WHY didn’t they listen?

A family are demanding answers after a Hampshire man targeted by a controversial group of paedophile-hunters was found dead two days after being released from police custody.

David Baker was lured to an underground car park and confronted by Southampton-based TRAP, which videoed the meeting and posted the footage online.

Now police chiefs and child welfare groups are urging people not to take the law into their own hands.

But a member of Mr Baker’s family has claimed that police are to blame for the death of the 43-year-old businessman.

The relative, who asked not to be named, said: “I told them he was likely to try to kill himself if he was released from custody - but they ignored me.

“Officers were warned but they didn’t listen. If they had, I expect he would still be alive today.”

Mr Baker’s was freed pending further inquiries and was later found dead at his home in Wickham. He is thought to have taken an overdose.

An inquest into his death will be held and police are preparing a file for the coroner.

The incident has also been referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), but the organisation has decided not to hold its own investigation into the incident.

Mr Baker drove to a car park in Portswood, Southampton, in the belief he was meeting a 14-year-old boy.

But he was confronted by Steven Dure and a fellow paedophile-hunter in a sting operation.

As reported in the Daily Echo, TRAP members pose as children online in an attempt to corner suspected paedophiles. They arrange a meeting and then confront their targets, filming the encounter and posting the footage online.

Mr Baker was arrested on suspicion of arranging to meet a child for sexual contact.

Mr Dure said: “He was crying and sweating. We said to ourselves that he shouldn’t be left alone and police were warned by David’s family not to release him because they thought he might hurt himself.

“It’s hit us really hard. His poor family found their son dead and no-one should have to go through that.”

Mr Dure and fellow members of his group were branded “murderers” on social media after the discovery of Mr Baker’s body.

An NSPCC spokesman said: “We believe that identifying offenders and investigating crimes is best left to the police.

“When members of the public take the law into their own hands it can run the risk of driving offenders underground, endanger on-going police work or result in innocent people being harassed – all of which may put more children at risk.”

The National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) added: “So called paedophile-hunters are taking risks they don’t understand and can undermine police investigations.

“Revealing the identity of suspected paedophiles gives the suspect the opportunity to destroy evidence before the police can investigate them.

“It also leads to people who have been identified going missing or raising concerns for their safety.

“The temptation to kill themselves may be just as great, even if they are innocent. That is an appalling consequence to contemplate.”

But Mr Dure hit back, saying paedophile-hunters were “the solution” to the problem of child abuse.

He added: “I’m out to save children and that’s what I will continue to do. I’m human - I’ve got a conscience - but I didn’t make him drive 20 miles to meet a child.”

Royston Smith, Tory MP for Southampton Itchen, pictured inset left, added: “Anyone who sees people committing a crime has a responsibility to report it.

“Paedophile-hunters are going one step further, but I’m slightly uncomfortable with people taking a vigilante-type route. Posting video online ahead of any court case is unacceptable. People are innocent until proven guilty.”

Police have refused to comment on claims that Mr Baker’s family urged officers to keep him in custody for his own wellbeing.

In a statement they said: “We were called at 1.49pm on Saturday October 7 following the discovery of a 43-year-old man’s body at an address in Wykeham Field, Wickham. The death is not being treated as suspicious and a file is being prepared for the coroner.”

Hampshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Michael Lane, added: “The eyes and ears of the community are key in providing intelligence and I always encourage everyone to be alert to the environment around them. But it is important everyone with concerns should report them to the police.”

An inquest was opened and adjourned yesterday.

Police chief slams paedophile hunters