Ashdown targeted in racist hate campaign

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The Independent Online

Police believe a firebomb attack early yesterday on the car of Paddy Ashdown was part of a hate campaign against the Liberal Democrat leader by local criminals in Yeovil.

The arson attack - in which his car was burnt out, but no one was injured - was believed to be linked to his high-profile campaign against a gang of louts responsible for a spate of racist attacks in the town.

A neighbour spotted the blaze in a lean-to at the side of Mr Ashdown's cottage in the village of Norton sub Hamdon, near Yeovil, Somerset, in the early hours of yesterday and called the fire brigade. Mr Ashdown was at home at the time.

Police revealed that Mr Ashdown had received a telephone call on 1 December in which threats were made against his property. Other threats, which included a specific warning that his car would be burned, were received at his London office. On 18 January a stone was thrown through the window of Mr Ashdown's Vauxhall Senator car. After the threats police tightened up security measures, but these were relaxed after a few weeks. Following the latest arson attack Mr Ashdown will meet senior officers to discuss security.

Mr Ashdown was saying little about the incident yesterday and carried out his usual round of constituency work. He said: "This is a matter exclusive to the police and the courts. I don't much like being woken up at 4am.''

Superintendent Ted Allen said the arson attack on Mr Ashdown was also being linked with the fire bombing of a takeaway and an arson at the offices of the Western Gazette newspaper in Yeovil, where pounds 100,000 of damage was caused.

He said two men had been stopped by a routine patrol hours before the fire at Mr Ashdown's home because they were acting suspiciously. Supt Allen described the attack as a "despicable act".

Mr Ashdown has been steadfast in backing victims of racial attacks in the town where Turkish and Indian restaurant owners among his constituents have been subjected to violence.With a local parson, the Rev Mark Ellis, Mr Ashdown set up the Partnership Against Racism after a number of incidents in which the victims were reluctant to press charges because of alleged intimidation of witnesses.

Next Thursday, Mr Ashdown is due to give evidence in the committal for trial of Christopher Mason, who was arrested after an alleged knife attack on the MP as he went on a late night fact-finding mission into the problems of racist abuse in Yeovil.

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