Three men are held over Ashdown arson attack

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The Independent Online

Three men were being questioned by police last night after a firebomb attack on Paddy Ashdown's car. The men, aged 18, 19 and 21, from Yeovil, were arrested in the town less than 24 hours after the attack, which wrecked the Liberal Democrat leader's car.

Police substantially increased security at the Liberal Democrat leader's constituency home yesterday after talks with Mr Ashdown in which he made clear that he was not seeking protection beyond that for any ordinary citizen under the same circumstances.

A spokesman for Avon and Somerset police said: "Just before seven o'clock this evening three youths were arrested in a suburb of Yeovil. They are being held in Yeovil police station for questioning in connection with the arson attack on Paddy Ashdown's car." No further information would be given before this morning, he said.

No one was injured in the attack, which was believed to be linked to Mr Ashdown's high-profile campaign against 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, 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, including 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 for further talks on security.

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

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 clergyman, 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.

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.

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