Denham Hitchcock: When the predator becomes the prey

Frustrated drivers jostling for a car space, parents herding wayward children, the constant whirr of the automatic door counting customers. The breakfast menu is coming to a close at McDonald's and there’s a last minute rush. It’s a Wednesday, nothing unusual, apart from the meeting that I’m here to witness.

I’m sitting with some nervous police officers, one of three teams waiting to spring a trap. In this case the predator has become the prey except he doesn’t know this yet. He’s spent two years grooming a 14-year-old girl for today’s meeting and what he wants is abundantly clear. The fact he’s 33 years old, married and has a child of his own, has not been enough to stop him.

The police are from Strike Force Trawler NSW. By now I’ve come to know them well. They are mothers, fathers, cancer survivors, home owners struggling with their mortgages. In short they are you and I. But they are concerned. Like all of us, they are watching their kids connect to the world. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, PlayStation, Xbox and a dozen chat rooms I’ve never heard of. But they see the dark side, the pedophiles using these platforms to engage with children in ways never before possible. Gone are the days of the sinister man in the park with the trench coat, now he’s only a mouse click away and he – or she – could be anyone.

Denham Hitchcock confronts a man being arrested by Strike Force Trawler.
Denham worked closely with the police unit for six months.

They’ve arrested teachers, lawyers, doctors, even a police officer at the training academy. Their job is a heinous one; to infiltrate the online world of Australia’s worst pedophiles, and put them behind bars. The discussions they have to have, the photos they have to see, are beyond the call of duty. Far more than I could withstand, worse than I could have imagined.

My thoughts are disrupted by the transmission from a police radio. “Silver Holden has just pulled in the car park.”

He’s here.

The three police teams converge, I’m a beat behind them with two camera crews. What do you say to a pedophile? What questions do you ask? Naturally I have many, and all mixed in with disgust and more than a little rage. What I wasn’t prepared for was what he was about to tell me….