People expect rapists to be on the loose in other cities, not here

A series of horrific rapes has shocked Bath, reports Jason Bennetto
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The Independent Online
Rosemount Lane is a quiet road that drops into a valley on the outskirts of the spa city of Bath.

On one side of the lane is a field with apple trees and a weeping willow. On the other are large detached homes built out of local sandstone. On the night of Thursday 31 October something happened in Rosemount Lane that has thrown the city of 80,000 residents into shock and brought fear to many.

At about 8.45pm a 16-year-old girl was on her way to meet her friend for an evening of Halloween trick-or-treating. But the teenager took a wrong turning and as she neared the bottom of Rosemount Lane she was dragged into an alley by a masked man armed with a knife.

In a passage between Daisy Bank and Chestnut Cottage she was raped.

A few hours earlier a 22-year-old woman returning to her car, parked next to the gigantic structure of St Mary's church on the other side of the city, had been approached by a hooded stranger. The man walked up and attempted to get into her car but she managed to lock the doors and drive off.

The fact that detectives are now linking up to a further 10 sexual assaults in Bath plus two murders in the region and the disappearance of a young woman has had a tremendous impact on what is a privileged community relatively untouched by big-city crime.

David Gledhill, editor of the Bath Chronicle, which has offered a pounds 5,000 reward for the capture of the rapist, explained: "Bath is hardly the crime capital of the UK - if someone vandalises a flower bed it makes news.

"That's why what's happened is such a shock to this city. People expect rapists to be on the loose in other cities, but not Bath."

Also writing in his paper he said: "To become the centre of attention not for our heritage nor for our architecture but for a series of horrific crimes is alien to us all."

All the female staff at the Chronicle have been issued with rape alarms, a piece of equipment that has become commonplace among the women of Bath in the past month.

Jan Hodkinson, 48, who has lived all her life in Bath, and her daughter, also carry alarms now and always lock their car doors when travelling alone.

She said: "It's not a very nice thing to be living with at the moment. Everyone is very nervous and are constantly talking about it. People are joining up for self-defence lessons and taking extra precautions.

"It's terrible to think the rapists might be someone shopping next to you in Sainsbury's.

"But it's important not to go overboard about it - if someone gets a kick out of worrying people you have to draw a line between warning them and terrifying them."

Part of the problem many believe is the lack of affordable parking in the city centre, which forces women to walk to the outskirts often in the dark at the end of the day. However, one of the attacks, in June, involved a women getting into her car at the Ham Gardens car park in the middle of the day.

The city centre multi-storey is a typical concrete monstrosity which the council has attempted to hide away next to the bus station. But its central location has brought home to many women that they are vulnerable anywhere in the city.

Younger women and their mothers are particularly cautious now. Vicky Pettemerides, 14, and her school friend Fran Hunt, 14, are no longer allowed to hang around after dark and both intend to get personal alarms. Vicky, who lives in a village just outside Bath, said: "My mum doesn't want me even walking alone in the village."

Fran added: "We're going to see the Christmas lights being turned on tonight; normally we would stay until 10.30 but mum is picking me up at 8.30."

Erin Houlihan, 19, and Amanda Killgannan, 20, have also changed their lifestyle in the past few months.

"Before I would go out at night and wouldn't think twice about walking home alone, but now we all go around in a big group of people," said Erin.

Amanda added: "Bath is such a quiet town. You don't expect anything terrible to happen in a place like this, do you?"