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Cry of anguish from mother who stabbed her paedophile neighbour after he abused her three sons 

Sarah Sands can still see her 11-year-old twin sons Alfie and Reece running home. It was an ordinary afternoon in October half-term and she was doing some ironing.

The boys had been cleaning a carpet for an elderly neighbour, Michael Pleasted, a cheerful pensioner who helped at the corner shop.

Reece raced straight upstairs. Alfie came into the living room. ‘He sat down and looked at me — and I knew,’ says Sarah. ‘His little eyes were wide open. It was like I could see into his soul.

‘I said to him: ‘Baby, whatever you’re about to say, make sure it’s the truth.’ He told me: ‘Mummy, it’s really bad’.’

Just over four weeks later, in a haze of distress and desperation, Sarah, then 31, took a knife from her kitchen drawer and strode across the estate where they lived in Silvertown, East London, to Pleasted’s flat.

The man she regarded as a friend had been arrested and charged with sexually assaulting her sons. She had just discovered that he had also abused their elder brother, Bradley.

The man she regarded as a friend – an elderly neighbour, Michael Pleasted – had been arrested and charged with sexually assaulting her sons. Sarah Sands with her sons Reece Sands, 19 (right); his twin brother Alfie Sands, 19 (left) and Bradley Sands, 20

Sarah says: ‘I had one job — to protect my kids — and I failed.’

She was determined to persuade Pleasted — even threaten him, if necessary — to plead guilty so the boys would not be further traumatised by having to give evidence in court.

Just a few minutes later, Pleasted, 77, lay dying. Sarah had stabbed him eight times and watched, without calling 999 or attempting to help, as he bled to death. Then, carrying the bloodstained knife and wearing her bloodstained clothes, she handed herself into a nearby police station.

An officer on duty that night in November 2014 says he remembers ‘a very frightened, vulnerable woman’.

‘That’s a polite way of saying I was a mess,’ says Sarah. ‘I had taken the law into my own hands, but I barely knew what I was doing.

‘The first few days I just cried and cried. I could not believe I had taken a life. After that, I disappeared — mentally — into a black hole.’

An angel of vengeance is how some people see Sarah, a woman who meted out justice to the man who had harmed her children.

An officer on duty that night in November 2014 says he remembers ‘a very frightened, vulnerable woman’. ‘That’s a polite way of saying I was a mess,’ says Sarah. ‘I had taken the law into my own hands, but I barely knew what I was doing

An officer on duty that night in November 2014 says he remembers ‘a very frightened, vulnerable woman’. ‘That’s a polite way of saying I was a mess,’ says Sarah. ‘I had taken the law into my own hands, but I barely knew what I was doing

The boys had been cleaning a carpet for an elderly neighbour, Michael Pleasted, a cheerful pensioner who helped at the corner shop

The boys had been cleaning a carpet for an elderly neighbour, Michael Pleasted, a cheerful pensioner who helped at the corner shop

‘People say to me all the time: ‘I’d have done what you did.’ But that’s not my message,’ she says. ‘My message is we need tighter controls and longer sentences for paedophiles, and more support for families.’

She insists she was ‘in freefall’, suffering a mental breakdown, and that she would never have killed Pleasted if she had been in her right mind.

The jury at her trial accepted what she said and cleared her of murder. Instead, she was convicted of manslaughter, due to ‘loss of control’ and served just under four years in prison.

Today, Sarah lives in a genteel town on the Essex coast, in a little flat by the seafront. She struck lucky: she was helped with her mental health problems while in prison. When she was released, in 2018, she was allocated emergency housing nearby and moved into a long-term rental last year.

Having lived all her life in a poverty-ridden part of East London, she loves the vast skies and open water.

‘My little piece of peace,’ she says as we pass the elegant houses along the front. ‘My sanctuary.’

At barely over 5ft, Sarah, now 39, does not look like a threat to anybody. Her manicured hands shake as she talks. She has been scarred by her own actions, which tore her away from her beloved children while she was in prison. She suffers from anxiety, depression and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).

