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19th Jun 2023

Disabled man ‘forced to go on run and live in van’ after being wrongly branded a paedophile


Phil has spent more than half a year sleeping on the floor of his van

A disabled man claimed he was forced to go on the run for seven months and live in the back of a van – after being wrongly branded a paedophile.

Phil – (not his real name) – said he was forced to flee his home of 13 years and live “on the road” because a vigilante gang kept trying to attack him following an incident in a shop in east London.

The ordeal began when he made an innocuous comment to a group of teenage girls in a shop in Rainham.

Phil said he queued at the till behind two teens and after they paid and went to leave, he told them: “Girls, have a lovely evening. Take care of yourselves and be safe.”

Another customer then began shouting at him, demanding to know if he was a paedophile, he said.

“I held my head and thought, ‘did that just happen?,” Phil recalled.

“I said he couldn’t go around calling people that. We had a little to and fro and then I left.

“That was the Saturday night. On the Sunday night, I had people knocking on my door saying, ‘come out or we are coming in’.”

He waited silently until they left, but they kept coming back.

Phil said: “He was getting other people to come round at the front door. I’m disabled. I couldn’t defend myself.”

Phil became frightened to switch on his lights or TV in case the vigilantes could see he was at home. One night, after yet another visit, he said: “I waited until they left, got in the van and went. I’ve been on the road ever since.”

The Met Police confirmed Phil filed a harassment report, saying that “a number of men had attended his house on several occasions and told him to come out”.

That case has since been closed, but could be reopened if new evidence comes to light, police said.

Phil also complained that Havering Council initially refused to help him find new accommodation.

Rheumatoid arthritis has left Phil reliant on a walking stick and unfit for work.

Phil claims he has spent more than half a year sleeping on the metal floor of his small van, beside his dog.

He said: “It’s taking its toll on me now. I’m not well. I’m run down. I’m not seeing any light at the end of the tunnel. The depression is kicking in. I can’t do this anymore. I just can’t.

“My disability is getting worse and worse. It doesn’t help, me being in this vehicle. My body is failing me.”

Occasionally Phil stayed in a Travelodge for £29, but for the most part, has lived in his vehicle.

Phil said: “I’m not bathing regularly. I’m also not eating regularly, because if you eat then you’ll need the toilet. There aren’t many public toilets open 24 hours.”

Most mornings at around 6am, Phil says he goes to a Greggs or a Tesco with a toilet, so he can wash and shave.

He said he approached Havering Council, hoping to find supported accommodation, but staff asked for bank statements and questioned how he was affording occasional nights in a Travelodge.

He said: “They’re treating me as the criminal, not as the victim. I’ve had enough of it.”

He has since been given emergency hotel accommodation in a budget hotel in Essex.

Havering Council confirmed its housing team was in touch with Phil.

A spokesman for the authority said: “We have placed him in emergency accommodation and will support him to find private rented property where he feels safe.”

The council said it would organise an occupational therapy assessment to ascertain his housing needs.

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