Village in fear after brutal attack on pregnant mother

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The Independent Online

Villagers living close to where pregnant mother Abigail Witchalls was stabbed have been warned to stay vigilant amid fears her attacker may strike again.

Villagers living close to where pregnant mother Abigail Witchalls was stabbed have been warned to stay vigilant amid fears her attacker may strike again.

Police maintained a heavy presence yesterday in the idyllic Surrey village where Mrs Witchalls, 26, was knifed in the neck while walking with her young son.

Detectives said more than 100 officers were involved in the hunt for the attacker and that they had received more than 250 calls from the public.

Prayers were said yesterday at a special Mass for Mrs Witchalls at the Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic church in Effingham, Surrey, where she is a regular worshipper. Father John Sheehy, who led the service, said: "The police dropped in to see me when they were passing the other day and they said 'for heaven's sake do not let anyone into the house if you don't know who they are'."

Mrs Witchalls was pregnant with her second child when she was attacked in daylight in nearby Little Bookham, where she lives, on Wednesday. It was not clear whether she has kept the baby.

Her 21-month-old son Joseph, who she was pushing in a buggy, witnessed the attack in a secluded lane in an area regarded as one of the safest in the country.

The assailant stabbed her in the neck with a knife in what detectives believe was either a botched robbery or a random attack.

More than 140 people filled the church for yesterday's service.

"We pray for Abigail to be restored to us ... and that the gloom and sadness of this parish will be compensated by an influx of joy and happiness from God to us all," Father Sheehy told the congregation.

Prayers were also said for Mrs Witchalls' husband Benoit, 26, and son Joseph.

A 28-year-old man was held for more than 30 hours and quizzed on suspicion of attempted murder but was released on bail on Saturday. A 29-year-old woman who was arrested with him was earlier eliminated from the police investigation.

The pair had presented themselves at Leatherhead police station following an appeal over a blue Peugeot seen near the location of the attack. The man's blue Peugeot was seized.

Mrs Witchalls is in a stable condition at St George's Hospital in Tooting, south London, and has regained some feeling although she is severely paralysed.

Police may seek to interview her even though she can currently only communicate using blinks and facial expressions.

In an emotional tribute her father Martin Hollins said: "I'm very, very proud of her and most of all about how she is dealing with this. I cannot imagine how I would cope if it was me. She's making a tremendous fight of this."