POLICE last night warned against vigilante violence as hundreds of angry parents threatened to take action after rumours of a predatory paedophile trawling North-East streets spread across the internet.

More than 900 people joined a Facebook group in less than two hours following reports of a middle-aged motorist attempting to lure children into his car in Darlington.

The page carried bogus claims that a man had approached children in the Haughton, Neasham Road and Red Hall area of the town and urged parents to band together to “get the sick t**t brought down”.

A similar site has been launched in Catterick Garrison, North Yorkshire, following claims that a man was trying to abduct children in the military town, and in nearby Richmond and Colburn.

Last night, amid calls for demonstrations and confrontations with teachers, senior police officers moved to quash the rumours.

They said the website, however well intentioned, was creating “unnecessary tension” and urged anyone with concerns to contact them rather than take the law into their own hands.

The rumours in Darlington began circulating after an incident last week in which a man attempted to snatch a 13-year-old girl.

Days later, a Facebook page was set up called Help Catch The Sicko Approaching Children In Darlington.

The site says: “There is a sicko approaching children in Darlington trying to lure them into his car.

“Stories have emerged he has appeared over Haughton, Grasmere Road, off Neasham Road and Red Hall.

“Please be vigilant and keep your children close to you. This creep needs to be caught so please pull together and get the sick t**t brought down.”

One mother posted: “There’s a sicko on the loose...” and another vowed not to let her child play out until the man was caught.

One father said: “(There will) be no jail for him. Will have him hanging by a noose.”

Members of the group were last night discussing a public protest that could be held today outside the town’s police station.

Others had noted down vehicle registration numbers of cars said to belong to the suspect.

Some reported sightings, including several that put the suspect in different parts of the town at the same time.

Others said he had abandoned his car and was prowling playgrounds, while a few said there were two people trying to kidnap children.

The Northern Echo also understands that the site’s warnings have prompted a meeting between parents and teachers in one of the town’s primary schools yesterday.

One parent said: “People are very worried.

“We heard someone had tried to take a four or five year-old on Monday. We are not letting our kids play out until it is sorted out.”

However, Detective Inspector Phil Curtis, from Darlington CID, said: “We have not got someone going around trying to abduct children – the attempted abduction (of the 13-year-old) was a one-off incident and is very rare.

“We do not suspect there are other incidents. If anyone has information, they should contact Darlington CID about it as opposed to putting it on Facebook.”

He warned parents not to take vigilante action after some threatened to take the law into their own hands if the man was not caught.

Police in Catterick Garrison believe an alleged serious sexual assault near Scotton Road two days earlier may have prompted the creation of a similar Facebook page for their town. The Keeping Our Kids Safe in Richmondshire site was launched on Sunday morning.

The site says it does not condone violence or vigilante action, and was formed to share information.

Reports of a man approaching children in Catterick Garrison, as well as Colburn and Richmond School, have circulated on the internet for several days.

Postings have suggested that the police have not taken the appropriate action following the reports. Others suggest that residents should take measures to protect their communities.

Inspector Neil Northend, from the Richmond and Catterick Safer Neighbourhood Team, said he understood that people may be alarmed by the postings.

However, he said: “I would like to reassure the local communities that every incident is thoroughly investigated to ensure that there is no risk to the public.

“There is nothing to suggest that any of the recent reports are linked in any way.

“Having investigated the latest incidents, it appears that the reports have been made by well-intentioned residents as a result of the previous postings on the Facebook site.

“I would also like to remind people that they must not take the law into their own hands.”

Users of both Facebook groups say the suspect is white, in his 50s, with grey hair and a tan, and drives a dark blue or black car.

The description was given out after the alleged attempted abduction of the 13-yearold on Tuesday, September 20, in Darlington.

Anyone with information has been asked to call Det Insp Curtis on 0345-60-60-365.