Victim of sexual assault speaks out

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THE victim of a sexual assault almost three years ago has waived her right to anonymity to speak about the ordeal in the hope that it willl help to finally bring her attacker to justice.

Stephanie Hewson of Northumberland was attacked after travelling to Whitley Bay to meet up with friends in the early hours of Sunday, August 2, 2009, after a night out in Newcastle.

She was out with friends outside Envy in South Parade in Whitley Bay at around 1.45am, then walked with a friend to the top of South Parade before going their separate ways at 2am.

It was then that Stephanie, 23 at the time, was targeted by a sex attacker as she walked towards Park Avenue.

The man, still at large three years on, dragged her into the rear lane behind Beach Avenue and subjected her to a sustained and violent sexual assault.

Now, in support of her appeal, independent charity Crimestoppers have offered the financial reward of £3,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the man responsible.

The attack left her with serious physical injuries and mental scars. Stephanie still lives in fear of another attack and is afraid even to get out of her car when she goes to work.

However, she has chosen to speak out about her ordeal in an effort to help police catch the offender.

Stephanie, who was living in Whitley Bay at the time, said: “It was horrible, and it’s a miracle I’m still here.

“I had gashes all over my back. The tops of my shoulders and my head, face and jaw were swollen.

“I had black eyes and scrapes all over my body, and I had damage to the backs of both of my eyes from being kicked so many times. My nose was broken and my mouth ripped apart from inside to out.

“Since the attack, my life has completely changed.

“I don’t go out on nights out any more and very rarely go out at all, only to restaurants, if at all.

“I’m scared to get out of my car to go into work, and I don’t go out at all if it’s dark, not even to the supermarket if it’s dark outside.

“I think back to when I was 18 and me and my friends used to walk home late at night, and when this happened, I only walked four car lengths and this happened to me. It’s not worth it.

“Everyone needs to be on guard, especially when they’ve had a drink. I’d urge young women to make sure you are with people and get a taxi and have plans to get home safely. Everyone needs to make sure they are safe.”

The assault happened at about 2.30am. Stephanie was found by police after receiving a report from a passer-by expressing concern for her wellbeing.

She was lying in the alley in a distressed state with serious facial injuries.

Since the attack, officers have spoken to many nearby residents and looked through hours of CCTV from the scene and surrounding areas. Several potential witnesses were identified and spoken to, but the police never got the breakthrough in their investigation that they were hoping for.

They appealed to the public for information and released CCTV stills of a man they wanted to speak to in connection with the attack.

Crimestoppers regional manager Dave Hunter said: “It has taken immense courage for the victim of this crime to come forward after she was left badly shaken and afraid to leave her home at night as a result of her ordeal.

“I would urge anyone with information on this crime to come forward with information, no matter how insignificant they might think it is, to help bring this callous individual to justice.

“We only want to know what you know, not who you are.”

Anyone with any information on this crime can contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.

The man police want to speak too was white in his mid or late 20s, with short hair, receding at the temples. He was wearing a mid-blue t-shirt with the word Mackenzie on it in yellow and dark jeans and white trainers.

Officers investigating the attack received a number of calls offering information, but they weren’t able to charge anyone in connection with it.

Police have issued moving CCTV footage of the man and are appealing for anyone who recognises him, or who has any information on the assault, to come forward.

Detective Inspector Paul Race, of Northumbria Police’s rape investigation team, said: “We have had a good response so far to the appeal, all of the calls we received are being followed up by detectives working on the investigation.

“We are continuing to appeal for anyone with information about the incident to contact us on 101 the non emergency number or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.”

He added: “This was a particularly nasty assault on a young woman that left her with a number of serious physical injuries and emotionally distressed.

“We carried out extensive inquiries at the time but unfortunately were unable to charge anyone with the assault.

“This crime has never been closed, and we regularly carry out reviews of unsolved crimes to see whether any further progress can be made. If we receive new information, we will investigate it and act on it.

“I have to praise Stephanie and her family for their courage shown since the incident happened and their support and help to officers investigating the attack.

“I want to appeal to anyone who recognises the man in the images, or thinks they know who it could be, to contact us with any information that they might have.

“I also need to reassure the residents of Whitley Bay, and the wider public, that incidents of this nature are, thankfully, very unusual.”

CCTV footage of the man the police would like to speak to can be seen at here and a video of Stephanie talking about her ordeal can be seen here