Manhunt after New Year sex attack in Edinburgh

Forensics officers investigate the scene in the Canongate. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Forensics officers investigate the scene in the Canongate. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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POLICE are hunting a man who subjected a young woman to a serious sex attack in the grounds of a historic church in the early hours of New Year’s Day.

The 21-year-old woman was assaulted between midnight and 2:30am yesterday in the Canongate Kirkyard on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, shortly after more than 70,000 people gathered in the city to see in the New Year at the street party.

The church, which the Queen attends when she is staying in Edinburgh and which was the venue for her granddaughter Zara Phillips’s marriage in 2011, was cordoned off yesterday as forensic officers examined the area.

Police appealed for anyone who was in the vicinity at the time and who might be able to help their investigation to come forward.

The Royal Mile and the surrounding area was bustling with revellers around midnight as thousands celebrated Hogmanay in the capital.

Detective Inspector Alyson Brown, who is leading the investigation, said: “The Canongate would have been busy with members of the public out celebrating Hogmanay and we are particularly interested in speaking to revellers or locals who were in the area after midnight and remember seeing or hearing anything suspicious. I would urge anyone who recognises the description of the suspect to come forward immediately.”

The attacker, who is thought to be in his late teens or early 20s, has been described as being of medium to heavy build with dark, spiky hair and a noticeable gap between his front teeth.

Residents living nearby said they were shocked by the incident. One, who asked not to be named, said revellers from a nearby nightclub were on a street next to where the attack took place.

He said: “I know you would think that graveyards might get their fair share of problems, but not this one. It is normally so quiet. The street at the back was pretty busy until the early hours, say about 5am or 6am, with people outside Studio 24, so it’s not like there weren’t people around.”

Another resident who also asked not to be named said: “It’s horrible that this is the way someone has started their New Year. I know things like this happen, but it’s just such a shame. You go out to enjoy yourself on Hogmanay and this happens. I hope they catch the person.”

Investigators have also viewed CCTV footage taken from a neighbouring shop where a front window was smashed at around 2:15am yesterday.

Canongate Kirk came to worldwide prominence on 30 July 2011, with the wedding of Zara Phillips and England rugby star Mike Tindall.

Well-wishers lined the streets on the day of the marriage, which was conducted by parish minister Reverend Neil Gardner.

After the ceremony, the couple, who are now expecting their first child, celebrated with the Queen and other family members and friends at the nearby Palace of Holyroodhouse.

Canongate Kirkyard is the final resting place of a number of notable Scots, including the economist Adam Smith; David Rizzio, the murdered private secretary of Mary, Queen of Scots; and poet Robert Fergusson, whose statue stands outside the kirk’s gates on the Royal Mile.

Anyone with information about the attack was urged to speak to the investigating officers, contact Police Scotland on 101 or make a report via the charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

• Police are also investigating a sex attack on a woman next to a Highland nightclub as New Year celebrations were taking place. The assault happened at about 1:30am yesterday by the Vault Nightclub in Aviemore.