A paedophile vigilante who hunts East Anglian and Home Counties sex perverts has revealed his techniques to a court during the trial of a 77-year-old gay and bisexual man from Epping said to have been caught in his vigilante web.

And the defendant in the case has revealed a battle of wits between hunter and hunted in a bid to find out whether he was talking to a youngster or some-one older.

The self-styled investigative journalist described how he set up multiple profiles of apparently under age boys and girls at any one time, usually had five mobile phones in use and conducted 30-40 chats a week.

The vigilante, who is in his late 30s, told a jury at Chelmsford Crown Court that he had investigated 25-30 cases in Essex, Herts and Suffolk.

He told the court he “felt strongly about online paedophilia” and admitted in evidence that he had carried on his vigilante work despite being told to stop by Essex police.

He was giving evidence at the trial of married father of two Maurice Peacock, now 78, of Parsloe Road, Epping, Essex, who denies one offence of attempting to meet a boy under 16 following grooming; and two charges of attempting to cause a child to watch an image of sexual activity.

It is alleged that Peacock tried to meet a youth called ‘Ben’ said to be aged 15, but really the vigilante posing in a paedophile sting as a teen, to engage in sexual activity.

They had talked on the mainly gay dating site Grindr between May 15 and 17, 2017.

Prosecutor Jamie Sawyer said the man, who purported on the site to be “Young Male” or “Bored Teenager”, set up profiles in internet chat rooms and on social media dating sites aiming “to prevent adult men meeting children for sex”.

On 15 May last year Peacock allegedly sent a message from his profile DaddyFor-Teen to Ben and when told Ben was 15 is alleged to have replied “Nice.”

In his evidence, the vigilante described himself as an investigative journalist.

He claimed he, and 40 other like-minded individuals across the country, wait for online users to approach them.

“We don’t communicate to anyone first,” he said.

Cross-examined by defence barrister John Cammegh the former security engineer claimed he acted voluntarily and was not paid for this part of what he did, though he said he was paid for other roles he undertook such as investigating corruption in public services and providing equipment for covert work.

He agreed he was issued with a “cease and desist” notice by Essex Police on the day Peacock was arrested telling him to stop his operations as an “agent provocateur” because he might interfere with ongoing police activity and might risk committing an offence himself.

However, he said he had carried on.

He said he published updates and results of his operations on his website CSE Interceptors but said he did not receive any income from that site.

He denied a defence suggestion that he had lied to the jury about not earning money from his activity and refuted that he was getting “mixed up” over which profile he had used.

Mr Cammegh had claimed he was mixed up because he was “spinning so many plates, chasing so many people, making so much money” that he had lost his way.

Peacock was said to have introduced himself to Ben as Maurice initially but later gave his full name, and in their chat over two days asked if Ben wanted some fun, asked specific questions about what he would like to do, and sent him images of a male’s private parts and sexual acts.

“The chat was graphic and very, very clear,” said the prosecutor.

They arranged to meet at the Oak Retail Park in Harlow.

The vigilante had already alerted police and when he recognised Peacock from his photograph, Peacock was arrested as he sat in his grey Mercedes, the court heard.

Peacock, who said he had a hot tub they could use if “Ben” wanted, was said to have asked him to delete their messages, the jury heard and to have added : “I have to trust you not to tell anyone what we get up to.”

Peacock told police when arrested : “I have arranged to meet a lad at McDonald’s because I am gay/bisexual.” The court was told he had been sent a photograph of a young man in a suit purporting to be Ben.

However, he said he had immediately been suspicious about Ben after receiving an unprompted message from him posing as a 15-year-old.

He continued : “Then Young Male comes on. He instigated the chat by saying ‘Hi’ or ‘hello’ and then said ‘I am only 15’.

He said he had felt suspicious and added : “I didn’t know much about interceptors who are people who in my eyes try to trap you. That’s what I felt about Young Male.”

“My intention was to try and find out who this was because in the past I have been pestered so much by those people saying they are young. So I thought I would go ahead with this chat to try and get some more answers to prove that I am right and that he is not 15,” he said.

“I thought he was an older person from the start. Who starts a conversation saying I am 15 when you have to tick a box to say you are 18 before you even get on there?”

He added that he had introduced sexual language “to get him to admit” he was not 15 and said he had wanted to meet him “to see who it was.”

Peacock told the jury he still worked in a shop on his farm and, though “bisexual” had been in a strong marriage for 45 years.

He revealed that he had had “tendencies” but not acted upon them until about ten years ago. He registered on Grindr two to three years ago and his wife had been aware of his activities for some time.

Peacock said his preference was for younger people, aged 18 to under 30.