Mob rule in Portsmouth: Police offer to help those indicted by rumour

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The Independent Online

They were calling it their "list of power" on the Paulsgrove estate yesterday - the roll-call of a witch hunt that has driven four innocent families from their homes and allowed a mob to be the arbiters of law and order.

They were calling it their "list of power" on the Paulsgrove estate yesterday - the roll-call of a witch hunt that has driven four innocent families from their homes and allowed a mob to be the arbiters of law and order.

For the past six nights, anti-paedophile protesters have taken to the alleys and cul-de-sacs of this sprawling estate tacked onto the northern end of Portsmouth - to lay siege to the homes of up to 20 individuals named - by popular consent and nothing more - as child sex offenders.

In their wake lie the firebombed remains of cars, the boarded-up windows and daubed walls of six houses, while two paedophiles - one of them a dangerous "wholesale corrupter of young boys" - have gone underground.

Hampshire police confirmed yesterday that four families had fled their Paulsgrove homes because they featured among the names being touted as potential threats. None of those who have left have convictions for child-related sex offences.

Portsmouth City Council added separately that it had re-housed two of the families, was in the process of finding accommodation for another and "expected to be approached by more".

But the tally had little effect on 22-year-old Karen Jackson, who was not in a mood for compromise as she held her three-year-old daughter to her chest at a meeting of the Peaceful Protestors of Paulsgrove (PPP), the organisers of the nightly marches through the estate for the past week.

Ms Jackson said: "What we have got is the names of the people living in our midst waiting to prey on what is most dear and precious to all of us.

"The paedophiles had power over us until last week but now we've got a list of power to get rid of them. Let there be no doubt, we're going to use it to full effect."

Few would have expected the proposals put forward to the PPP by police and council officials recently, with the blessing of local politicians.

In return for a copy of the "list of power," the group was told that those named would be warned that they faced being singled out and told they should move, regardless of their record.

For Syd Rapson, the Labour MP for Portsmouth North who has lived on the Paulsgrove estate for 30 years, the proposal represented an example of the realpolitik necessary.

He stoked controversy by speaking of "democracy having its way", although he insisted he was not condoning violence. Mr Rapson said: "I sympathise with the initial aims of the democratic protest but not with any attached violence."

Later, he added: "We want the residents to provide the names they have, and in return those on it will be advised it is in their interest to move.

"It is far from ideal but if this is the victory that the campaigners need to stop their protests then so be it."

But the response of the organisers to the offer could not have been more unequivocal - no names and the protests will go on.

Katrina Kessell, the spiky-haired mother of four whose inspiration for PPP was sparked by the News of the World's recent "naming and shaming" campaign that followed the murder of eight-year-old Sarah Payne, said: "There is no way that the names we have are going to be given to the police or the council.

"They have been given to us confidentially by victims and we have neither the trust nor the belief that they will be used by the police to achieve what we want - no more perverts on our estate. The campaign goes on."

The campaigners made their intentions clear by announcing a seventh march on the homes of alleged sex offenders, which will take place from 7.30pm.

They insisted the information they were acting on was not based on idle rumour. Debbie Jamison, who has two children, said: "It comes from word of mouth or the internet, but the information is checked wherever we can get official records or with people who know them. We are confident that we are getting the right people."

Rare was the passer-by who did not have an offering of a potential suspect.

One 52-year-old man said: "I have always been worried about the man two doors up. He lives alone and always talks about how much he loves his mother. I think he could be one of them."

Police refused to discuss the exact number of paedophiles living in Paulsgrove, saying only that it involved "low numbers". A realistic figure is believed to be three - two of whom have now left - from a population of 4,000.

Superintendent Bob Golding, the officer in charge of a large Hampshire police operation, said: "We must now try to get back to some normality. The campaigners have made their point very clear but it is time for the professionals to do their work."

Mr Golding was speaking at the open-air gathering of around 100 parents and children less than 500 yards from the flat occupied by convicted paedophile Victor Burnett, 53, until it was surrounded by a mob six days ago and Paulsgrove came in to national prominence.

Burnett, jailed for offences against more than 100 boys, has now disappeared.

Among those caught up in the chaos was a mother of three who returned with her family from a holiday in Spain in the early hours to find their car reduced to a burnt-out wreck, their windows smashed and their home burgled after her husband was mistakenly targeted.

The 34-year-old woman, who asked not to be named, said: "I have never done anything wrong, my husband has never done anything wrong and still somehow I will feel tarnished."

Last night the chairman of an influential MPs committee called on the Home Office to prosecute the News of the World for incitement of public order offences.

Robin Corbett, chairman of the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, said: "It was perfectly predictable when the News of the World started this what the outcome would be and I suspect they knew it as well."