‘This should be a safe, sacred place’ – town’s shock at cemetery knife attack

Janet Huckle and Reverend Edward Rennard in Halesworth Cemetery. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Janet Huckle and Reverend Edward Rennard in Halesworth Cemetery. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

The victim of a violent graveside assault may have injured her attacker before he fled from the scene in a Suffolk cemetery.

It is thought she and the suspect were strangers, but were visiting the same grave in Halesworth Cemetery when the knife attack took place at 6.15pm on Saturday.

Police are treating the incident as a ‘stranger assault’, but have reassured the public and called for vigilance in the town, where violent crime is rarely recorded.

A woman in her 40s was tending the grave when she encountered a white man – about 30, 5ft 10in, slim, with mousey, short hair.

He asked for a moment alone by the grave, and the victim obliged, before returning to tend the area, when she was grabbed by the shoulder, pulled back and cut across the cheek with the kitchen knife she had taken to trim the stem of an ornamental windmill.

Sergeant Mark Beresford outside Halesworth Police Station. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Sergeant Mark Beresford outside Halesworth Police Station. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

It is believed she grabbed a glass vase and struck her attacker over the head – causing him to flee in one of three possible directions – via Harrisons Lane, a path to the nearby sports field, or along Loam Pit Lane to Quay Street.

He wore light blue jeans, a black zip-up hooded top, black fingerless cycling gloves with a reflective strip, and mirrored aviator sunglasses.

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Safer neighbourhood team sergeant, Mark Beresford said: “We know the victim attended the grave of a family member. While at the grave, she met the suspect.

“An interaction took place, but did not develop into an argument.

“He asked for a few moments at the grave – which she allowed him, before returning to pick up the windmill. In that time, he managed to get hold of the knife.

“There was a quick struggle and she was cut by the knife, but managed to fight off the attack.

“She was lucky. It could have been a lot worse.”

Sgt Beresford said the attack is not thought to have been premeditated.

“We don’t want to panic the town, but we need people to be aware that this incident happened and is, at this time, being treated as a stranger attack,” he added.

“I’d ask anyone in the area of three possible exit points to think if they saw someone matching the suspect’s description. If you have CCTV or dashcam footage that could help, let us know.”

On Monday, the attack was described as “absolutely horrendous” by Tony Goldson, Suffolk county councillor for Halesworth.

Blyth Valley Team Ministry rector, Reverend Edward Rennard said: “Halesworth is normally a very safe place in which to live. We don’t hear of violent crime. This must have been an extremely rare occurrence.

“One feels for this woman. It’s hard to imagine anything more horrendous that being attacked while tending a grave. This should be a safe, sacred place.

“The team of clergy in Halesworth is always there to talk to, and reassure members of the public.”

Janet Huckle, who visits the cemetery every Sunday, has transcribed burial records dating back to when Halesworth Cemetery opened in 1855, leads guided walks, helps research family histories and monitors the condition of headstones.

Mrs Huckle said that, in her 20 years of visiting the cemetery, she had never witnessed anything more serious than raised voices. “I’ve never felt vulnerable,” she added. “But, I suppose an attack could easily go unobserved – particularly at the top of the cemetery, where it’s more secluded.”

Anyone with information can contact East CID at Lowestoft on 101, quoting reference 58322/17. Alternatively, email halesworth.snt@suffolk.pnn.police.uk or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

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