Motive for attack in woods unclear

THE HUNT continued yesterday for a man who beat a woman about the head in an apparently motiveless attack.

Linda Hardy, 43, had been walking her two dogs in woodland around Chipperfield common, near Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire, on Monday morning. Two women found her seriously injured, crawling through undergrowth.

Shortly afterwards one of her daughters, Debbie Crowson, and her granddaughter, Emily, left their nearby home to investigate police sirens, to find Mrs Hardy being treated by paramedics. She had been so badly injured that she was able only to say her name and that her attacker was a young man.

Chief Inspector Roger Howe, of Hertfordshire Police, said yesterday: 'We are looking for either a youth or a young man. That is all the description we have until we can speak to Mrs Hardy further.'

Mrs Hardy regained consciousness last night and her condition at the Royal Free Hospital, London, was described by a spokeswoman as 'serious but stable'. Surgeons say that she has a fractured skull but her life is not in danger.

More than two dozen officers have carried out house-to-house inquiries around Chipperfield, questioned walkers and searched the woods for the weapon.

The woods were cordoned off after the attack. Police have had armed officers on stand-by and a helicopter to scour the area. They believe the ferocity of the attack made it likely that the man's clothing would have been heavily bloodstained.

A police spokesman said there had been no evidence of a sexual assault and that Mrs Hardy's belongings were untouched.

Detectives urged women not to go out unaccompanied while the attacker was on the loose. Elka Brooks, Mrs Hardy's other daughter, said yesterday that her mother had warned her against walking alone on the common, after she was confronted by a flasher. As for her own safety, Mrs Hardy had said: 'I'm with the dogs and the Lord.'