New York gang filmed attack on British tourists

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The Independent US

Nobody could explain yesterday what happened in Central Park on Sunday evening beyond acknowledging that for several young women, among them three British tourists, the normally tranquil patchwork of trees, meadows and lakes in the heart of Manhattan became a place of nightmares.

Nobody could explain yesterday what happened in Central Park on Sunday evening beyond acknowledging that for several young women, among them three British tourists, the normally tranquil patchwork of trees, meadows and lakes in the heart of Manhattan became a place of nightmares.

For the British teenagers visiting New York for two weeks, the terror began at 6.48pm, when they were steps from the popular Wollman Ice Rink. The temperature was still stifling in the mid-thirties and the city was reverberating from the Puerto Rico National Day Parade.

When a group of shouting youths first approached and doused them with water pistols, the women thought it was part of the day's ribald fun. But then the gang, thought to have numbered between 15 and 25, did more than squirt water. While their friends yelled encouragement, some of the men tried to grab the girls and rip off their clothes. Two escaped. The third fell to the ground.

In the preceding half-hour the same gang had rampaged through the park, pouncing on women in a similar manner, apparently driven by testosterone and a strength-in-numbers mentality.

They accosted two American teenagers near the same spot at 6.14pm, before singling out a French woman. While some of the men restrained her husband, others stripped the French tourist naked. One of the attackers had time to indulge his film-making fantasies, videoing the assaults.

The British tourist, aged 18, told a New York television channel: "They were trying to pull my top up and at the same time guys were trying to pull my shorts down. I was touched everywhere, and it was really humiliating. There must have been 14 guys touching me, just trying to take my clothes off."

Three years ago in Central Park ago a piano teacher was left for dead after an assailant came close to smashing her brains out on a pathway. In 1989 the term "wilding" was invented after youths ambushed a jogger and raped her in the park.

What happened on Sunday in the park did not extend to murder or rape but it unsettled this city, which had thought the years of indiscriminate crime and violence in its midst had passed.

Central Park had become an emblem of New York's new sense of order and calm. Most shockingly, this and the other attacks happened in daylight, with people around.

Without the actions of the British woman after the attack on her, the youths might have wandered away without fear of any consequences.

When the victim of the second of the four attacks, an American dot.com executive, Anne Peyton Bryant, 29, stumbled on to Central Park South, she pleaded for help from police officers - and got none. She told an officer: "It's out of control. They tried to pull my pants down."

He eventually directed her to other officers sitting on some steps across Fifth Avenue. Ms Bryant said: "You need to radio some officers to move into that area; it's out of control."

Ms Bryant later told how some of the attackers screamed "Go! Go! Go!" as others wrestled her to the ground and tried to grope her. She said: "I have never felt so terrified in my life. I couldn't see anything but the faces around me... I couldn't even see the skyline above me."

The British woman, after pulling her clothes on and discovering the gang had also stolen $200 (£125), had more success getting the attention of police. She flagged down a patrol car, which drove her and her two friends around the southern edge of the park. She said she had etched the faces of her attackers into her memory. She saw two and pointed them out.

Last night the two men identified remained in custody, charged with second-degree robbery, first-degree sexual assault and second-degree aggravated sexual abuse of a tourist. As police hunted for other members of the gang, they were also viewing footage from the video camera.

The tape, according to sources, includes footage of close-up shots of one of the female victim's buttocks.

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