The legacy of a shaming campaign

In Portsmouth, innocent families flee while a mob craves 'justice'
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The Independent Online

Seven nights of violent demonstrations which turned a community into a cauldron of hatred came to an end last night with a bittersweet victory for mob rule.

Seven nights of violent demonstrations which turned a community into a cauldron of hatred came to an end last night with a bittersweet victory for mob rule.

The Paulsgrove estate was last night quiet and subdued after protesters agreed to suspend their direct action against suspected paedophiles and allow the police and council time to solve the situation.

After a two-hour meeting with campaign leaders, Portsmouth City Council chiefs confirmed they were prepared to cross-check each suspected paedophile on the residents' "power list" with official records and offer sex offenders "alternative accommodation" - a phrase which was last night taken to mean permanent removal from the estate.

Hampshire police confirmed that a fifth family was added yesterday to the tally of four homes on the Paulsgrove estate that were wrecked by the protesters. But the outburst of fury, catalysed by the publication of details of a predatory paedophile on the estate in the News of the World, has, for now, burnt out.

Barry Pettinger, spokesman for the Peaceful Protesters of Paulsgrove group behind the campaign, said: "We have proposals to put to the people we represent and we will suspend our protest until we know whether the agreement is acceptable. This is a victory of sorts but we have not got what we wanted. We need to be sure that every paedophile, every name on that list, is no longer on the estate. But that may not be possible because of the laws of this land. That is what needs to be looked at and perhaps we can feel the events of the last seven days have pushed on that debate."

The Paulsgrove campaigners were expected to meet later today to put the agreement reached with the council to people on the estate, before deciding whether the power list - understood to contain the names of 11 confirmed paedophiles and nine more suspected offenders - should be handed over.

Roger Ching, the acting chief executive of the council, told a press conference last night that the proposals were the best solution on offer. He said: "We are dealing with a very difficult and complex set of circumstances. We have repeated our offer to anyone on the estate who feels threatened of a place of safety.

"It is likely that we will take steps to tell all those on the residents list that they feature on it and could be targeted."

Mr Ching, who denied the agreement was a capitulation to "mob rule", confirmed that the names put forward by residents would be approached regardless of whether they had criminal convictions for offences against children.

Ian Readhead, the Deputy Chief Constable of Hampshire, confirmed his force's support for the package, saying: "It is a step in the right direction. It will allow constructive discussion to take place and put the issue very much in a place where informed debate can follow."

But in the aftermath of a day of shuttle diplomacy in Paulsgrove, it was clear that the anti-paedophile campaign had already achieved much of its aim. A visit to the homes of seven of those on the listshowed last night that they had left. One member of the campaign, who declined to be named, said: "Whatever the meeting achieves, we can be quietly satisfied that much of our work has been done. It shows direct action can work."

But for other homeowners in Paulsgrove, news of an end to the nightly marches was of little comfort.

Mother of three Julie Legg, 30, whose home was attacked and burgled in the mistaken belief that she and her husband had convictions for child sex offences, said: "They are making innocent peoples lives a nightmare. Nobody wants paedophiles around children. But I think violence is the wrong way of going about it."

Father Gary Waddington, the vicar of St Michael and All Angels church in the centre of the estate, said: "There is not a parent in the world who would not act to ensure the safety of their own child but targeting innocent peoples homes is deplorable. We have reduced a self-confident community to a state of fear."

Syd Rapson, the Labour MP for Portsmouth North has lived on Paulsgrove for 25 years. He said: "The marches have been very threatening in nature and have caused mental torture. I think residents will be very glad if they are stopped."

The period of reflection that will now follow on the estate looked certain however to be punctuated by further upheaval as the protest leaders called for a ghetto of sex offenders to be established.

Barry Pettinger said: "Paedophiles need to be confined within their own area so that we know where they are and everybody else is safe. They need to be in a place which is not Paulsgrove."

But perhaps the most worrying consequence of Paulsgrove's seven days of national and international fame was the effect on its young people.

Katrina Kessell, 33, who began the protests, said last night: "My three year old son now understands what paedophiles are and what they do. I think that is very important."

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