She could have disappeared into anonymity, but this week she went public with a campaign to stop paedophiles being able to change their names and start new lives in places where they can continue to target children.

After Sarah had killed him, she was shocked to discover that Michael — or ‘Mick’ — Pleasted had once been known as Robin Moult and had 24 convictions for sex offences over three decades. Both the police and local council — who had housed him — said they had not known of his record.

Sarah’s sons Bradley, now 20, and Alfie and Reece, 19, have waived their right to anonymity as victims of sexual abuse to support her.

‘Mum’s totally right,’ says Reece. ‘It’s devastating to think about all the other kids he assaulted — and that he was free to walk around, doing what he was doing.

‘He wasn’t in prison and he should have been. Who thought it was OK for him to be near kids? He was living next to a primary school.’

And while Sarah says she did what she did only because of a mental breakdown, all three sons maintain that Pleasted is ‘in the right place now’.

Bradley says of his mother: ‘I thought: ‘Hats off’. I’m not going to deny it. The people who were supposed to protect us from paedophiles failed — so my mum took it into her own hands.’

When Sarah moved to the Silvertown estate nine years ago, she would not have dreamed of suspecting Pleasted, who was a well-known and popular figure there.

‘He helped out with sorting the newspapers at the corner shop, and he had a big metal container out the back that he ran as a bric-a-brac store. If any of the neighbours was getting rid of something, they’d say: ‘Oh, Mick, you take that’,’ she says.

‘He knew everyone because the shop was the sort of place you’d stop at after picking up the kids from school to buy some bread or a pint of milk. The kids would buy sweets there.

‘Every summer the mayor held a party and Mick volunteered to give the children donkey rides. He was so well into the community.’

When Bradley started earning some pocket money that summer — £2 a week — helping Mick sort his container on a Saturday, Sarah was happy. They all became friends.

‘I felt sorry for Mick, actually. Bradley used to tell me he thought he was lonely. Sometimes he’d get me to cook a bit extra then take the food over to Mick’s so they could share it.

Bradley says of his mother: ‘I thought: “Hats off”. I’m not going to deny it. The people who were supposed to protect us from paedophiles failed — so my mum took it into her own hands.’

 Bradley says of his mother: ‘I thought: ‘Hats off’. I’m not going to deny it. The people who were supposed to protect us from paedophiles failed — so my mum took it into her own hands.’

‘One day, one of the boys said to me: ‘Mum, I don’t think he has any money, he hasn’t bought his fags today.’ I took a tenner out of my purse and said: ‘Just leave it on the side, don’t give it to him.’ I didn’t want him to be embarrassed.

‘Now I look back and think: ‘I gave him money out of my purse, I gave him food. He drank out of my teacups and sat in my kitchen.’ Who does that? He had no shame.’

Pleasted was actually demonstrating classic paedophile behaviour in not just grooming the children he was targeting, but grooming their parent. Research shows paedophiles are adept at winning the trust of adults in order to get near children.

Sarah also thought nothing of it when, later that summer of 2014, Bradley told her he didn’t want to work for Mick any more. She assumed he was bored and would rather be out with his friends playing football.

She had no idea at all that the twins were visiting Mick’s flat. Alfie says: ‘Mick said it was all right and Mum wouldn’t mind. And he was an adult, so we believed him.

‘There were times when he’d make us kiss him on the cheek and say ‘I love you’, but that didn’t seem strange either.

‘We said: ‘I love you’ to our family — ‘I love you Mum, I love you Grandad, I love you Nanny’ — and he was just another grown-up.’

However, what did seem odd was that when they watched a film or TV, Mick wanted to cuddle up with them on the sofa, where he was often ‘handsy’.

They don’t want to say what happened on the day they fled his house, but he had gone too far. They knew virtually nothing about sex but they both knew something was wrong.

‘You look at them now all grown-up, but they were babies,’ says Sarah. ‘Paedophiles don’t go for big, strong men, they go for the weak, the vulnerable.’

She believed what they told her. ‘Absolutely. Straight away.’

She called the police. They, too, believed what the boys had to say and told Sarah their best advice was to leave the area. So she took the children and went to stay with her mother, a few miles away.

