A Facebook post dated 28 May claimed: “The police were at school today warning teachers and parents that there has been a man approaching and trying to lure kids with him by approaching them playing in the street and from their front fences. He was last seen in Marriott Dve wearing a Muppets T-shirt and a hat, however they don’t yet know his age. Please share with other mums on the peninsula.”
The post has been shared numerous times on Facebook and attracted comments such as: “Mothers fathers, nannas, and poppys, aunts and uncles [should] be alert – this is serious protect your family against this monster” and “That’s why parents give their kids video games and stuff to do inside so they know where they are. About time the legal system gets hard on preods [sic]” and “Yuk. What an absolute creep.”
Police from the Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Team (SOCIT) in Frankston were quick to dispel the circulating rumours when contacted by The News.
“We did attend the school to investigate a complaint,” Detective Sergeant Peter Drake said.
“What has happened is a couple of Benton Junior College students, aged 10 and 11, have been walking to school, and a male has said something to them. They have been spooked and run.”
“We spoke to the principal, the kids involved and the parents of the kids. There was no threat made, and definitely no attempt to grab the kids. We’ve made note of the incident, but there are no grounds to pursue the issue further”.
He expressed concern that social media messages had blown the incident out of proportion and created unnecessary fear in the community.
The principal of Benton Junior College, Marcus Batt, was keen to distance the school from the online rumours, but supported the actions of the children.
“The kids were terrific. They did exactly what they should have. They came straight to school and told an adult.”
He said the investigation was a matter for the police, and he wouldn’t comment further on it.
In late 2012 teachers at the school gave out the registration number of a car “acting suspiciously” outside the school to parents of the school. [‘Trial by social media’, The News, 11/12/2012].
That sparked wild online speculation on social media with the vehicle’s registration number circulated widely on Facebook and Twitter at the time.
Facebook users called the car driver “a sicko” who they hoped would be caught. A message posted on Twitter also listed the number plate, claiming the car’s driver “steals kids”.
However, police cleared the man, a grandfather of a pupil at the school, of any wrongdoing.
Acting Inspector Matt Mulcahy, also of Frankston police, placed a notice on the “Policing on the Mornington Peninsula” blog at the time to try to quell the rampant online speculation: “There is nothing to link this vehicle to any offence of abduction or child stealing either in the past or present. They had a legitimate reason to be in the area.”
Police at the time told The News the car owner was not advised that his number plate details had been circulated on social media websites, including Facebook and Twitter.
Although there was nothing untoward in the latest incident, Detective Sergeant Peter Drake was keen to provide a general warning to all kids to take care when walking to school.
“We always want to make it clear that all kids should exercise care. They should walk to school together in pairs and practice ‘stranger danger’ caution”.