Man bailed after being quizzed over Dereham sex attack

Ian ClarkeA 20-year-old man questioned about a serious sexual assault on a woman in Dereham has been released on bail by police.Ian Clarke

A 20-year-old man questioned about a serious sexual assault on a woman in Dereham has been released on bail by police.

He was arrested on Sunday by detectives investigating an attack on a 24-year-old woman who was walking home alone after a night out in the town.

She said she was approached on a footpath at St Withburga Lane and pushed over before being assaulted.

The victim then ran home and rang police.

The man was questioned by detectives - who got permission from magistrates to extend the period he was kept in custody.

He was then released on bail while further inquiries are carried out and will have to report back to officers in March.

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The incident happened between 4am and 5am on Saturday morning and the woman was left very distressed by the ordeal.

She knocked on the window of a people carrier parked nearby and spoke to the male driver.

The woman asked him which way he was going but he was unable to give her a lift.

Police are appealing for the driver to come forward and said he could be an important witness.

The investigation is being carried out by Norfolk Police's vulnerable people directorate and led by Det Insp Debbie Gunnill.

She said: 'Although offences of this kind are extremely rare, clearly this incident could cause alarm among members of the local community.

'It is being investigated by a dedicated team of officers and police patrols will be deployed in the area for reassurance. Our enquiries remain on-going and we are keen to speak to any witnesses, particularly the man who spoke to the victim following the assault.'

The footpath is close to Dereham Church Infants School and also Dereham's St Nicholas Parish Church.

St Withburga Lane is used by many people driving to the Guildhall car park, which was very busy with weekend shoppers.

Police have had extra patrols out in Dereham.

Jo Matthews, who lives near the footpath, said it was a popular route for people walking home from a

night out and called for more police presence in the area at nights.

'It is worrying what has happened. We get our fence kicked in regularly and lots of things thrown over the fence and people sometimes come in our garden. It is an area people use after they come out of the clubs and it gets quite noisy here. I would not walk along the path at night.'

Anyone with information on the incident should contact Norfolk Police on 0845 4564567.

*Dereham Police have issued fresh advice for women to stay safe when on a night out.

Sgt Mark Goodbody, of the safer neighbourhood team, said: 'When walking home females should walk home in a group, plan their journey home beforehand, avoid unlit areas and let someone know what time they will be coming home.'

He said a selection of personal attack alarms - which give off a loud noise when set off - are on sale at Dereham Police Station in Commercial Road for a few pounds.

Sgt Goodbody said the alarms could deter attackers and also alert people in the area to something going on.

A range of free leaflets on personal safety advice are also available at the police station.