INVESTIGATIONS into the sexual grooming of children could be jeopardised by internet vigilante groups, police have said.

The warning comes as Stockton pervert John Rudd, 57, was jailed for 12 months after being trapped by the North-East duo known as Dark Justice.

Rudd, who thought his illicit online conversations were with a 14-year-old girl, was put on the sex offenders’ register and made the subject of a sexual offences prevention order for ten years at Newcastle Crown Court today.

It is the second custodial sentence to result from Dark Justice stings and earlier this month a 23-year-old from Hartlepool was put on the register for two years after accepting a police caution for grooming after he was caught by the group.

Detective Superintendent George Duff, of Northumbria Police, said: “These groups are not aware of full details of the person they are dealing with, they have no way of safeguarding potential child victims and their actions could jeopardise ongoing police investigations, not to mention the risks posed to themselves.”

Dark Justice – a 24-year-old man from Darlington and a 21-year-old man from Newcastle – make contact with sexual predators in chat rooms and film them when they turn up wrongly believing they are meeting a child.

The group said a further seven men from the region are on police bail and is actively pursuing up to 50 further targets.

The caution about their investigations was echoed County Durham and Darlington police and crime commissioner Ron Hogg.

He said: “It is far better for people who have information to share it with the police. That is the way forward.”

Dark Justice say they are not vigilantes, but concerned citizens who are trying to make difference and do not believe police have the resources to deal with the number of paedophiles trying to groom children online.

One of the members said: “Children are at risk, and we can’t just sit down and leave it to the police.”