‘I’ve not felt that scared in over 20 years.’
The words of York father of three and former soldier Barry Dean after he was grabbed by a gang and wrongly accused of being a paedophile.
The vigilantes later admitted it was a case of mistaken identity – but only after threatening Barry and after making the grave and highly defamatory allegation in public.
Barry, 43, has reported their actions to the police who have launched an investigation.
His ordeal happened in Leeds on Sunday (9 July). Barry works as a minibus driver for Anytime Travel York, and that day was taking a group of students from the University of York to the Royal Armouries in central Leeds.
As the students were touring the attraction, Barry parked the minibus and went for a walk behind the museum, close to the canal.
“There were quite a few blokes dotted about and it just didn’t seem normal at 10 o’clock in the morning,” Barry told YorkMix.
“With my army background – and working on the doors for 15 years before – you walk around and you can’t help but sub-consciously pick stuff up.”
As he got to the canal, “a bloke came up behind me and grabbed my left arm”. Initially he feared it was a robbery and he was going to be stabbed for his watch or wallet.
“Then he said something along the lines of, ‘you’re here to meet a 12-year-old girl’.
“I was gobsmacked.
“With that, on my right, someone else grabbed me. They had me pinned up against the wall.
“I heard them on the radios saying, ‘we’ve got him’. I said ‘you’ve got the wrong guy’.”
‘They kicked off big time’
They showed him pictures on a phone of the man they were after, who looked nothing like Barry.
“I’m quite tanned compared to this guy, I’m covered in tattoos, this guy didn’t seem to have tattoos.”
When Barry tried to get his phone “they kicked off big time – swearing at me to get off the phone.
“While this is all happening he’s shouting ‘paedophile’ at me, saying that I’ve been messaging this girl for sex. I tried getting my bank card out and photo ID to say, look – this is me.”
It was a hugely frightening experience, even for someone like Barry who is used to dealing with volatile situations.
“I’ve worked in the most troublesome spots in Britain,” he said. “I served in the army for 11 years – I’ve done Ireland in 98 when the Omagh bomb went off.
“I’ve been on first time tours in Afghanistan, Iraq, Macedonia. I’ve seen a lot of stuff.
“And I’ve not felt that scared in over 20 years. I felt like I’d had my soul ripped out my body.”
There were about 15 men surrounding him. “It wasn’t until about four or five minutes in, a dumpy guy came running around the corner – ‘it’s not him, let him go’.
“A couple of them were like, ‘sorry about that mate’. I was just in disbelief.”
They went off after their actual target and left Barry in shock. He still isn’t sure if the gang were live-streaming the whole thing.
He phoned his boss who told him to call the police which he did. CCTV has captured the whole distressing incident, Barry said.
Barry, who lives in Acomb with his wife and three children aged five months old, three and seven, at first tried to laugh off what happened to him. But he was struck by a panic attack the next day when he went to pick up his children from school.
“I’m usually a very confident person. But it’s soul destroying,” he said.
He described the actions of the paedophile vigilantes as “disgusting”.
“Since this has happened, I’ve heard a few of the stories of other people being caught up innocently and lives being ruined.
“An accusation can absolutely destroy someone.”
A spokesperson for West Yorkshire Police said: “At 10.40am on Sunday, July 9, police received a report of a man having been wrongly detained by an online child abuse activist group near to the Royal Armouries in Leeds city centre.
“A crime has been recorded for assault and enquiries are ongoing into the incident.
“A man was arrested shortly afterwards at the same location after being detained by an online child abuse activist group.
“He has been charged with four offences, including arranging or facilitating the commission of a child sexual offence and sexual communication with a child.”
The spokesperson said they did not endorse the work of the vigilantes.
“There are a number of concerns and problems with the way these groups work, including that they have no way of protecting victims and operate without any way to keep people safe; their activities are not targeted and are they not assessing the threat or risk of harm, which could divert officers from higher priority cases; the standard of evidence that is gathered is often poor; and we have seen instances of the wrong people being targeted.
“If people have information about online grooming or sexual abuse they should report it to the police so we can act on it appropriately.”
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