New details of how Britain's most feared paedophile gangs operate can be revealed today following the arrest of a prominent Home Office official on sex charges.
Gary Hodgkiss, 48, who was sacked after the allegations, was filmed by the vigilante group Dark Light on Wednesday when hetried to meet a 12-year-old girl for sex.
Today the father-of-two was charged with grooming and sexual activity with a girl under 16. He is the latest high-profile man to have been snared by paedophile hunters whose successful convictions have risen sevenfold in two years.
MailOnline was granted access to two of Britain's most prolific vigilante groups, Guardians Of The North and Dark Justice, who between them have caught nearly 350 suspects including soldiers, teachers and a mayor.
Gary Hodgkiss, 48, left, was snared by Dark Light on Wednesday and arrested by police, right
Joe Jones, 48, founder of Guardians Of The North, right, and Kay Bell, 38, left, at their office
Joe Jones sits in his office in Newcastle holding a meeting of members of his hunting gang
Members of Guardians Of The North and Dark Justice hold a meeting at their Newcastle office
Sitting at his computer in a nondescript office in Newcastle is Joe Jones, 48, a car dealer from Newcastle and the brains behind the secretive operation.
Mr Jones founded Guardians Of The North just two years ago. Together with Dark Justice, a two-man team based nearby, they now carry out several stings a week.
The seven-person group includes a window cleaner, a bus driver, a funeral directors and the unemployed – all of whom are seeking revenge after experiencing abuse first-hand.
In an exclusive interview Mr Jones revealed his methods, his motivation, and how he can't sleep at night after being exposed to constant images of child abuse.
The prolific paedophile hunter said he started the gang when his own son was approached by a sexual predator online. 'He was 12 and a man on Facebook started pestering him for sex,' he said.
'I thought I'd be sly so I pretended to be my son and found out that this guy was from Turkey. That meant I couldn't do anything about it. But it all started from there.'
Two years on, the constant exposure to abusive images and messages has left Mr Jones and other team members anxious and unable to sleep.
'I have been on my phone when suddenly one of the paedophiles sent me an image of child abuse in the belief that I'm a 13-year-old girl,' Mr Jones said.
'That's just one example. It happens every day. It has really affected me and I began to have dreams when I'm scrolling through all these obscene messages.
'People are putting thoughts into your head of what they want to do to a child. It's not good to read or listen to. Everything is felt within the heart.
'But in the end it just makes us more determined to carry on.'
Everything we do is recorded on video for their sake as well as ours
Joe Jones, founder of Guardians Of The North
His first sting came not long after starting the group in 2016. The target turned out to be Lee Cook, the mayor of Peterlee near Durham, who thought he was meeting a 15-year-old boy.
Last October the disgraced mayor was jailed for 12 months. 'Since then we have worked on our tactics and now we are completely professional,' Mr Jones said.
The hunters set up a fake Facebook profile, or 'decoy', using childhood pictures donated by adult supporters.
They add realism by liking pages like Disney on Ice and Justin Bieber and becoming friends with other decoy accounts.
They never initiate contact or start a sexual conversation. Often, a predator will send them a picture of his genitalia and ask to meet for sex. If he turns up he is caught by members of the group.
On the day of the sting, the team splits into two vehicles and keeps in touch by walkie talkie.
'We'll have one car blocking him in so he can't escape and another pulls up and confronts him,' Mr Jones said.
'Often other hunters are sitting in nearby cafes or pubs as backup and watching out of the window. They take down his registration in case he gets away so that we can pass it on to the police.
'Everything we do is recorded on video for their sake as well as ours. That way we can prove we've done everything according to the law.
'As soon as we're sure we've got the right man, we call the police.'
An example of a live chatlog that one of the paedophile hunters was using to snare a predator
They have recently started going on roadtrips to catch suspected paedophiles across Britain
Two members of Guardians Of The North, left and centre, and Scott from Dark Justice, right
Since that initial success the group has snared hundreds of men, including Douglas Spurgeon, 67, a former Coldstream Guard who tried to groom what he thought was an 11-year-old girl.
It also caught a female sexual predator, Laura Harding, 31, from Newport, who received a suspended jail term after sending