Abigail's extraordinary courage

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The Independent Online

An apparently random attacker who stabbed a Surrey teacher, Abigail Witchalls, and left her paralysed first held a knife at the throat of her 21-month-old son, police have disclosed.

An apparently random attacker who stabbed a Surrey teacher, Abigail Witchalls, and left her paralysed first held a knife at the throat of her 21-month-old son, police have disclosed.

Details of the assault were released yesterday with a photograph of the woman being reunited in hospital with her son, Joseph, and husband, Benoit.

Mrs Witchalls, 26, who is paralysed from the neck down and cannot speak, spent six hours using facial expressions and mouthing words to describe to detectives the events leading up to her attack last Wednesday afternoon. She told officers a stranger followed her in a car and then on foot as she walked home through the village of Little Bookham with her son.

The part-time teacher put her son into his buggy and ran up a lane. She heard the man say "You've dropped your purse". She was trapped at a gate where the man grabbed the boy and put a knife to his throat. He ordered Mrs Witchalls to come forward and then pulled her head down and stabbed her in the back of the neck.

As she fell, the man pushed her son, who was in the buggy, on top of her. The assailant, who Mrs Witchalls later described as being drunk or under the influence of drugs, then fled.

Police praised what they described as the extraordinary bravery and determination of Mrs Witchalls who insisted she underwent further questioning yesterday, even though officers had intended to let her rest. The two woman detectives conducting the interview were expected to show her video film of the crime scene to jog her memory and provide a more detailed description of the attack.

It is unclear whether Mrs Witchalls is permanently paralysed but her condition has stabilised and she has some sensation in parts of her body. She was pregnant at the time of the attack but her family have declined to comment on whether she has lost the baby.

A photograph issued yesterday showed Mrs Witchalls' son stroking his mother's hair while being held by his father. In a message released to the public, Mrs Witchalls, said: "I am improving and everybody's prayers are enormously helpful."

Despite the improvement, Mrs Witchalls, who is being treated at St George's Hospital in Tooting, south London, is still in a serious condition. Her son has started to act out aspects of the attack and may be questioned later.

The details she was able to give detectives are alarming because the attacker, who is thought likely to be local, appears to have targeted the woman in a random and apparently motiveless assault. He did not take her cash or mobile phone and there is no evidence he tried to sexually assault her.

Police appealed for information about the man, who was described by detectives as "brutal and dangerous", and asked anyone with information to call 0845 125 2222.

Mrs Witchalls described her attacker as pale with bags under his eyes and short dark wavy, scruffy hair. He is aged 20-35 with a long thin face, 5ft 10ins to 6ft 4ins tall, and wearing looped silver earrings. He had prominent cheekbones, a southern accent and was driving a blue estate with four doors and a rear hatch. Police have ruled out the owner of a blue Peugeot who was arrested and bailed at the weekend.

Det Supt Adrian Harper, who is leading the inquiry, described Mrs Witchalls as "an extremely intelligent young lady [who] has a determination that we should all be in awe of".