' Blue rinse bullies' accused of pounds 70m project sabotage.
PETITIONERS backing a controversial development in Wirral claim they have faced sabotage and intimidation - from the 'blue rinse brigade'.
Police may investigate claims of "bully boy tactics" used against the "New" New Brighton group (NNB), set up to represent a 'silent majority' who back a proposed pounds 70m regeneration scheme for New Brighton.
It includes building a supermarket on part of the resort's marine lake, building a new marine lake, and apartments on the seafront, as well as cinema and open air swimming pool.
But NNBG's organisers say their efforts to build up a petition of names of those supporting the regeneration project are being undermined, and have called on the police to investigate NNB began their petition to add weight to their claims that a silent majority approve of the scheme to counter the 19,000-plus signatures on the opponents' petition.
The group's spokeswoman Lynne Palin said they were "so shocked" to hear of intimidation.
She said: "We have already secured over three thousand signatures, all from people living in this local area.
"It seems that there is a hard-core of fanatics who are determined to stifle free speech.
"Petition forms have been stolen, defaced and torn up, and local shopkeepers who have displayed the petition have been subject to abusive and intimidatory behaviour."
Ms Palin said they had reported the incidents to the police's community support officer.
One local shopkeeper, who asked not to be named for fear it would affect business, said when she put a poster supporting the redevelopment in her shop window she had been told by two women they would start a boycott of her shop. She said: "I was going to put it back up but I'm not sure.
"I don't want to lose customers. Trade is bad enough at the moment."
Another shopkeeper said he had been told it was "the blue rinse brigade" who were involved in a dirty tricks campaign.
Karen Kelly, owner of Choc A Holics, opposite New Brighton train station, said she had found one of her customers copying down the names on the petition form in her shop.
She said: "I think they are trying to intimidate people. I heard that someone went into the shopping centre in Liscard and ripped up some of the forms that are there."
Ms Kelly, who has built up her newsagent business over the last five years and supports the redevelopment plans, said many of those supporting the Neptune scheme seemed to be young people.
She said: "Their views are not normally heard, but they seem to be in favour of it"And lots of tourists coming into the shop during the summer were saying New Brighton needed something doing to it."
Leslie Parker Davies, chairman of the New Brighton Heritage Action Group which has been fighting a vigorous campaign against the proposed redevelopment, condemned any bullying tactics and said no one from his group would be involved.
He said: "I have experienced some foul-mouthed abuse during this and would never condone that from anyone.
"The matter is now to be decided by an independent inspector at a public inquiry, and whatever the outcome we will receive it with good grace."
A spokeswoman for Merseyside Police said they had spoken to some shopkeepers about the claims but had not yet received a formal complaint. She said: "Of course, if they make a complaint we will investigate it fully