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Last Updated: Monday, 19 July, 2004, 05:40 GMT 06:40 UK
Self-defence defusing town's fear
By David Schaffer
BBC News Online, Rochdale

Lisa Dennis (left) and Janet Nuttall at Monarch Ju Jitsu Club
Women are being urged to equip themselves with self-defence skills
Up to 2,000 personal attack alarms handed out, self-defence classes being stepped up, demands for more police patrols - Rochdale is a town touched by fear.

A serial sex attacker has now claimed his 11th victim and appears to have no concerns about striking at any time of day or night, targeting females of all ages.

Detectives are carrying out a major inquiry and the council's safety team has held a series of public meetings close to where attacks have happened, to offer advice and hand out alarms.

But feelings are running high in areas where the attacks have taken place.

"It's horrible what's going on round here," says grandmother Ann Moran, 48, of Kirkholt, where the latest attack took place last week.

"I've just had to walk up Daventry Road where the attack happened and I have my daughter and her small child living with me to worry about.

"People on the estate are mad about this going on - they want to see more police patrols around here."

Community Safety Officer Lee Durrant says he and his team have never dealt with anything like this.

Councillors Loraine Butterworth (left) and Lynne Brosnan
Be vigilant, do the self-defence courses and take all steps to protect yourself
Councillor Loraine Butterworth
"There's been murders in the town and things like that, but they have never shaken the town as much as these attacks have," he says.

In Smallbridge, where the attacks started back in February, feelings are similar, although there is also a note of defiance detectable in people's voices.

"With this continuing to go on, it is an absolute pain to be honest," says mother-of-three Nicola Leach, of Foxholes Road, where the first attack happened.

"Before my 13-year-old Abby would walk to school on her own - but now I have to take my youngest Charlie-Beth to school and then come back for Abby - she's always late."

Councillor Loraine Butterworth - who represents the Smallbridge and Firgrove ward where most of the attacks have taken place - stresses they are the subject of a major inquiry by police.

'Every resource'

"They're treating this as seriously as a murder inquiry," she says.

Fellow Labour councillor Lynne Brosnan, who has responsibility for crime issues, says "every available resource is being used to investigate these crimes, to bring an end to this as soon as possible".

"At the moment though the people [in Smallbridge] are pretty close and are looking out for each other and looking out for their children," she says.

Ann Moran, who lives close to where the latest attack took place
Ann Moran is worried about her family's safety
"I wish though that, like their parents, young people would be a little more vigilant and aware."

She said money is due to be made available to tackle crime issues specifically, such as providing more street lighting and introducing CCTV systems in the area.

Ironically however, while residents are facing the grim reality this man might strike again, their adversity is bringing them closer together.

"I know there are some parents who can't take their children to school because they work - I'd be quite happy to take anyone's kids to school, they only have to ask," says Ms Leach.

Staff in town centre pubs are also taking steps to help protect themselves and female customers.

Natasha Schofield, 22, who is bar supervisor at The Regal Moon, said: "When women come in who perhaps have had quite a lot to drink, we will always try and make sure that when they leave we get them in to one of the taxis outside the pub."

Don't become a victim even before something might happen
Lisa Dennis, Monarch Ju Jitsu Club member
It would be very easy for people to feel helpless in this situation - but take a look at martial arts and self-defence classes around the town and they are not short of women attending.

Lisa Dennis, 31, from Shaw, of Monarch Ju Jitsu Club, who was one of nine medal winners at an Irish championship meet recently, has a simple message.

"Don't become a victim even before something might happen," she says during a meeting of the club. "Walk confidently down the street, for example."

Janet Nuttall, 46, who started Ju Jitsu after doing a self-defence course with the club, says she is much more aware of her surroundings now when she is out.

Lee Durrant, Community Safety Officer, Rochdale Borough Council
Mr Durrant said up to 130 attack alarms a day have been sold
"Steps to protect yourself can be very simple," says Ms Nuttall. "Like lock the car when you are driving.

"Or get your house keys out of your pocket before getting to the door."

It is to martial arts Mr Durrant's team has turned to, to provide regular self-defence sessions on a Monday for women, with on-the-street scenarios being tackled.

He says the safety seminars have been very well attended and people are making sure they are taking all precautions they can.

It seems that while the town is very concerned this attacker should be caught as soon as possible, they are determined to get on with their lives.

But Councillor Butterworth warns: "It's crucial for people not to pretend it can't happen to them - be vigilant, do self-defence courses and take all steps to protect yourself."




SEE ALSO:
Women given alarms after attacks
07 Jul 04  |  Manchester
Sex pest has attacked 10 victims
22 Jun 04  |  Manchester
Serial sex pest's February attack
18 Jun 04  |  Manchester
Police hunt serial sex attacker
10 Jun 04  |  Manchester
Sex attacker assaults 11 victims
06 Jul 04  |  Manchester


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