video and asked them to remove it as it ‘formed part of a live investigation’.
The True Justice website later deleted the video.
The Victoria Derbyshire show also highlighted the case of married Robert Pearson, from Honley, West Yorkshire. The 56-year-old took his own life last year after he was jailed for sending sexually explicit texts to what he thought was a 14-year-old boy
Lesley told the BBC show that vigilante groups are hindering justice and said ‘paedophile hunters’ needed to be made aware of the consequences of uploading such footage.
Her comments come as it was revealed at least eight men have taken their own lives after being branded paedophiles by vigilante groups.
In the past six years, eight men committed suicide in the wake of being shamed on the internet and social media in ‘paedophile hunter stings’, according to the Victoria Derbyshire show.
Groups including Dark Justice, Guardians Of The North, Huntz 2 Exposure, The Guardian Angels and Catching Online Predators often post videos – some broadcast live – of the men they ‘snare’ to thousands of followers online.
Vigilante groups command massive support and have formed a volunteer online taskforce, linked by Facebook groups and private mobile phone chat groups.
In 2017 evidence from vigilante groups was used to charge more than 150 suspects, a seven-fold increase in two years.
Jamie Lee, 29, who describes himself as a ‘child protection enforcer’ told the BBC he is performing a public service
EIGHT MEN TAKE THEIR LIVES AFTER BEING ‘EXPOSED’ ONLINE
Robert Pearson, 56, June 2018
Married Robert Pearson, 56, of Honley, West Yorkshire, took his own life after he was jailed for sending sexually explicit texts to what he thought was a 14-year-old boy.
Mr Pearson was confronted in a video streamed live on Facebook on the doorstep of his home by a paedophile hunter who was working with a group called Team Impact.
He pleaded guilty to attempting to engage in sexual communication with a child and was jailed for eight months.
He was also suspended by Kirklees Council, West Yorkshire, which he had worked for in a 27-year career, and went on to resign. He was found hanged in a field in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, on June 22, 2018.
Nigel Sheratt, 47, August 2018
The body of Nigel Sheratt, 47, was found at a house in Cannock, Staffordshire, in August 2018 two days after he was stopped by members of vigilante group Soul Survivors while in his car.
The group said they had posed as a 14-year-old girl in Facebook chats with Mr Sheratt and claimed he had tried to groom her. They also confronted him with print outs of messages that contained sexually explicit language.
A relative said they found him dead and denied the accusations against him, claiming there was ‘no investigation’ against him.
Although the video ends with Mr Sheratt being taken to a police car, it is unclear if police had started any action against him.
Michael Duff, 67, July 2015
Michael Duff was questioned by police after footage allegedly showing him attempting to meet a 15-year-old for sex was posted online.
It is understood the 67-year-old was filmed in July 2015 by a paedophile vigilante group known as ‘True Justice’.
Mr Duff was questioned on suspicion of attempting to meet a girl under 16 following grooming and was later released on bail.
His body was found two days later at his home in Tyne and Wear.
Michael Parkes, 45, May 2013
Michael Parkes, 45, was confronted and filmed in May 2013 by Stinson Hunter, who had arranged to meet him after posing as a child online.
Mr Parkes was arrested by Northamptonshire Police on suspicion of meeting someone he thought to be a 12-year-old girl for sex, but was not charged.
An inquest heard he was found dead in his car with a ligature around his neck on June 2.
Northamptonshire Coroner Anne Pember recorded a verdict of suicide, with the cause of death as hanging.
But police officers working in child protection have warned that vigilante activity puts both hunters and targets at risk.
But hunters defend their actions, arguing they are helping to bring criminals to justice and expose offenders in communities.
Jamie Lee, 29, who describes himself as a ‘child protection enforcer’ said he is performing a public service.
Craig Kelly, a lecturer in Criminology at Birmingham City University, told MailOnline it was a ‘matter of time’ before someone is murdered by a vigilante but argued we ‘must not lose sight of the realities of these crimes’.
Mr Kelly said: ‘Poor children are being victimised. This subject is one of the things the public find most abhorrent, it is the biggest taboo in society and rightfully so.
‘But it is a matter of time before somebody is murdered by someone from one of these groups, not necessarily one that is active at the moment.
‘It is unfortunate that eight men have died, no matter what offence they committed, this should not happen.
‘But in context, six police officers have killed themselves in recent months because of PTSD.
‘Under austerity in the Conservative government in last six years, there has been a reduction in police numbers, forces are understaffed, so there is no possibility to combat the issue of child sex offenders on the internet – even if they have the numbers, they don’t have the training.
‘That leaves a deficit in what the police can manage. The Conservatives are on the back foot on trying to get these offenders before paedophile hunter groups emerge.
‘Paedophile hunters groups are going to hinder live investigations and it undermines the criminal justice system and innocent until proven guilty. It is a trial by media.
‘But it is shining spotlight on a greater problem – the onset of social media and societies’ propensity to push social media and our inherent unpreparedness to deal with the realities of these technologies.
‘My main worry is while the offenders are going out and trying to groom children on the internet should be brought to justice, what are the ramifications on their family and friends people losing loved ones – father, uncles, brothers?
‘The stigma doesn’t just stick on the person who committed the offence.
‘There needs to be a support system for family members directly affected. If they’re on an estate in the middle of somewhere like Birmingham, for example, they’re at risk from public taking things into their own hands.
‘The sex offence treatment programme to treat offenders in the UK has been proven to have increased number of sex offences. It is proven not to reduce it, but if anything it is exacerbating the problem.
‘People in these groups are likely to have been victims, had traumatic life experiences or have relatives who have been victims.
‘Taking it in this context is it any wonder people are taking it into their own hands?’