Councillors in Middlesbrough are today under police protection after their cars were petrol-bombed by unhinged “political obsessives”, the town's mayor said.
Ray Mallon said the spate of attacks was a "sinister" hate campaign to drive out certain Labour representatives, whose policies the arsonists disagree with.
During one of the three fire-bombings, councillor Jeff Cole and his partner were trapped inside their house after flames spread from the car. They were unable to escape through the front door and could have been seriously injured, Mr Mallon said.
Councillor Bob Kerr's car was also torched three days later. Police say petrol was used as an accelerant in both cases. Other councillors around Middlesbrough have also reported criminal damage to their homes and another car was torched earlier this year.
Mr Mallon, a former Cleveland Police senior detective who earned the nickname RoboCop for his tough stance on crime, said members of the council are now being given protection after he built up a criminal profile of the perpetrators and predicted where they will strike next.
"I believe that the motivation for these attacks is to drive councillors out of office," he said at a town hall meeting in Middlesbrough.
"I believe there are a small number of people, who are connected to this town, who wish to challenge the concept of democracy. They wish to replace it with something much more sinister.
"Unfortunately, some people are obsessive by nature. The obsessive who becomes the criminal is far more sinister and is consumed by hatred and vengeance.
"There has been a concentrated effort for some time to destroy the democratic fabric of this town. It must not succeed."
Mr Mallon said the councillors' cars were written off after the attacks earlier this month and Mr Cole was lucky to have escaped unharmed.
"I believe the house could have sustained much more serious damage, with the occupants placed in serious danger," he said. "Potentially the police could have been dealing with a murder investigation."
He told councillors: "Having analysed the status and activities of all councillors, I have arrived at a judgment as to who are the likely targets of future criminal action. You know who you are and what measures are being put into place for your protection and that of your property."
Mr Mallon believes radical "community-type activists" angry at the town's socio-economic problems are behind the spree. He did not elaborate on possible motives but the area is affected by high unemployment, urban decay resulting in a controversial housing clearance scheme, long-standing industrial decline and major social problems.
Middlesbrough Council confirmed councillors were being given police protection. Cleveland Police declined to comment on the type of protection offered, saying giving details could compromise security. However, Detective Chief Inspector Alastair Simpson said detectives believe the incidents are related.
He added: "If these crimes are motivated as attacks against elected officials, it is also of concern for the wider community and democracy in the town. Whilst we have to retain an open mind about the motives for these attacks, we are actively pursuing this theory."
Mr Mallon admitted Middlesbrough Council has a volatile history. He said, prior to his election, there were serious internal tensions which resulted in some councillors beating each other up and others refusing to talk to colleagues for more than 20 years.