FAMILIES in a Littlehampton street have been left fearing for the safety of their children after a masked man tried to snatch a six-year-old boy.
At about 2pm on Thursday afternoon (July 30) a man believed to be wearing a balaclava or mask tried grabbed the youngster as he played on the swings at the Southfields recreation ground.
This has shocked everyone in the street. It’s horrible.Mum of attack victim
The frightened boy, who was with three other children in the park at the time of the assault, shouted and sprinted the 200m back to his home in Falkland Avenue.
He told one of his neighbours, Chris Koven, about what had happened, which prompted an immediate reaction from Mr Koven and other residents in the street who attempted to hunt for the suspect but with little success.
Within minutes, police had flocked to the scene and arrested a 58-year-old man later that evening.
However, he was soon released without charge with police saying he was nothing to do with the investigation.
Now, residents in Falkland Avenue have been left on edge, knowing the offender is still on the loose.
Speaking exclusively to the Gazette, the mother of the six-year-old – whose identity is being protected – said: “This has shocked everyone in the street. It’s horrible.
“You don’t expect it to happen, especially not on your doorstep and because the man was covered up as well it could be anyone.
“My son now won’t leave my side. He is just scared to go out.
“When the police thought they’d found the man, (my son) was all right.
“But when we heard that it wasn’t the right man and that he was still out there somewhere it scared him.
“He has to sleep with me and he says, ‘Mum, I’m just scared of Southfields’.”
The 24-year-old mother of three said on the afternoon of the incident about 20 friends and family were preparing to go to the park.
Her boy and three other children ran ahead of the group and just a few minutes later the attack happened.
“We didn’t think anything of it, letting the kids go ahead of us, it’s what kids do,” she said. “They didn’t have to cross any main roads. It’s just really scary.”
Police have now launched a fresh appeal for witnesses to the assault to come forward.
The attacker was described as white, dressed all in black including something covering his face apart from his eyes, with blue shoes.
Detective Chief Inspector Tanya Jones said: “We are confident that the man who was arrested was not involved in the incident at the park so we urgently need to speak to witnesses so we can identify the man who was involved.
“There were three other children with the victim in the park who saw what happened and we have spoken to each of them but there could be other people who saw the man in or around the park.
“I am very grateful to all those who have already contacted us but would urge anyone who knows anything but who has not yet come forward to do so.
“There were lots of children in the park at the time of the incident and I would like to speak to any of them who saw what happened.
“I would ask parents who live in the area to speak to their children and to get in touch with us if they know anything.
“This is an extremely rare incident and we do not know what the man’s motive was but we need to find and speak to him as soon as possible.”
Police need to speak to anyone that saw a man dressed all in black in the area on Thursday, as well as anyone who was in or around the play area in the park between 1.30pm and 2.15pm.
Those with information should call 101 quoting serial 756 of 30/07, email 101 or call independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.
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