Innocent victim tells of week as mob target

'A little child came past and said to his friend: "There's one of them. Why are they not out?"'
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A small child pointed at Julie Legg inside her neat semi-detached house and said: "There's one of them, why are they not out of their house?"

A small child pointed at Julie Legg inside her neat semi-detached house and said: "There's one of them, why are they not out of their house?"

Neither Mrs Legg, nor her husband, Gary, a 36-year-old builder, has ever been convicted of a sexual offence against a child. But the firebombed wreck of a car sits outside the house on the Paulsgrove estate in Portsmouth, and little boys and girls point fingers because their parents say there are "bad people" inside.

When the teenage arsonists and stone-throwers came to Mrs Legg's home at 3.30am six days ago, they were fuelled by the same ill-founded rumour that has made this densely packed council estate the domain of a lynch mob.

A whisper had developed on Saturday night that the Legg family home was occupied by one of the 20 alleged paedophiles named on the Paulsgrove residents' "list of power" and the singed shrubbery in the driveway yesterday gave testimony to the results.

Were it not for the fact that the Legg family were staying at a relative's villa in Spain at the time of the firebombing, the prejudice that has cost them thousands of pounds in property could have cost them their lives.

To add insult to injury, burglars entered the home the following day and relieved Mrs Legg, 30, of her jewellery and the family of its television and video.

Speaking yesterday after returning from her holiday less than 24 hours earlier, the young mother said: "They are making innocent people's lives a nightmare. Nobody wants paedophiles around children. But I think violence is the wrong way of going about it. Anyone can make up an allegation and a mob would go along and attack that person without any proof."

Since the firebombing, Mrs Legg and her three children have been living in fear of a repeat attack as children continue to exchange the idle gossip that is blighting their lives.

Mrs Legg, who believes her hopes of becoming a childcare worker have been dashed, said: "A little child came past the house and said to his friend 'There is one of them, why are they not out of their house?' It made me feel sick.

"People who know me know this isn't true. It is the people who don't know me that I am petrified of. I just want people to know it was a mistake. It makes me sick to think that they think a paedophile lives here."

The Leggs - unlike five other innocent families who have fled for fear that they will suffer the same fate after appearing on the "list of power" - have pledged to remain in their home.

The one-night moratorium declared by the organisers of the protests yesterday presented hope that normality could return to the streets and alleyways of Paulsgrove. But just 500 yards from the Legg family home, fresh graffiti on a boarded-up house where another alleged paedophile lived showed the hatred still running through the community.

Freshly daubed on the walls of the modern house in Meadowsweet Way, said to have been the home of a married man in his forties convicted of sexually assaulting young girls, were the slogans paraded through Paulsgrove for the past seven nights: "We will not live with pervs", "Pervie free" and "F*** off pervs".

For community leaders, this and other sites dotted around the post-war estate added to a growing feeling in Paulsgrove yesterday that enough was enough. Father Gary Waddington, the vicar at the church of St Michael and All Angels in the heart of the estate, said: "When we are seeing children carrying banners and marching with their parents through the night that is not the right message we should be sending to the impressionable members of our community.

"There is a palpable sense of fear and a profound sadness that all this has happened," he said. "I think the vast majority of people would now like these marches to end. The difficulty is trying to convince the people leading the protests that this chapter needs to come to a close."