Paedophile hunting seems to be on the rise (see e.g.: Paedophile hunters: Should police be working with vigilantes?, BBC News, 9 December 2016), and I'm surprised that it seems to lead to convictions (e.g.: Paedophile jailed after vigilantes set Bluewater trap, BBC News 21 October 2016). While what they're attempting might be abhorrent, it seems to me that technically all they've actually done is have a sexually explicit conversation with another consenting adult. What are they being convicted of?


Actual sex with a minor is an offence. Under the Criminal Attempts Act 1981, doing something "which is more than merely preparatory to the commission of the offence" is attempting to commit the offense, and is itself an offence. They have attempted the offence of having sex with a minor, although they didn't succeed because unbeknownst to them the other party was not a minor. There is some variability in whether it matters that there is no actual minor involved. In that specific instance the offence he was charged with was arranging the commission of a child sex offence (Sexual Offences Act 2003 §14), where one "intentionally arranges or facilitates something that he intends to do". Since he pleaded guilty, we won't find out how an appellate court would interpret 14(1)(b) ("doing it will involve the commission of an offence").

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    If you're trying to kill me and shoot through my window at a plastic decoy that looks like me, you will be charged with attempted murder. That someone else foiled your attempt doesn't make it any less of an attempt. – David Schwartz Dec 10 '16 at 5:14
  • This seems more like setting up a market stall selling cheap 'fake' DVDs which are actually originals, or selling little bags of icing sugar at a nightclub, then reporting all your customers to the police. But reading the first few lines of the Criminal Attempts Act linked in the answer it looks like thinking you're going to commit a crime is sufficient to be guilty of attempting to commit one, even when it's impossible given the facts, which is slightly broader than I would've expected. – patstew Dec 12 '16 at 14:20
  • @patstew Depending on the circumstances, whoever does this might be guilty themselves of entrapment. – Falc Jun 14 '18 at 9:08
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    @Falc Not at all. Only a police officer would be, and only if they convince the buyer to do something that they would normally not have done. That market stall would definitely not be "entrapment". – gnasher729 Dec 28 '20 at 0:10
  • In the "fake DVDs" case, the buyer may commit attempted copyright infringement. But there are no damages to be paid for "attempted copyright infringement" since there are no damages. And it is very, very unlikely that the situation is criminal. – gnasher729 Dec 28 '20 at 23:33

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