Two gay men in the U.K. have been released from jail and cleared of all charges after an angry mob wrongly accused them of being pedophiles.
The two men, identified only as Ben and Jordan, were attacked in the town of Hull by a gang that goes by the name “Yorkshire Child Protectors.” The group uses Facebook’s livestreaming features to confront people they believe are child predators. They have no legal training, authority, or accountability, and police have accused them of destroying their targets’ lives simply for “Facebook likes.”
In this case, Ben and Jordan were leaving the home of Jordan’s sister when a mob of about 15 people cornered them, with thousands of people watching the livestream.
An unidentified person connected to the vigilante group had initially accused the men of trying to solicit sex from a young girl. It’s unclear why the person accused this couple in particular.
Once they were surrounded, local police were called, and the group duped authorities into arresting the gay men. They were locked up for an entire day, with only Jordan’s mother informed of their location.
Their accuser continued to receive solicitation messages while the couple was locked up, which led to their exoneration a day after being detained.
Afterwards, the group put out a rambling statement denying wrongdoing. “We won’t be taking all the blame,” they wrote in a Facebook statement that has since been deleted or hidden. “We was[sic] given the Intel by a family member and had not[sic] reason not to trust that family members word while indenity[sic] this innocent man.”
The statement, which was unsigned, added, “I will personally be sending them a message with a sorry that we messed up… they will both receive a personally[sic] inbox from myself.”
Vigilante gang attacks such as these are a growing problem in the U.K., with experts estimating there may be as many as 200 such groups in the country. Though they occasionally obtain evidence that helps secure convictions, they also deplete police resources with false allegations, blackmail, and targets dying from suicide after being accused.
In one high-profile incident last year, an Irish law school student was targeted because he shared the name of another person caught in a vigilante group’s crosshairs.
For their part, Ben and Jordan say they’ll be taking legal action against their attackers.