Grim lie of campaigner against porn who preyed on children

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The Independent Online

To his friends and neighbours, Roger Gardener was a man to be admired. He was prepared "do what it took" to protect children by eradicating hardcore pornography from the internet.

To his friends and neighbours, Roger Gardener was a man to be admired. He was prepared "do what it took" to protect children by eradicating hardcore pornography from the internet.

The unemployed lorry driver, of Gwent, had made it his personal mission to highlight the ease with which anyone - in particular children - could download explicit and degrading sexual material from cyberspace. "We should do whatever it takes to find some way of banning this material from the internet," he told his local newspaper.

Such fine sentiments were part of a grim lie.

In 13 days, the 56-year-old will be sentenced at Cardiff Crown Court for indecently assaulting two girls, after he was found in possession of an extensive collection of child pornography.

It is a case which police and experts on sex offenders fear indicates a disturbing trend of paedophiles hijacking campaigns against their activities to enable them to protect those activities. Heightened public suspicion about paedophiles - and willingness to act on it through vigilantism - is pushing abusers to adopt ever more deceptive and sophisticated methods, it is claimed.

Detectives in London and Surrey are investigating the theory that Antimatter, a group that sends letters to communities outing paedophiles - could be the work of abusers trying to halt the "name and shame" movement. The body has so far failed to target a single genuine sex offender.

Officers who searched Gardener's home in Fleur-de-Lis, 15 miles north of Cardiff, last year found 15 computer disks containing child pornography downloaded from the internet.

A jury earlier this month ruled that he had assaulted two girls - aged 12 and 13 - over a period of five years after carefully "grooming" his victims.

The court was told that Gardener, whose wife, Margaret, has stood by him, dismissed the child pornography in his possession as evidence gathered for his campaign, which he pointed to as proof that he could not be a child abuser. When confronted with the testimony of his victims, he claimed the girls were lying. He told police: "People know me better than that."

A woman who has two children and keeps a shop in Fleur-de-Lis said this week: "Everyone around here applauded him because he seemed to be genuinely concerned and determined to do something about porn... Parents considered him one of those few people you could trust with your kids. He is a devious and subtle man."

Gardener used his computer to entice at least one of his victims, showing her explicit electronic images after asking her if she was interested in "sexual matters". Marion Lewis, counsel for the prosecution of Gardener, told the jury: "When alone with the girl he told her how lovely she was before assaulting her. He warned her never to tell anybody what happened and said it was her fault."

Gardener and his wife have already begun to pay for his duplicity. The mob hysteria which this month took hundreds of people into the streets of the Paulsgrove estate in Portsmouth, driving out five innocent families, visited the Gardener home 10 days ago when it was firebombed. Hours later, graffiti appeared, with some choice extracts from the lexicon of a modern witch-hunt: "scum", "pervert", "kiddie fiddler" and "shoot him".

Gardener, who could not be contacted to comment on his offences, is understood to have moved to a safe house to enable him to meet his bail condition of reporting to the police twice a week.

Steve Landy, project manager for a sex-offender management programme run by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in London, said the Gwent case fitted into a pattern of subtle psychology used by paedophiles. He said: "The grooming process is not only about preparing a victim but also the wider community."

Scotland Yard confirmed yesterday that it was investigating five incidents involving Antimatter, after neighbours of an elderly man in Catford, south-east London, received letters branding him a paedophile.

The group began its campaign this month, sending anonymous letters headed "Paedophile is in your area" to houses near homes of two men in Lewisham and Croydon in south London. The men had the same names as two sex offenders named in the News of the World "name and shame" campaign but had no criminal record. The letters were followed by others in Guildford and Chessington in Surrey and Dartford in Kent.

Police are thought to be focusing on suspicions that Antimatter is linked to extreme right-wingers offering to "unmask" child abusers over the internet. But the fact that none of those targeted by the group have had convictions for paedophilia has led officers to consider an alternative scenario.

A detective working on one of the London Antimatter cases said: "We may have to take seriously the idea that paedophiles who want to discredit the idea of naming and shaming could be behind this." He added: "It is an increasingly Orwellian situation - people spot paedophiles everywhere. It now means no one's motives are taken at face value."

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