Five teenagers were convicted at a Dutch court on Tuesday for their involvement in the fatal attack of a 73-year-old man in October 2020. The victim, Jan Kruitwagen is a retired teacher who was lured by a group of teenagers on a so-called “pedophile hunt”.

The teenagers whose were between 15 to 19 years, were given sentences ranging from six months to a year in juvenile detention. Two were sentenced to a year, with half of the sentences suspended while the other three were given six-month suspended sentences. They were also ordered to perform 200 hours of unpaid community work. The court ordered the teenagers to pay 60,000 euros ($72,000) in damages to the teacher’s three sons, ABC News reported.

Kruitwagen was lured by the teens after by arranging for a meeting when they posed as a 15-year-old in a gay chatroom with intentions to expose him as a pedophile. The teenagers snared the victim by inviting him to meet up with the “boy” at a park in the city. The victim arrived at the meeting point unaware he was followed home by the gang who beat him up. The retired teacher died of his injuries in hospital.

According to investigators, Kruitwagen had no history of sexually abusing minors with the court citing text messages that made it evident the victim did not want to meet up with a 15-year-old boy because that was too young. 

A lawyer for one the boys told the Dutch newspaper De Gelderlander that the teenagers had planned the meet-up out of boredom during the pandemic without a premeditated plan to assault the man. 

Kruitwagen’s death is just one of several recent incidents of vigilante justice that has caused alarm with Dutch authorities prompting a clamp down on self-described “pedo-hunters”.

Officials in the Netherlands are worried that the rising number of similar encounters could turn even more violent. With the police receiving at least 250 reported instances since July of suspected pedophiles being lured online, authorities are warning the public to stop taking matters into their hands.

East Netherlands regional police chief Oscar Dros has urged citizens to “stop paedo-hunting; stop detaining; stop provoking - leave this to us.”

Justice minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus also urged people to contact the police if they suspected abuse.

“We are saying: Stop. Don’t provoke, don’t make arrests. Stop the pedo-hunting,” said Simen Klok, a police spokesman. He added that such unverified reports and violent incidents were only taking up police resources. “It doesn’t help us.”

In recent years, several online groups have taken up a crusade to root out pedophilia around the world by luring, exposing them and publicly shaming them on the internet. On Facebook alone, Dutch groups such as  “Pedohunters NL” and “pedophiles unmasked” have now gained thousands of followers. 

Dutch authorities say the rise of in-person confrontations is a concerning new development as similar groups have also started to appear in the UK.

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