The travelling serial rapist who targets women who drive alone

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The Independent Online
A nationwide appeal for help in capturing a serial rapist, who has struck at least five times, is to be launched today.

Three police forces are taking part in Operation Lynx, which follows a series of sex attacks in the Midlands and in northern England over a period of years.

A two-year investigation by the police has uncovered new information about the man they believe to be responsible for the attacks, who is described as extremely dangerous and who uses a distinctive mode of operation. They describe him as a "travelling serial rapist".

The assailant usually abducts his victims as they are about to get into their cars in city centres, often tying them up, before driving them to a quiet location and attacking them. In one case a woman was raped and thrown into a river with a cloth bag over her head and her hands and feet tied. She managed to free herself and swim to safety.

Later today police from Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and West Yorkshire will appeal to the public for help in tracking down the rapist, and will ask for other possible victims to come forward. There are fears that he may be responsible for other assaults or attempted abductions that have gone unreported. A telephone rape-counselling service is being offered by the police to women who believe they may have been one of the man's victims.

The rapist has struck in Leeds, Bradford and Nottingham, and detectives believe he is likely to live at a location "mid-point" from these cities.

The commander of Operation Lynx described the inquiry as one of the biggest investigations of its kind and compared it to the extensive hunt for Michael Sams. Sams was given four life sentences in 1993 for the murder of Julie Dart, a Leeds prostitute, and the kidnap of Stephanie Slater, a Birmingham estate agent.

Operation Lynx follows five assaults that have been linked. A DNA sample proved that the last two attacks were carried out by the same man. These were assaults on a 22-year-old woman in Leeds in July 1995, and a similar attack on a 23-year-old in Nottingham in 1993.

About nine years earlier, the victim was a 20-year-old in Leicester. One of the most serious incidents was the attack in which the victim, a 26-year-old, was hooded and thrown into a river, after being raped in Leeds in 1983. The first identified assault was in 1982 on a 30-year- old in Bradford.

Assistant Chief Constable Lloyd Clarke, of West Yorkshire police, who has taken overall charge of the inquiry, said in a statement: "Leicestershire Constabulary, Nottinghamshire Constabulary and West Yorkshire Police are all involved in Operation Lynx, the largest investigation of its kind.

"Not since Michael Sams investigations has there been such an extensive cross-force inquiry. Each of the incidents being investigated bear striking similarities. All involve a lone woman being abducted in her own vehicle before being driven a considerable distance and subjected to sexual assault."

He added: "This man is a danger to women and I'm confident we can catch him."

A freephone number - 0800 515445 - has been set up for anyone with information which may help the inquiry.