Unashamed lynch law simmers on a rundown estate

Paedophile violence: In Paulsgrove, Portsmouth, vigilantes prepare for another night of trouble, fuelled by baseless rumour and primal fears
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The Independent Online

A bright green petrol canister stood in the hallway alongside a yellowing copy of the News Of The World and a piece of paper scribbled with names, addresses and the word "perverts". Welcome to Paulsgrove, home to Britain's nastiest and fastest-growing anti-paedophile lynch mob.

A bright green petrol canister stood in the hallway alongside a yellowing copy of the News Of The World and a piece of paper scribbled with names, addresses and the word "perverts". Welcome to Paulsgrove, home to Britain's nastiest and fastest-growing anti-paedophile lynch mob.

Not far from the rundown council estate in Portsmouth lay the gutted remains of a car and the boarded windows of what was the home of a convicted sex offender.

The paedophile has gone to ground, out of reach of police surveillance, and the owner of the fire-bombed car will come home from holiday with his wife and children to find themselves the innocent victims of what happens when mob rule hits the south coast of England.

Yesterday protesters ranging from young mothers pushing prams to youths carrying scarves ready to conceal their faces when the "fun" starts were gathering for the sixth night of demonstration against sex offenders in Paulsgrove, the estate sprawled between a motorway and a chalk cliff in the north of the port city.

The organisers, calling themselves the Peaceful Protesters of Paulsgrove (PPP), freely admitted they had a list of 20 suspected paedophiles - "15 for definite" - thought to live in the warren of red-brick and prefabricated housing. The reality is that just three known sex offenders live in Paulsgrove.

The mob's "hit list" names have been passed by word of mouth around the estate during a week of wildfire rumour and counter-rumour. Steve, the tattooed owner of the petrol canister, insisted he had not been involved in the violence, which has left six flats and houses within a square mile with boarded windows and fire-blackened doors.

The 19-year-old said he had been given the names of the alleged paedophiles by a neighbour. But he added: "If it takes pouring this petrol under some paedophile's car to stop another Sarah Payne happening here then I'm quite happy to do it.

"The demonstrations are all well and good but it's direct action what gets them sickos out. And I won't much feel like stopping until I know they'reall gone." The tally of "direct action" successes run up by thosewho have no faith in the police made grim reading yesterday. It included:

* The fire-bombing, stoning and burglary of the home of the unnamed father-of-three on holiday. Police say he has no convictions for sex offences;

* The disappearance of the dangerous paedophile Victor Burnett, 53, because a mob had begun to gather at his flat after he was named by the Sunday tabloid;

* Injuries that included a broken nose for a police officer, plus damage estimated at £20,000 caused to housing.

Senior police officers, who confirmed the discovery of four petrol-bombs on Monday night near the home of another suspected paedophile, admitted they were dealing with a break-down in law and order, caused, they say, by a minority of idle youths jumping on a bandwagon of communal panic.

The Hampshire Deputy Chief Constable, Ian Readhead, said: "Youngsters without an excuse to cause trouble have been given the perfect opportunity. We understand the anger and frustration of parents. Peaceful demonstrations are the expression of a functioning democracy but when that becomes negotiation by means of throwing a house-brick through a window it is plainly unacceptable."

A man arrested for a suspected assault on a police officer on Monday night has been released on police bail. A further 12 people are also on police bail after incidents of rioting on Sunday night.

In a further attempt to defuse tension, Portsmouth City Council confirmed it was offering alternative housing to convicted paedophiles in Paulsgrove, although no one will be forced to leave any local authority accommodation.

But the tinder-box atmosphere that is turning ill-judged rumour into missile-throwing anarchy showed little sign of abating on Paulsgrove's streets yesterday. Banners reading, "Say it loud, say it clear, we don't want paedophiles here" and, "We're not messing about, get the paedophiles out" were fluttering across one street as children played football outside.

Katrina Kessell, 33, who has four children and has organised the PPP demonstrations, vowed to continue focusing on those on her list.

"I condemn the violence but I also condemn the fact that we are sitting here surrounded by men who have committed unspeakable crimes against children," she said. "The News of the World started it but we know of 20 suspected child abusers, 15 for definite. No sensible person would rest until they knew they were gone and a public sex offender register had been set up."

The Labour MP Syd Rapson, 52, who has lived in Paulsgrove for 30 years, fears his home will be attacked because of claims that he was responsible for child-abusers being housed in Paulsgrove. "This is nothing other than a latter-day witch-hunt," he said.

"A rumour starts and you end up with a modern-day Salem. This time it is Paulsgrove."

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