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The BBC's Karen Allen
"After two hours of talks, council officials emerged optimistic"
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Monday, 14 August, 2000, 14:53 GMT 15:53 UK
Council to act on 'sex offenders' list
Protesters took to the streets every night for a week
Council officials in Portsmouth have told anti-paedophile protesters from the Paulsgrove Estate that they will talk to everyone named on a list of suspected child sex offenders.

The residents gave police a list of names over the weekend of people who they believe have committed offences, demanding that they are removed from local houses.

At a meeting with the residents and police on Monday, council officials told them they would ask everyone named on the list if they wanted to move.

Roger Ching of Portsmouth City Council: Number one priority
But Roger Ching, acting chief executive of Portsmouth City Council, said the authority had no power to evict any residents if they did not want to move.

He said the council had sympathy with the parents: "We share the concern of parents in Portsmouth and throughout the country and we offer our support to parents who want to see a law on sex offenders in which they can have total confidence."

The council agreed to set up a working group with residents to help campaign for a change in the law relating to sex offenders, particularly relating to length of sentences and housing priorities.

In return, the residents pledged that any future demonstrations would be planned and agreed with the police and the city council.

However, some angry residents warned that the protests would go on until there was action.

Both Mr Ching and the police declined to reveal how many alleged sex offenders were on the list compiled by residents, which had been telephoned to police over the weekend.

Police officers guard a home in Portsmouth
Police have been called in to guard homes targeted by the mobs.
But Superintendent Bob Golding of Hampshire police said not every name on it was that of a known paedophile.

Denying that the council had given in to mob rule in response to the demonstrations of last week, Mr Ching said the local authority was only making the same assurances it had made all along.

"[People on the list] will be approached, and they will be told that if they are under threat they will be offered a place of safety. If they refuse to move then there is nothing we can do about that," he said.

He said dealing with the list was the council's "number one priority", and that it would be dealt with as soon as possible.

He said he hoped it was the end of unofficial demonstrations.

The estate saw violent outbursts and demonstrations after the News of the World launched its name and shame campaign.

Homes and property of suspected sex offenders were targeted and damaged as "peaceful" protests got out of hand - 24 people were arrested.

We have given it the number one priority

Roger Ching, Portsmouth City Council
Seven days of protest by families and children ended on Thursday when the council agreed to rehouse sex offenders or anyone else who felt threatened.

Five families were scared enough to leave the area.

Other campaigns are under way in South Wales and a number of people have been attacked after being wrongly identified as child abusers.

The News of the World has been blamed for the protests since it named 200 sex offenders in the wake of the murder of eight-year-old school girl Sarah Payne.

The paper is now campaigning for a so-called "Sarah's Law" to open up the sex offenders' register to public scrutiny, and has the backing of the girl's parents Michael and Sara Payne.

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