BBC News

The paedophile hunter turned prey

By Alice Evans
BBC News

image copyrightKellie Howarth
image captionTrolls sent hoax emails to police claiming Kellie Howarth was sexually abusing children

Kellie Howarth used to pose as a young girl to trap paedophiles online. Then she became hunted herself by internet trolls and was falsely accused of abusing children. Was she the victim of a vengeful child sex offender?

It was a few months ago, as Kellie was getting ready for a day out at the park with her young daughters, that police knocked on her door.

The 42-year-old mother-of-four panicked. She asked the officers whether something had happened to her adult son, who lived away from home.

No, they said. We need to speak to you.

She sent her 12-year-old upstairs and gave her four-year-old daughter some toys to play with.

Sitting down with her other daughter, aged 26, she listened as the officer explained some "nasty" allegations had been made about her.

A graphic email had been sent to Northumbria Police claiming she was sexually abusing children.

The email claimed Kellie "regularly" made "homemade video" of her sexually abusing a child before "publishing it online to paedophiles".

"I was literally gobsmacked," Kellie said.

"It actually broke me. It was awful. I actually sobbed."

image copyrightTwitter/Kellie Howarth
image captionA tweet (left) claiming Kellie is a paedophile was not deemed to have violated Twitter's rules

But Kellie knew exactly what she had to do to prove to the officer the allegations were false.

She pulled out her phone and showed him a year's collection of abusive messages she'd been sent on social media.

The email was just the latest stunt in a vicious and incessant campaign from online trolls that began after she was outed as a member of the paedophile hunting group The Hunted One.

"When it first started I literally vomited," Kellie said. "It's been an absolute nightmare."

She tried to hide what was happening from her family, but it eventually became too much.

"One day it just got so bad on Twitter that I hit the kitchen floor and just broke down sobbing," she said.

She told her husband but her youngest children still do not know about her ordeal.

image copyrightTwitter
image captionAnother Twitter troll asked people to help locate Kellie

The Hunted One claims to have provided police with evidence leading to the conviction of about 30 sex offenders. Kellie volunteered after doing similar work for a smaller group in north-east England called Guardians of the North.

Her role in The Hunted One was to pose as young girls online by creating fake "decoy" profiles on Facebook.

She would accept message requests from men who would then begin "grooming" her.

When she had built up enough evidence against suspects, she would either pass the messages to police or take part in "stings", where the group members confronted the suspect, often live streaming video to their online followers.

"It was something that, to me, seemed like a good thing at the time," Kellie said.

However, five months after she joined The Hunted One, the real identities of its members were exposed on a blog. The anonymous blogger complained they were "dangerous" and "out of control".

image copyrightother
image captionKellie fears her children could be at risk if she was recognised and has asked for recent photos of her to be blurred
image copyrightWordPress
image captionKellie's fellow paedophile hunter, Josh, was also targeted. Here the troll claims Josh turned to paedophilia because "no one likes me or fancies me"

The blog also linked to various pro-paedophile pages, including a petition to abolish the sex offenders register and an article calling for indecent images of children to be legalised.

This has led Kellie to suspect at least some of her online tormentors are disgruntled paedophiles, not least as the attacks began shortly after her real identity was exposed.

"It's definitely paedophiles behind this," Kellie said. "They don't want the paedophile hunters around."

"So I'm worried that if they find me they will take pictures of my children."

Josh Blakely, from west London, is another former paedophile hunter who has been targeted by the same trolls. He also firmly believes convicted paedophiles are behind the abuse and has passed on the name of one suspect to police.

"It was not hard to work out," he said. "They all communicate with each other."

He said he began hunting paedophiles to get "justice" for abuse he suffered as a child and has helped convict 28 men.

However, he was left feeling suicidal and scared to leave his home after receiving a barrage of abuse which left him "sick to the stomach".

One doctored photo shared online depicted Josh holding a protest sign calling for the legal age of sexual consent to be lowered to six years old.

image copyrightLIVELEAK
image captionA photo of Josh Blakely protesting against child abuse was altered to produce this fake image calling for the age of consent to be lowered
image copyrightNick Ansell/PA
image captionThe original photo of Josh protesting in Westminster on 14 January 2015 at an event supporting victims and survivors of child abuse

One website claimed Josh, Kellie and others in the paedophile hunting community were part of a "child porn paedophile ring".

Another animation merged a photo of Josh with an image of the disgraced BBC presenter Jimmy Savile.

"That was so disturbing to me," Josh said.

"There was one point back in August, and one of [the trolls] had been on my Twitter feed and... commented on there saying that I needed hanging.

"That to me was the last straw. Mentally, I shut down. I was in a bit of a state."

Both Kellie and Josh have reported numerous pages to Twitter, YouTube, WordPress, LiveLeak, Blogspot and Facebook but each time one is suspended, others pop up.

"It's not just one account, it's about 30 accounts [at once]," Kellie said. "Whoever is doing it is very clever."

One particular tweet featured a photo of Kellie alongside her name and the label "PAEDO".

But a Twitter support team member told her there had been "no violation of the Twitter Rules against abusive behaviour".

Twitter said it does not comment on individual cases.

Josh has also had problems with Google, who he said had not yet acted on his "right to be forgotten" request. A spokesman said Google was in contact with Josh and had offered him advice on how to manage his online reputation.

Police officers have tried to help Kellie, but it has proved difficult. The trolls have been traced to various internet cafes across London, but have not been identified further.

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Northumbria Police confirmed it had received the "hoax" email accusing Kellie of "serious sexual offences", but the matter was closed when the claims were established to be "false".

The Metropolitan Police said it was pursuing several lines of inquiry after Josh reported the trolling, but would not confirm whether or not it thought paedophiles were behind the abuse.

Josh's health has improved after he began taking anti-depressants and sleeping medication, but he is still "petrified" his home address will be published online by the trolls, as it has been before.

"I don't know if something horrific is going to happen to me," he said.

"Is my safety going to be compromised? Am I going to have to move from my home?"

Kellie, who said her "lovely" friend Josh "doesn't deserve any of this" also fears what the future holds.

"Trolls on Twitter have been threatening to rape me and kill my children," she said.

"I think it will eventually escalate if they have got people in this area, and find out where I live."

Related Topics

  • Child abuse

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