Residents of a south Armagh village say they have been left "traumatised" after vigilantes tied up, covered in paint and beat with iron bars a pair of on-the-run sex offenders.
Child rapist James White (48) and paedophile Alexis Guesto (26), also known as Jason Lydiard, were being hunted by police when they are believed to have been discovered by a group of men on Saturday night.
Dramatic photos show the pair covered in blue paint and sitting on a bench beside a republican memorial in Mullaghbawn, with their hands tied behind their backs.
Guesto also appeared to have been secured to the bench.
Locals said that in the days before they were found there was a "climate of fear" in the village, with sports clubs and the nearby primary school "on lockdown" and warnings on social media.
Yesterday the PSNI said it believed the duo had been "discovered by a group of males on Saturday evening as they attempted to evade an ongoing police search for them".
Officers revealed they were treating the actions against the pair as "serious assault" and had "revisited a number of scenes" to conduct further enquiries.
Detective Chief Inspector Jill Duffie said: "White and Guesto were kicked and beaten with iron bars before being taken to Mullaghbawn village, where they were further assaulted by a number of individuals and covered in paint.
"Both men were taken to hospital by police.
"One of the males has been arrested and the other remains in hospital being treated for his injuries.
"Both men will be brought before the court at the earliest opportunity in relation to the matters for which they were being sought."
DCI Duffie said she had been "pleased" with the local community's response and assistance during Saturday's search, but that the "violent actions of a small number of people" had forced police to "redirect resources and efforts towards investigating a serious assault".
"There is no excuse for individuals taking the law into their own hands nor for the violent scenes that we witnessed last night," she added.
Local sources said they believed the sex offenders had been hiding out in nearby Glendesha Forest, and that community leaders had intervened during the attack to calm the situation.
A witness to the attack said she had been left "traumatised" and suffering from nightmares.
"It was quite frightening. I was shaking, I had a sick feeling in my stomach," she said. "There were about 50 people there. I saw the men sitting there covered in paint, with their hands tied.
"People said they had been tied up with cable ties and ropes, and one was tied to the bench.
"The other was lying on the ground when I first saw him, then later he was on the bench too. I didn't see any violence, but I was worried the situation was going to get out of control.
"I had a nightmare about what I saw, I was traumatised. I think social media got people fired up about it and created hysteria."
A grandfather who has lived in the village for decades said the vigilantes had acted "like they were in the Wild West".
"They should have let the police do their job," he said. "Nobody appointed sheriffs. Whoever found them did good work, but not beating them, not throwing paint over them.
"It was like they were in the Wild West.
"It's not the sort of scene we like to see in our village.
"It can get out of hand very quickly. I don't think the people who did this did much to enhance the community."
The man said that there had been a "climate of fear" while the two men were on the loose.
"There was a sense of panic amongst people in the village," he said.
"The primary school was in lockdown and I saw the local GAA club had a post up on Facebook about dropping off and collecting children.
"You were afraid for everybody's children. It instilled panic in anybody with young children.
"There was a climate of fear while they were on the loose.
"Children were panicking. One friend of mine said her grandson was very worried, and this wee lad's about 10."
Another woman said she intended to leave the village because of the incident.
"It's turned my stomach," she said. "You really wouldn't have believed it - it was crazy, like a mob out there.
"When they (the two men) got into the police car there was a big roar. It was very scary.
"A lot of people were crying because of what they had seen.
"I spoke to a young fellow today who was shaking, he said he wished he had never seen any of it, that he would probably have nightmares.
"People are traumatised by it. You can feel it in the air. It's like a nervous tension.
"I don't agree with any violence whatsoever.
"That's what happened during the Troubles. You don't want to go back to that."
Sinn Fein councillor Mickey Larkin said the presence of the sex offenders had caused a "high level of stress" in the community, but added that it "wouldn't excuse" people taking the law into their own hands.
"Justice is delivered by the PSNI, PPS and Courts Service," he said. "No one would excuse anybody taking the law into their own hands."
In 1998 White was convicted of two counts of buggery and five charges of sexual assault against a teenage boy in Co Meath a year earlier.
Last year Guesto was placed on the sex offenders register for five years and banned from working with children after he admitted grooming and touching a boy under 16.
And last September he was caught on an online dating site. He was jailed for breaching the terms of a Sexual Offences Prevention Order by having a phone with internet access.
On Friday the PSNI had issued a public appeal for information over White and Guesto, who it said were "wanted in Northern Ireland for a range of offences, including breach of licence and warrants".
Police said they believed the pair had recently travelled over the border after sightings in the south Armagh and Newry areas and that the PSNI was "working closely" with the Garda to establish their whereabouts.
The day before the pair were attacked police had seized a blue Peugeot car in a car park in Mullaghbawn's Chancellors Road after a report from a member of the public.
Anyone with information can contact detectives in Ardmore station on 101 quoting reference number 1240 28/04/18.