PARENTS will be scared to let their children walk to school after a “predatory” man sexually assaulted an 11-year-old girl on her way to class through a park, outraged community figures fear.

The attack happened in Fryern Recreation Ground in Chandler’s Ford, close to the play area, between 8.10am and 8.30am on Monday (March 22).

While the girl was on her way to school, through the recreation ground, she spotted a man sat on a bench between the basketball court and play area.

After she walked past, the man approached her from behind and grabbed her upper thigh, over her clothing.

She then ran off towards Highfield Road.

Borough councillor for North Baddesley, Celia Dowden, was shocked to hear a girl had been sexually assaulted and branded the man as “predatory”.

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She said: “It must have been very frightening for her and the fact that a girl cannot walk to school safely is a very frightening thought for every parent in Chandler’s Ford.

“We have only just opened schools again and it is the worst possible incident to happen at a time when we have started to go back to some sort of normality.

“Also, what is a man doing on a park bench at that time of day? It seems premeditated and predatory.”

Mrs Dowden added she hopes the girl gets the “appropriate support” following the incident, because it “will impact her life forever”.

Hampshire Constabulary are on the hunt for the culprit who is described as white and aged between 30 and 50-years-old.

He was wearing a black coat and black shoes at the time of the assault.

Police have stepped up patrols in the area and issued an appeal for information.

Town and borough councillor, Dorothy Baverstock, said she is worried about the increase in male violence against women over the past year.

She said: “My biggest worry at the moment is there seems to have been a significant increase in sex attacks and all of this has seemed to have increased over the past 12 months, which could be down to lockdown.”

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County and borough councillor, Alan Dowden, is also concerned by the assault and said it must have been a “real trauma” for the young girl, stressing women should feel safe when they are walking in public.

He said: “We don’t expect anything like that to happen in this sort of area. Wherever girls and women walk they should feel safe and even more so at that time of day.

“What is the world coming to if a child cannot walk to school without this sort of attack happening? It is awful.”

He added the offence highlights how the area needs “more police” on the streets in a bid to stop this crime from happening.

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Detective Sergeant Will Whale, of Hampshire Constabulary, said: “I would like to reassure the public that we continue to prioritise violence against women and girls and bring perpetrators of violent and sexual offences to justice.”

Anyone with any information about this incident should call 101 quoting crime reference number 44210107929.

If you see anything suspicious call the police on 101. In an emergency, always dial 999.

Alternatively, people can call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.