Rape past of shot ice-cream man

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THE ice cream man blasted in his van before a crowd of children in Penicuik last night has a conviction for rape, it emerged today.

Police are today investigating the past of Jim Allison, a 57-year-old father-of-two, who was shot at close range with a shotgun at around 6.30pm in Strathesk Road in the town.

And detectives said today they believe the gunman may have been lurking in wait in the area for more than three hours prior to the attack.

Witnesses, including five children aged between eight and 14 who were in the street at the time, said they saw the black-clad gunman fleeing from the scene.

Two boys found the ice-cream man, who is known as "Flash" and has been working in the area for more than 16 years, lying in his van with gunshot wounds to his chest and stomach.

A neighbour said last night that Mr Allison's son, William, had been attacked about a month ago, and this could have sparked a feud which spiralled out of control.

Other neighbours said that Mr Allison had served a lengthy prison sentence for rape. Other reports said he was convicted of rape in 1970 and served 12 years.

Police said today they are investigating Mr Allison's past, although they could not say whether it provided a direct motive for the shooting.

Despite using a specially-trained sniffer dog to scour the area for clues, detectives are yet to find the weapon used in the attack.

Detective Superintendent Brian Donehan is leading the inquiry. He said: "We believe someone may have seen him (the gunman) hanging around the vicinity of the shooting prior to it.

"We think he may have been going backwards and forwards from the scene for a couple of hours before the incident.

"We believe he was carrying the weapon at the time and so he would have been carrying a long tubular object which may have looked like a mop.

"He wasn't carrying it openly - it was hidden in a bag or something similar. It was a long cylindrical object. We are keen to speak to anyone who was in the vicinity of the shooting between 3pm and 7pm."

Mr Allison remains in a critical condition in hospital after being shot shortly after serving children on his regular ice-cream van run.

Detectives are convinced the gunman used a shotgun to shoot Mr Allison through the serving hatch of his ice-cream van.

Teams of detectives were today scouring the gunman's escape route for fresh clues and were conducting house-to-house inquiries.

Witnesses say that after the shooting, the attacker fled northwards, along Strathesk Road and away from its junction with Strathesk Place and towards Pinocchio's Nursery.

The attacker is described as being white, 5ft 9in, with grey hair, of slim build and dressed in dark clothes and wearing a black beanie hat. He was carrying a long cylindrical object, which police believe was the shotgun.

Det Supt Donehan added: "Clearly it's a highly unusual incident and the level of violence used is obviously significant here. It was carried out in public, in the open air, in the presence of children, and that level of disregard is quite worrying.

"We are obviously extremely concerned that someone who is capable of such an act is still at liberty and still in a position of where he could still be carrying a firearm."

An incident room has also been set up at Dalkeith police station where officers were set to give a press conference this morning.

Door-to-door inquiries were also being carried out at the normally quiet council housing estate in Penicuik.

Investigators believe witnesses may be able to identify the gunman because he would have been carrying the shotgun which would possibly have been hidden in a long bag.

The shooting has shocked the entire community in the quiet residential area.

Alan Ketchen, 43, has been a friend of Mr Allison, of Glen View, Penicuik, for nearly 30 years. He had just sat down for dinner with his family in their home in Strathesk Road. He said: "We heard two loud bangs. Then we heard him shouting: 'Help! Help!' I ran out and he was saying 'I've been shot, I've been shot'. He was very pale and short of breath and holding his stomach.

"Then I saw the blood. I came running back and told my wife to phone the police and ambulance.

"I went out again to try and help him. He'd been shot right in the stomach and the chest. He was starting to go, and looking as if he was about to pass out."

Around 40 neighbours crowded on to the street and emergency phone lines were flooded with dozens of 999 calls.

An off-duty nurse and an off-duty paramedic were among the first on the scene. They treated Mr Allison until the ambulance crew arrived.

The paramedic, who asked not to be named, said: "Jim was in a bad but stable way. He was in a lot of pain. A close-range weapon had been discharged at him. I'm assuming it was a sawn-off shotgun. Jim took the full force of the gun. He was conscious and breathing and fully alert. He was even cracking jokes. He was cheery, but in pain."

Mr Allison had managed to crawl through into the driving seat of the van as he shouted for help.

He was taken to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and given emergency surgery last night. Police taped off the street last night, and a forensic team were photographing the scene and checking for fingerprints.

They were continuing to examine the scene today and say they have yet to establish a motive for the shooting.

Mr Allison is married to Jacqueline. As well as William, who is in his early 20s, the couple also have a 16-year-old daughter, Casey.

The family were at his bedside last night and there was no answer at the house this morning.

Friends and neighbours were shocked by the attack. Mr Allison was described as being "very popular" and good with children.

Mr Ketchen, a self-employed motor engineer, said: "He's quite a character - a bit of a likeable rogue.

"I know the whole family, and I've never heard any bad things said about them. It's a one-man business.

"He'd be up early in the morning, and he works till 10 at night. He's out there every night, he's regular as clockwork."

Although residents described it as a quiet street, this is not the first time the peace has been shattered by violence.

Nikki McLeod, a 30-year-old mother, was found hacked to death in her own home in Strathesk Grove three years ago.