PAEDOPHILE hunters have praised Cumbria Police for the force’s swift and professional handling of “sting” operations which put two Cumbrian child sex perverts behind bars.

The two offenders - 49-year-old Justin Bell, from Morton, Carlisle; and 23-year-old Michael Chapman, from Troutbeck, near Penrith - were caught thanks to volunteers who set up online stings to expose child sex perverts who trawl the internet for potential victims.

Both were confronted with evidence of their crimes on Saturday evening.

Within 48 hours, the two had appeared before magistrates in Carlisle and had each entered guilty pleas to online child sex offences and been remanded in custody.

Sophie Jennings is the founder of Secret Whispers UK, which gathered the evidence against Bell.

“There’s an epidemic of this kind of thing,” said mum-of-two Sophie, from Hertfordshire. “The police just don’t have the resources they need. But the police in Cumbria were really quick and on the ball.

“The fact that Bell was remanded in custody speaks volumes. Sometimes, we do all our hard work, and people are given bail. The judge in this case also got it right.”

Sam Miller, 25, is a volunteer with the Child Online Safety Team which snared Chapman, who has previous convictions for distributing child abuse images.

“The scale of the problem is huge,” said Mr Miller. “You have to bear in mind that we catch only the idiots who go online to do this. I’ve caught 105 in the last 10 months, four or five of them in Cumbria.

“The police in Cumbria faced a very challenging situation last Saturday - two stings in the space of 20 minutes. Their officers quickly packaged two complex jobs and got both defendants remanded. It was really impressive. They’re the best police force I’ve dealt with by a mile.

“They were excellent.”

Related: There were concerns over the way in which the online groups went about catching the offenders, after innocent neighbours were targeted by angry members of the public

Bell, of Bannisdale Way, Morton, admitted two counts of attempting to communicate sexually with a child; and two of attempting to incite a child to engage in sexual activity.

Believing he was talking to girls aged 13 and 14, Bell used a social media website to share obscene images of himself and tried to persuade both children to behave sexually online. He did this despite the ‘girls’ - in reality adult decoys - repeatedly telling him their age.

Bell’s lawyer Rachel Dixon said: “He’s deeply ashamed and embarrassed by what he’s done. He can’t understand why he’s gone on to do this.”

Chapman admitted attempting to engage a child in sexual communication online on April 7; and breaching a Sexual Harm Prevention Order imposed in November, 2017.

In both cases, the paedophile hunters confronted the perverts on their doorstep before posting a video of that encounter online. The video of Bell’s humiliation was seen by more than 12,000 people.

Both men will be sentenced next month.