Sex assault near supermarket

MAGISTRATES have warned a Harrogate man, who left a woman crying and distressed when he sexually assaulted her as she walked home alone in the early hours, that he is facing Christmas behind bars.

And when Liam John Byrne, 24, pleaded guilty at Harrogate on Tuesday to sexually assaulting a 23-year-old woman in Dragon Road at 12.30am on November 11, two witnesses who had gone to the victim’s aid were praised for their public-spirited actions.

Prosecutor Steven Ovenden said the woman, who had been out for the evening with friends, had set off home from Bower Street before turning down the side of Asda and crossing the supermarket’s car park.

As she went by the store she noticed a man - the only person in the area - walking behind her before her left buttock was grabbed firmly from behind.

Mr Ovenden said the woman screamed and her assailant ran off towards Skipton Road leaving her upset and crying.

He said two witnesses in the case, who had been sitting in a car on the Asda car park, had shown public-spirited actions. They had seen Byrne, of Stanhope Drive, Harrogate, walking behind the lone woman and were concerned.

One said she had ‘‘a gut feeling’’ something was going to happen and saw that when the woman speeded up so did the man behind her. Because of her ‘‘bad feeling’’ the witness and her friend drove into Dragon Road.

They saw the woman near a footbridge and saw the man run up behind her as she was about to go down a ginnel.

They heard a loud scream before the man ran off. One witness drove on to see where the man had gone and the other left the car to aid the victim and call the police.

Officers identified Byrne from CCTV footage and he told them he had been walking home after a shift as a club in the town centre. ‘‘I squeezed her bum and ran off,’’ he said.

Mr Ovenden said the case had disturbing features. Byrne had followed a young woman walking alone in the dark in the early hours who had been left distressed after his sexual touching.

The court heard Byrne had convictions for taking a cycle without consent and for arson, involving fires in a refuse skip, litter bin and three wheelie bins in the Valley Gardens in 2009.

In mitigation Andrew Tinning said Byrne had instructed him to apologise for his drunkenly stupid act on his way home after a glass collecting shift at a club in Station Parade. His contact with the woman had been fleeting and minimal.

He was aware of the distress he had caused but could not explain why he acted in the way he did. ‘‘There seems to be no suggestion he was going to do any more than he did. He was not interrupted and that is important to stress. He did what he did and immediately ran off,’’ said Mr Tinning.

Court chairman Michael Poole called for probation reports to be prepared and bailed Byrne for sentence on December 20, telling him: ‘‘We feel the case is very serious and may well warrant custody.’’