LONDON — Pedophile panic has struck one of Britain’s least lovely seaside towns. A vigilante gang of mothers claimed they had broken up a brazen pedophile ring operating in plain sight.
In reality, they were just ruining the vacation of a small group of teachers from Greece who had probably gone on vacation to Essex by mistake. Southend-on-Sea may be one of the closest beaches to London but its rough reputation means it’s more Jersey Shore than the Eastern Shore.
The unsuspecting holidaygoers were taking photographs of the seafront fountains, which were recently installed in a bid to attract tourists, when they were confronted and then detained by a local mob who accused them of creeping on their children.
While they were waiting for the police to arrive, one of the angry mothers took photographs of the men and reportedly posted them to her Facebook page—where they were shared thousands of times with a caption claiming that she had “smashed” a pedophile ring.
It took police officers a few minutes to determine that the women had done no such thing. They looked through the images on the teachers’ cameras and concluded that they were all perfectly innocent snaps “of the general seafront area.”
It was the most cockamamie pedophile conflagration on the English coast since roaming gangs of vigilante mothers forced four innocent families out of their homes in a Portsmouth housing estate in 2000.
Fired up by a name-and-shame campaign in Rupert Murdoch’s biggest-selling News of the World newspaper, Britain was briefly gripped by an anti-pedophile mania.
That same summer, unidentified vandals daubed the word “paedo” (British English retains the classical spelling) on the front door of a pediatrician at the local hospital in Gwent, South Wales.
Sixteen years on, those true stories have been exaggerated and morphed into one of Britain’s most notorious urban legends.
Horrified Southend residents are now worried that their brush with pedo-mania will linger long in the mind.
“We are a tourist destination—we openly welcome people to come here and visit and look at the unique features we have here. We don’t need people scaring them off with silly things like that,” Martin Richardson of the Happidrome arcade told The Southend Echo.
“It’s detrimental to the seafront because people have now got it in their heads there are pedophiles lurking around the seafront when these tourists, who were all teachers, were only taking pictures of the fountains so they could suggest something similar back home, but some stupid girl decided she’d ‘smashed a pedophile ring’ on Southend seafront and it’s been shared about 13,000 times on Facebook.”
“I had three people come into my shop asking about it but these poor people were just unaware of the English ‘etiquette’ that if you take pictures of children you’re suddenly a pedophile—as though pedophiles come down to the seafront in plain sight wearing cameras with big lenses on.”
Essex Police confirmed that they had been called out to the scene when the Greek teachers were being corralled.
“Police attended... following reports that three men had been detained by members of the public who were concerned about photographs being taken,” a spokesman said. “The photographs were reviewed by officers who found no offenses had been committed.”