She was already under huge pressure, trying to care alone for five young children, one of whom was just a baby (she has two sons, now 11 and 16, who are not part of this story).

The police told her Pleasted had been charged but was out on bail. When she returned to her flat to collect some clothes she saw him at the corner shop and was distraught. ‘My life was in tatters and there he was, chatting away as if nothing had happened,’ she says.

While one cannot condone what she did, it is possible to understand a mother’s distress.

No one else locally knew Pleasted had been arrested: Sarah had been told by the police not to talk about the case.

The pressure kept building. Then, nearly five weeks after the initial shock, Bradley took her aside and told her that Pleasted had abused him, too. That pushed her over the edge.

The court heard she had been drinking. ‘I thought I’d go and tell him to plead guilty. At that moment I thought that was the best idea I’d ever had. Looking back, it’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever done.’ Much of the next few hours is a blank, she says. The PTSD plays tricks with her memory. Things she can remember one day are wiped the next — but she does recall one detail.

As she went to leave, she picked up a knife with a pink handle. Her kitchen was a riot of colour, with orange and green place mats and a pink kettle (‘a bit of fun for the kids’) and she had a set of multi-coloured knives. She thought: ‘Pink! That’s not going to scare anyone.’ She swapped it for a more conventional knife.

At her trial, Sarah told the court Pleasted had ‘smirked’ when he answered the door — and called her boys liars.

Judge Nicholas Cooke KC said the case was unique, and that Sarah had lost control rather than engaged in ‘vigilante conduct’.

According to the judge, she ‘never disputed responsibility for the killing as a matter of fact, did not take the opportunity to get rid of the evidence and demonstrated remorse’.

She was sentenced to three-and- a-half years in jail, but that was later increased to seven-and-a-half years by the appeal court after protests from members of the public that the sentence was ‘too lenient’.

Prison was ‘a whole new world’ in which she had to learn who to talk to and who to avoid. ‘No one liked lockdown more than me,’ she says. She was painfully aware that though her impulse was to protect her children, she had ‘left them out there in the world, alone’.

Her mother, Susan, who is ‘as strong as an iron bar’, looked after them while Sarah rang them three times a day. She cleaned the officers’ toilets for the privilege of a third, two-minute call in the evening to say goodnight.

She served the first part of her sentence in Holloway, where she was trained by the Samaritans as a ‘listener’ to help other prisoners in distress. She was later moved to Downview prison in Surrey, where she was given day release to help at a local food bank. She has recently completed a course in counselling.

Today, as a family, they are supporting an attempt by Sarah Champion, Labour MP for Rotherham, to get the Government to review restrictions on sex offenders. Champion says there is a ‘gaping hole’ in child protection: a loophole that allows registered sex offenders to change their names without the knowledge of the police.

‘Once they have changed their names they are able to get a new driving licence and passport in that name,’ Champion said this week.

‘We are finding these people are then going into schools and other places where there are children and vulnerable people, and exploiting their positions of trust in the most horrific ways.’

Sarah and her sons appeared with Champion in a BBC documentary on the subject, which was broadcast on Wednesday.

‘People can’t believe paedophiles are able to do that,’ she says, ‘but it’s been happening for years. Ian Huntley, who killed the little girls at Soham, got a job at their school because he had changed his name. No one knew there had been allegations against him in a previous job’.

Sarah’s newfound counselling skills have come in useful in dealing with her sons, who remain troubled by everything that has happened.

Reece, who works as a barista, says he has struggled with substance abuse ‘but I’m on a more righteous path now’.

Alfie, a handyman, would like to join the Army but suffers from nightmares and anxiety. While Bradley, who was given football cards by Pleasted for being ‘a good boy’ says he spent his teen years ‘mixing with the wrong people’ and that his life ‘definitely went downhill’ while his mother was in prison.

What caused more damage to her family: the abuse or its aftermath? That’s the question Sarah has to live with. There’s no easy answer. One can only feel sorry for everyone involved in a heart-wrenching drama: one that has cost one man his life and wrecked several more.

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Read more at DailyMail.co.uk



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