TRAFFIC campaigners in Chideock say they fear for their safety after a fixed speed camera was destroyed in an arson attack.

Officers say a tyre was put over the device and set alight last Sunday morning. It comes after police began recruiting villagers to act as unpaid ‘speed spies’.

And it follows the revelation that one late night motorist was clocked doing an incredible 103mph through the village’s 30mph zone.

Now Tony Fuller, 77, leader of the A35 action group – which plans to relaunch its push button protest in Chideock on Friday – says he fears angry motorists might target fellow campaigners next.

Police have revealed the village will be one of the next to trial the new Speed Watch scheme that uses trained volunteers to carry out checks using hand-held cameras.

Critics say it will be toothless because no prosecutions can be brought as a result of what they record and it could put the volunteers at risk from irate drivers – a view shared by Dorset Police Federation chairman Clive Chamberlain.

He said: “A high visibility yellow jacket and a speed camera is precious little defence against some of the more unpleasant members of society that police officers encounter on a daily basis.

“We all know that getting behind the wheel of a car can transform the most mild-mannered of people into something aggressive, irrational and potentially dangerous.”

Mr Fuller agreed. He said: “If some moron can do this to a fixed speed camera – obviously to avoid a fine – I dread to think what would happen if that was a couple of elderly people with hand-held cameras.”

Mr Fuller said his group is relaunching their push button protests this Friday, 2pm to 3pm.

He warned the authorities not to turn them off to thwart their efforts or they would arrange the protest for other times and inform no-one. He said: “As a group we have bent over backwards to do what the authorities have asked but our reward has been nothing.

“We had agreed to hold fire while the police set up the Speed Watch scheme but it has been three weeks since the meeting and there has been little movement.”

Mr Fuller also questioned the value of the Speed Watch initiative.

He added: “I read that speed cameras will be switched off after November and it seems to me volunteers like ours are being used to save money.”

Mr Chamberlain added: “Whilst I cannot criticise any public-spirited person for wishing to assist us in maintaining law and order I do seriously question the logic behind such a scheme that will place citizens at risk. At least we, as professionals, are trained and kitted out to deal with such challenges and are issued with personal protection equipment, plus a radio with which further help can be summoned.”

Assistant Chief Constable Adrian Whiting denied the Speed Watch scheme is a direct replacement for speed cameras or that it involved spying on people.

He said: “Scheme volunteers do not act in a covert manner and, in fact, wear high visibility clothing while participating. They are trained to use a camera and are able to record the registration numbers of speeding vehicles, before passing this information to the police.

“The force will then take action, including – if behaviour is persistent – our own enforcement activity, which may lead to prosecution.”

Police are advising motorists against travelling through Chideock during the protest.

l Anyone with information about the damage to the camera should contact police on 01305 222222.

THE first group of 12 Chideock volunteers in new Speed Watch scheme are being trained on Sunday. PC Chris Forshaw said no-one from the Chideock protest group would be allowed to take part in the scheme. To join contact PCSO Mark Jones at Bridport Police Station telephone 01308 422266.