Police investigate 'vigilante attack' claim after murder of sex offender

Lorry driver had been convicted of unlawful sex with 15-year-old girl
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The Independent Online

By his own admission, Andrew Cunningham led an unconventional life on the margins of society. For the past three years, his home had been a caravan parked on a grim south London industrial estate outside the repair shop where he worked as a haulier.

The 52-year-old father-of-five told friends he had taken the decision to drop out because of a "misunderstanding" which led to him being convicted eight years ago of having unlawful sexual intercourse with a 15-year-old girl.

Yesterday, detectives were investigating if Mr Cunningham's past had caught up with him. On Wednesday morning, he was found dead in his dilapidated caravan on the Windmill Industrial Estate in Earlsfield, south-west London, with multiple stab wounds, including an apparent attempt to mutilate his genitals.

For some acquaintances of the dead man working and living in the streets around Mr Cunningham's two-berth caravan, there was little doubt about the reason for the frenzied killing. One man drinking in the Corner Pin, a pub less than 50 metres from the murder scene, said: "Nonce. He was a nonce. Everybody around here knew it. I suppose there was some who felt he had it coming." Police face the task of deciding whether Mr Cunningham's conviction – and subsequent claims of paedophilia levelled against him – were the reason for his murder.

Officers distanced themselves from claims that the lorry driver, who was estranged from his family, had been set upon by a mob on Tuesday night intent on carrying out a vigilante attack. CCTV footage is understood to have shown no sign of a large group in the area around his caravan.

Mr Cunningham was placed on the sex offenders register for seven years following his release from a four-month prison sentence in 2001. His name was removed in March this year.

Detective Chief Inspector Nick Scola, the officer leading the investigation, said: "I think it is unlikely this is a vigilante attack that has been in the planning for eight years. This was a brutal attack. We are keeping an open mind. It is possible the wound to his groin area was inflicted to cause confusion about the motive for the attack." It is understood that a dispute over a debt is also being investigated.

The haulier was found naked in a pool of blood on Wednesday morning after he failed to turn up for work. There was no sign of forced entry.

The haulier had been dogged for years by taunts. Lucy, the 15-year-old daughter of a friend of Mr Cunningham, said: "He moved out of his house after his relationship with the mother of his children broke up. He was very open about why he went to prison. He said it was a misunderstanding. He said he wanted to be left alone to get on with his life in his caravan."

Mr Cunningham had been the subject of claims that he was being investigated for an alleged indecent assault on a two-year-old girl.

Victims of mob law

*In February 2000, a convicted paedophile, William Malcolm, 44, was shot dead at his flat in east London.

*In July 2000, Iain Armstrong, an innocent man, was targeted by a mob in Manchester. It followed the News of the World "shaming" of 49 suspected sex offenders. Mr Armstrong had been wearing a neck brace, because of a spinal disorder, similar to one worn by a pictured paedophile.

*In August 2000, a paediatrician named Yvette Cloete was labelled a "paedo". "I'm really a victim of ignorance," said Dr Cloete, who moved house.

*In the same month, a mob targeted a man in his forties in an attack on a Portsmouth estate. He left under police protection.

*In October this year, a convicted paedophile, Gordon Boon, 73, was murdered in Norfolk.