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29 August 2012, 10:58 | Updated: 29 August 2012, 12:01
A teenage girl who “instinctively” protected herself with a Westlife concert programme while being attacked with a knife during a robbery in Norwich has been praised for her bravery.
The 15-year-old had been to a Westlife concert at the O2 in London and was walking home with her older sister when the unprovoked attack happened in the early hours of Sunday 13 May.
The sisters were minutes from home when a man approached them in an alleyway off Guernsey Road shortly before 3am and demanded property before stabbing the victim several times and stealing her handbag.
Stephen Williams, 33 and of Mousehold Street, Norwich, appeared at the city’s crown court on Tuesday 28 August, for sentencing after pleading guilty to robbery and possession of an offensive weapon at an earlier hearing. He was jailed for seven years and four months with an extension to his licence to be in effect for ten years and four months.
The court heard how Williams had left home carrying a large kitchen knife before ordering food from a takeaway on Magdalen Street moments before the incident. CCTV captured Williams sitting on a bench on the nearby riverside walk eating his food before moving towards St George’s Street, where he noticed the sisters and began following them.
The victim and her 20-year-old sister continued their walk home heading along Colegate and Magdalen Street – oblivious to the fact they were being followed by Williams, who by this point had started walking faster to catch-up with the girls.
The sisters used the crossing at the Magpie Road junction before heading into the alleyway where after walking about 50 yards they heard Williams shout as he approached them from behind.
Dressed in dark clothing and wearing a dark woollen hat, Williams threatened the girls and demanded the teenager’s handbag. As she tried to hand it over, Williams attacked her with a 10inch kitchen knife which he had been carrying in the sleeve of his jacket.
The victim was wearing a messenger-style handbag across her body and was struggling to remove it when Williams lashed out, stabbing her several times.
As she was attacked, the 15-year-old shielded blows from Williams using the bag containing the concert programme. She was attacked with such force that the knife pierced the programme. He eventually grabbed the bag, which contained only a bottle of coke, and ran from the scene.
After the attack, the girls managed to get home and phoned police after realising the 15-year-old had been seriously hurt. The victim suffered three stab wounds in the assault – a defence wound on her hand which required eight stitches and a deep wound under her chest. She was in the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital for several days.
Detectives from Norwich CID established the route the victims had taken from Surrey Street where the coach had dropped concert-goers and immediately began examining CCTV from the city centre.
Officers were able to trace the girls’ movements. After leaving St George’s Street officers could see the girls were being followed by a man. Looking at further CCTV officers retraced Williams’ movements, capturing him entering and leaving the takeaway. Police were able to seize the CCTV from the takeaway which gave officers a clear image of the suspect.
As a prolific shoplifter, Williams was known to police and also had a distinctive walk which allowed him to be quickly identified. He had been dealt with by police just days before for a shoplifting offence. Officers were immediately dispatched to Williams’ home address where he was arrested shortly after 6.30pm that evening.
During police interview Williams admitted being in the area but denied following the girls. The following morning on Monday 14 May the victim’s sister took part in an identification parade and picked out Williams as the suspect. Despite this he maintained his innocence.
Detectives visited the scene and identified a CCTV camera on a lamppost which was not on the city’s public system. Enquiries led officers to discover the camera belonged to Norfolk County Council and was recording at the time of the incident.
Officers obtained the footage which showed Williams running from the scene in the alleyway, contradicting his earlier statement. It was only when questioned with this evidence that Williams admitted the robbery and assaulting the girl with a knife, which was later recovered in a drain in Cowgate where it had been dumped.
Investigating officer Det Con Graham Finney from Norwich CID: “This was an extremely traumatic experience for the young teenage victim who only hours before had been enjoying a pop concert with her older sister in London.
“Williams committed this offence with no concern for his victim. The fact he has pleaded guilty demonstrates the strength of the prosecution case against him and also means the victim will not be forced to relive the horror of the attack giving evidence in a trial.
“The use of CCTV in this investigation was instrumental in identifying a dangerous individual and ultimately taking him off the city’s streets.
“The victim’s injuries could have been a lot worse had she not instinctively protected herself using the concert programme. Both the victim and her sister have shown immense bravery throughout the ordeal which they must be commended for.”