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Friday, 14 December, 2001, 17:37 GMT
A return to mob rule?
Paulsgrove residents' shocked response
Last year the Paulsgrove estate in Portsmouth exploded into violence when parents discovered a child sex offender was living in their community. With Roy Whiting now convicted of Sarah Payne's murder, and the News of the World embarking on a fresh campaign of "naming and shaming", do the protesters feel vindicated?

"I don't think it was the answer," says Paulsgrove resident Margaret Hunt standing outside the building from which a convicted sex offender was driven by a mob.

The man was "named and shamed" by the News of the World in July 2000 as part of their campaign - in the wake of schoolgirl Sarah Payne's murder - to force the authorities to inform parents if a known paedophile was residing in their area.

Police stand guard at protesters' target
Hundreds of angry residents eventually converged on the grass below his second-floor flat, outraged that such a criminal should ever have been allowed to live in their midst.

After nights of angry protest, the flat - along with a number of others belonging to completely innocent neighbours - stood empty and ransacked.

As the "witch-hunt" fanned out through the estate (protesters had "memorised" a list of 20 suspects), cars were overturned and torched and at least one police officer sustained serious injuries.

Rumours still persist that some locals were keen to "name" suspected paedophiles to settle old scores rather than safeguard local children.


Paulsgrove, a few miles inland from Portsmouth, has never enjoyed a good reputation in the city, perhaps unfairly, considering that this tree-lined, low-rise estate with sea views appears no more fearsome than the average city suburb.

Children joined in the demonstrations
Unfortunately, the events of August 2000 catapulted the name Paulsgrove to international notoriety. Images of bellowing children carrying angry placards were beamed around the world.

Mother-of-two Mandy Kerr says she was embarrassed to be a Paulsgrove resident when her sister phoned from Mexico saying the protests were on the news there.

Mrs Kerr says she was opposed to the protests and even complained to the police about them since "they were waking the children up".

"I don't agree with what those parents did. They were not protecting children, they were scaring them."


Such fears echo those of Sara Payne, Sarah's mother and one of those firmly behind the News of the World's campaign for the disclosure of paedophiles' whereabouts. Mrs Payne said she had wanted to see children kept safe, not drafted into "lynch mobs".

Lisa Tyler left her two youngest children at home when she attended the early, "peaceful" Paulsgrove demonstrations, but allowed her 12-year-old son to accompany her.

Pictures shocked the world
"He was old enough to know what was going on. The kids have got to be made aware of the dangers."

Miss Tyler says she was horrified when other mothers told her about the sex offender's presence. "I just wanted to get him out. To put him smack bang in front of several schools was asking for trouble."


One of her daughters had already been approached by another local paedophile and Miss Tyler had little faith in the current laws to protect any of her children.

"She was lucky. She was wearing trousers and he only touched her leg. She was very upset and it took me two years to get her to wear shorts or a skirt again. While on bail, the man tried to rape a four-year-old boy."

While Miss Tyler distances herself from the violence that she says marred the genuine parents' protests, she remains uncompromising.

Angry residents took to the streets
"If there are more paedophiles in Paulsgrove they will be driven out," she says, "I think they should all be hanged or put on a desert island."

Bundled up against the cold, school lollipop man Charles Slight says he's watchful for those preparing to prey on local children.

"Burning out the paedophiles, like what happened last year, won't work. I keep a close eye on the school and challenge people I don't recognise."


During the violence, Paulsgrove was portrayed as a desolate area, brimming with problem families. It may take more than estate agent's licence to paint the area as "quaint" or "up and coming", but it is no cesspool of degradation.

Murdered schoolgirl Sarah Payne
Sarah Payne's murder raised fears
The cars lining the tidy streets are not exactly new, but they're not up on bricks either.

Mr Slight admits that the estate has its fair share of broken homes and single parents, "but parents here look after they're children. You never see the young ones wandering around on their own."

The younger children may be on a short rein, but many locals blame the estate's teenagers for last year's debacle.

The sex offender's home was opposite the shops where many young people "hang out" during on summer nights. Many parents say these bored teenagers hijacked the excitingly noisy demonstration which landed in their laps.

"The whole thing gave the area a bad name - or an even worse name than it already had," says one young woman, refusing to give her name ("I've got to live here, you know.")

"Lots of people here didn't agree with what went on, but were very angry about a paedophile being put here with so many families. And they're still are angry."

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