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Thursday, 21 February, 2002, 16:35 GMT
'Vigilantes' face life sentences
Police at Alfred Wilkin's house
The victim's house was vandalised before the arson
Two men are facing life sentences for murdering a retired seaman whom they wrongly believed to be a paedophile.

Alf Wilkins, 67, died after his flat on Grimsby's Yarborough Estate was set on fire by a vigilante gang in February last year.

Alfred Wilkins
Mr Wilkins was cleared of all criminal charges
He had been subjected to months of harassment after being found not guilty of abusing a nine-year-old girl.

Gary Lawson, who led the attack, and his godfather Ian Lawless, who acted as look-out, will be sentenced at a later hearing.

Gary Fairbanks, 43, was cleared on Thursday by a jury at Hull Crown Court of inciting Lawson to kill Mr Wilkins.

Fairbanks, 43, of Ludlow Avenue, Grimsby, pleaded guilty to one charge of witness intimidation and one charge of criminal damage.

Ian Lawless
Ian Lawless faces life sentence
Earlier Lawless, 40, of Conway Avenue, Grimsby, was found guilty of murder by a 10 to two majority.

Lawson, 20, of Ludlow Avenue, Grimsby, was found guilty of starting the fire, and convicted of murder.

Chantelle Louise Day, 17, of Haven Garden, and Lawson were found guilty of conspiring to cause grievous bodily harm to Mr Wilkins.

Detective Superintendent Gavin Baggs, of Humberside Police, said the case sent out "a strong message" to would-be vigilantes.

"We live in a society where law and justice is a matter for the courts - not vigilante groups.

'Cowardly attack'

"Alfred Wilkins was a well-liked old man who kept himself to himself but who was tormented by criminal offences founded by speculation.

Gary Lawson
Guilty of murder: Gary Lawson
"There is no suggestion Mr Wilkins had done anything to hurt or offend any of the defendants or their families."

He said Mr Wilkins was killed in a cowardly attack when lighted paper was put through his letterbox.

He said police were grateful to those who had given evidence and "set an example of what is right".

Mr Justice Geoffrey Grigson said he would postpone sentencing until after pre-sentence reports were compiled.

The BBC's Jon Brain
"Alf Wilkins spent the last few weeks of his life living in fear"
Detective Superintendent Gavin Baggs
"Any type of vigilante action is just totally inappropriate"

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