Manhunt after string of sex attacks on women in Plymouth
A MANHUNT has been launched after a spate of sex attacks on young women which police believe could be linked.
Officers have launched an operation - codenamed Kingsand - to investigate whether the same man or men are responsible for molesting drunk females walking home alone after a night out.
All the attacks have happened in the North Hill and Greenbank areas.
In the latest, a young woman was followed home by a man who forced his way into her home and sexually assaulted her.
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Officers are reviewing a series of sex attacks and other incidents over the last year as the offenders have similar descriptions and method of attack.
But police fear the increasing number of cases reported may just be the tip of the iceberg and are urging other potential victims to come forward.
Detective Inspector Mike Cooper, who is heading Operation Kingsand, said the majority of the women targeted had been "overtly drunk" and aged between 19 and 24.
Most had been drinking in, and walking home from, the Sherwell Arcade area to the Greenbank area.
The attacks have happened around 3am and 4am on the weekend nights of Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Descriptions of the assailants have roughly matched, with victims describing one as either black or Asian, in his mid to late 20s, around 5ft 7ins or 5ft 8ins tall, of slim to medium build and with very short hair.
DI Cooper said: "Some cases have been nothing more than women being aggressively chatted up, or who were made to feel very uncomfortable at the approach of the suspects.
"But there have been a number of other offences which are more serious.
"We can speculate as to whether it is one man or more than one man involved in some or all of these incidents.
"There are small differences in the descriptions, but there are also many similarities.
"We can't say for sure that they are linked, but we have launched an overarching investigation to look at sexual offences in the Greenbank area, relating to lone, drunk females.
"We're keeping an open mind and considering all lines of inquiry.
"We want to appeal for any other potential victims of similar sexual assaults or any women who may have felt uncomfortable at any kind of aggressive or persistent approaches by men matching the suspect description."
The latest attack happened at around 3.15am on November 3.
The young female victim was followed as she left the Cuba bar in North Hill.
She turned into a nearby street and heard footsteps behind her, which quickened when she sped up.
Racing to her home, she pushed her key in the lock but was grabbed from behind as she fell through the door.
Slamming the door shut the keys were left in the lock and the man forced his way inside and indecently assaulted her until her screams caused him to flee.
The victim's description was of a black male, around 5ft 7ins tall and in his late 20s with short dark or possibly buzz-cut hair, wearing a dark jacket.
Police are also investigating two incidents on June 24.
At around 2.55am a young woman was followed from Sherwell Arcade, up North Hill and into a street.
As she banged on a door having left her key with a friend, she was grabbed from behind and indecently assaulted. The man ran off when she began to scream.
The suspect was possibly Asian, around 5ft 7-8ins tall and with a dark jacket and light-coloured trousers.
Around 15 minutes later, a man described as black, with a dark jacket and dark trousers, was seen walking down North Hill.
As he reached the Spar store he indecently grabbed at a visibly drunk young woman leaning up against the shop wall.
The victim has never been identified and did not make a complaint to police.
On June 29 at around 3.35am another young woman was reported to be followed through Greenbank.
The man confronted her and demanded her mobile phone number, which she repeatedly refused. At one stage he indecently assaulted her.
She described him as black, around 5ft 8ins, of medium build and aged 25 to 30.
Detectives have tracked back to incidents reported last year.
One was an indecent exposure in Mildmay Street on December 4 in which two females were followed by a man who was performing an indecent act.
They said he was black and around 6ft with a black hoodie top and a black scarf around his face.
Other incidents in Lisson Grove and Belgrave Road, in Mutley, also saw the victims describe a man, possibly Afro-Caribbean, exposing himself.
"We want to issue a warning to all young women out in the night time economy areas," DI Cooper said. "Be vigilant and mindful of your personal safety.
"Drink makes you vulnerable and these incidents are where vulnerable women appear to have been specifically targeted.
"Stick with main, well-lit thoroughfares, try to leave venues in groups or with friends.
"If you feel uncomfortable with people matching the suspect's description approaching you, contact door staff or police.
"We do not want to scare or alarm anyone, but we do want to raise awareness of this series of ongoing incidents and encourage women to keep themselves safe."
Police have issued a warning through Plymouth University asking female students to be careful.
A university spokeswoman said: "We were very concerned to learn of the recent incidents in the North Hill area and have widely communicated detailed safety advice via email, the student website, campus information screens and through the Students' Union.
"The safety and wellbeing of our students comes first and we are committed to working with the police to ensure a safe and welcoming community environment for them to live, work and study in."
Anyone with information should contact DI Cooper by phoning 101 and asking to be put through to Operation Kingsand at Charles Cross CID.