Innocent families hit by anti-paedophile vigilante mobs

The ordeal began with shouts outside the house at 1am. Brian Peberdy pulled back his curtains to find an angry mob staring up at him, accusing the businessman of harbouring Maxine Carr.

The ordeal began with shouts outside the house at 1am. Brian Peberdy pulled back his curtains to find an angry mob staring up at him, accusing the businessman of harbouring Maxine Carr.

It was only the beginning. For one week at the end of last month, Mr Peberdy and his family were under nightly siege, terrified out of their wits. His daughter's car was vandalised and at one stage 25 vigilantes - men, women, adults and teenagers - gathered outside the family home, threatening to burn it down.

The Peberdy family are the latest victims of a disturbing growth in attacks by vigilantes who are increasingly using the internet to orchestrate attacks across the country. Their targets are often suspected sex offenders but the lives of innocent people are also being destroyed by people spreading damaging lies to settle old scores.

Police warn there could be a repeat of the scenes four years ago when anti-paedophile protesters ran amok on a Portsmouth housing estate after the News of the World ran a campaign to "name and shame" paedophiles.

The vigilantes who attacked the Peberdys' were completely misguided. Mr Peberdy has never even met Ms Carr, the former girlfriend of Soham child killer Ian Huntley. Ms Carr was released from jail earlier this year, but her whereabouts are protected by a strict court order.

But a malicious rumour began in an internet chatroom - on Leicester City football club's website, of all places. It then spread round Mr Peberdy's hometown of Blaby in Leicestershire, and even reached the local mother and toddler group, which bombarded police with anxious calls.

The abuse against the Peberdys has now died down but Mr Peberdy, 50, who suffers from lung disease and is recovering from pneumonia, said the attacks nearly split up his family. "One of the most horrible things was people were shouting, 'Is Maxine in there?'," said Mr Peberdy, who manages a catering business.

"Another shouted out, 'We are going to firebomb you', and they were kicking my daughter's car. I'm not going to be moved but it cracked us up as a family. No one has apologised and this was deliberately organised."

The experience was so traumatic for Olivia, Mr Peberdy's 19-year-old daughter, that she fled to her grandmother's house. The police warned the family to seal up their letterbox for their own protection.

In another case earlier this month, an 80-year-old woman was forced to move out of the home where she had lived for 50 years after rumours were circulated that a paedophile was living at her home in Staffordshire.

An investigation by this paper has uncovered numerous chatrooms that incite mob violence against paedophiles. Noncewatch is just one site that encourages users to supply the names of sex offenders so it can "name and shame" them.

Noncewatch, which is accessed through a link to neo-Nazi site Redwatch, does not openly call for lynchings but does urge subscribers to "scare the shit" out of paedophiles.

"Nonces deserve nothing more than a decent British noose around their necks and a long drop. It's time to fight back and scare the shit out of these evil bastards that are a serious threat to our communities," says the title page, which depicts a man being hanged.

Vigilantes also use the message boards of legitimate websites to share their extreme views and encourage people to resort to mob violence.

In one message posted on a religious affairs website, an emailer calling themselves "Vigilante" names an alleged sex offender and says he lives "two doors" from a primary school. Another urges people to kill a paedophile. The message reads: "Send mailbombs. Kill him."

Ian Johnston, vice president of the Police Superintendents Association, said such attacks are extremely worrying.

"People should not take the law into their own hands," said Mr Johnson, from Gwent police. "We have examples to show this sort of information is often false and it would not stand up as a defence in court. If you have concerns you should use your local police officer."

Leicestershire police confirmed that rumours had circulated in the Blaby area last month that a "high-profile" offender was living in the district."This resulted in the family being subjected to verbal abuse," said a spokeswoman. "Local residents were reassured via local police officers and the media that this was incorrect."

Brian Peberdy says it will take a long time for him to recover from his experience.

"What shocked me is that no one intervened," he said. "The only time people support each other these days is when it's mob rule."

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