British mother paralyzed in stabbing communicates with police

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Tuesday, April 26, 2005 Abigail Witchalls, the 26-year-old mother of one who was stabbed on April 20, has begun communicating what happened to the police.

Abigail was walking with her 21-month-old son at 4pm in a quiet country lane near London when she was attacked and stabbed once in the back of the neck, leaving her paralyzed from the neck down. She can only communicate via blinking and facial expressions.

Surrey, the county in which the attack occurred, is statistically the safest in England and Wales, with the lowest incident rate of serious violent crime.

Surrey Assistant Chief Constable Mark Rowley said in a press conference this morning that Abigail's condition is continuing to improve as she is treated in the hospital.

"I would like to start this morning with the good news that Abigail’s condition does appear to be continuing to improve. She has sustained an horrific injury, but her condition is no longer critical and she has been well enough to meet with two of our experienced detectives and communicate with them. They have been able to take a statement from her using questions that she can respond to in a positive or negative way by mouthing words or blinking.

"Abigail has made it clear that she wants to help the police inquiry in whatever way she can and it is her courage and determination that has allowed us to communicate with her at such an early stage after so horrific an attack. She is an incredibly brave and determined young woman.

"Abigail has managed to communicate a message to us that she wishes to give to you and I will start by reading this out. She says: “I am improving and everybody’s prayers are helping enormously. Thank you for all the flowers which are beautiful. If you still want to give flowers please donate instead to the World Poverty Day through the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development or any other way. Thank you."

Detective Superintendent Adrian Harper then talked about the details of the attack they had learned from Abigail.

"My officers spent several hours with Abigail yesterday taking the statement, together with members of her family. The amount of information that Abigail has managed to give us is extraordinary given her current condition. As I will shortly explain, she has been through an even more harrowing experience than we imagined and the strain of going through it with her at her hospital bed was a very emotional experience for both her family members and both of my detectives.

"The bravery and strength of Abigail is extraordinary - she is determined to help catch this man as soon as possible and insisted on being interviewed for around six hours yesterday and wants to continue again today. This is a most unusual interview process - with a very intelligent and strong young woman - communicating through blinking, mouthing and facial expressions

"What Abigail has told us is very significant to this inquiry. We are now able to work on confirmed information directly from her rather than having to rely on what she said to other witnesses and the evidence of local residents. What she has said has changed the focus of the inquiry and enabled us to rule out the man with the blue Peugeot that we had previously arrested and bailed. We now believe that he was probably in the area at the time but that he was not involved in the assault on Abigail.

"Abigail has now been able to tell us that she first saw the man who attacked her at about 3.45pm on the afternoon of Wednesday 20 April, on the public footpath along Water Lane in Little Bookham. The man was in a blue estate car, four-door plus the rear hatch, right hand drive, older style, plain, all one colour.

"The man was in the blue vehicle ahead of Abigail. The vehicle drove towards and past her and they looked at each other. At that point Abigail started to feel very uneasy and put Joseph into the buggy and started to walk home along the track. When she was about three quarters of the way along the track she turned and saw that the car had pulled up some way behind at that the male was out of the car and coming towards her. She started to panic and immediately began running along the footpath with Joseph still in his buggy.

"Abigail reached the gate that leads onto the lane off Burnhams Road but could not open it. She the heard the man say, you have dropped your purse. She turned around and saw that the man had grabbed hold of Joseph and was holding a knife to his throat.

"The man indicated to Abigail to come towards him, which she did. He then grabbed her hair, pulled her down towards the ground and as he did so stabbed her once in the back of the neck with the knife. He then [pushed] the buggy, with Joseph still in it, on top of her and ran off.

"Abigail has said that the offender was alone and was someone she does not know. She describes him as being aged between 20 and 35 years-old, with short dark wavy or scruffy hair, between 5ft 10in, her height, and 6ft 4in tall, her husband’s height, with a long thin face and prominent cheekbones. He was wearing looped silver earrings, roughly three-quarters of an inch in diameter in both ears. She also describes quite a deep voice, a pale face and black bags under his eyes. She has also said that she believes that he was under the influence of drink or drugs. She does not know why he attacked her and he does not appear to have attempted to rob her. Her purse and mobile phone were not taken.

"This man is clearly an extremely dangerous offender. Anyone who is prepared to threaten a young child and try to kill his mother in front of him is clearly capable of anything. It is our duty to inform the public about the danger that this man poses and appeal to everyone for information that can help us to catch him as soon as possible.

"The appeal I want to make is quite precise. We could easily be overwhelmed by information that would hamper the inquiry rather than help it. What we need is very specific. Do you know a man who fits this description, who has access to a blue estate car and who could have been in the Bookham area on the afternoon of Wednesday 20 April. If you know anyone who fits this profile, if you live with him or he is your child you must come forward to us. I repeat, anyone who is prepared to act in the way that this offender has done is clearly capable of anything and is a danger to anyone who comes into contact with him, no matter who they are.

"Please do not approach him but contact Surrey Police on 0845 125 2222 with information or call 999 immediately if you know where he is."

Assistant Chief Constable Mark Rowley ended the press conference by saying "It is hard to imagine a more compelling picture of vulnerability and innocence than a mother and toddler chased attacked and left for dead so brutally.

"There is no clear motive to this attack such as robbery or sexual assault, although the offender may well have been under the influence of drink or drugs. He is clearly a very dangerous man who must be caught as soon as possible. We are conducting an enormous operation, already committing over 150 officers and have gathered a wealth of material for forensic examination but need the public's help to identify the offender as soon as possible.

"I would reiterate the appeal that Detective Superintendent Adrian Harper has just made, to appeal to the conscience of every citizen to help us catch this brutal and dangerous man. This is a crime so horrific that I would hope that, for anyone watching this appeal, helping us identify the offender would come before any loyalty to family, friends or even criminal associates - this man must be caught."