A paedophile panic is spreading from family to family after five reports of attempted child abductions.

Police are warning people not to take matters into their own hands after a series of incidents were reported to officers in which parents have confronted passers-by and accused them of being responsible.

The stranger danger alarm was initially raised by Sussex Police at the beginning of the month when a girl was approached by a man and asked if she wanted a lift.

There have now been five reports from children aged between nine and 14 who have said they were asked to get into a black car in Brighton, Hove or Sompting.

Police have already determined that at least one of those incidents was an innocent one.

Chief Inspector Helen West from Sussex Police said: “Fear has been increased without significant incidents to pin it down to.

“Once you get one or two reports, people become suspicious of activities which are then taken out of context.

“We are aware that there has been a lot of talking between parents and schools. There has been heightened fear and anxiety and we now need some rumour control.”

On Friday a 14-year-old girl told police she was approached by a man in a black car in Cokeham Lane, Sompting, as she walked to school and asked if she wanted a lift. A day earlier an 11-year-old reported a similar incident nearby in Test Road.

Two other children also reported being asked if they wanted to get into a black car with a stranger in Wilbury Crescent, Hove, and St Georges Road, Brighton, in the last fortnight Concerned parents have now begun approaching dog walkers in parks and men in cars accusing them of being paedophiles.

Police are trying to calm fears in the community and are urging residents to stay calm.

An email sent out by Bevendean PCSO Chris Murphy said: “Unfortunately a message has been circulated by text amongst parents which has significantly increased tensions.

“Some parents have unfortunately taken matters into their own hands tackling drivers they believe to be paedophiles.

“What has started out as a suspicion incident has become a large topic for discussion, which has panicked and worried many parents of local children.

“This has lead to misinterpretations of perfectly innocent situations in recent days, that has lead to parents contacting other parents to warn them over a situation that has no substance and is merely an assumption.”

Mother-of-two Gerry Duke, whose daughter goes to Cottesmore St Mary's Catholic School, the same school as one of the girls who said she was approached by the man in a black car, said: “Parents are apparently going up to dog walkers if they see them talking to a child.

“I think everyone is just really anxious especially because the school holidays are starting and children will be heading to the parks by themselves.” A Sussex Police spokeswoman said: “The most important thing that parents can do is report any suspicious activity to police and allow us to investigate the reports.

"Parents and the public should not confront anyone themselves who they consider to be acting suspiciously but what they should do is record the car registration, a description of car and the person and pass this information to police and let them conduct inquiries."

Anyone with information should call Sussex Police on 0845 6070999