A predatory sex attacker whose “despicable actions” left a woman traumatised has been jailed for 12 years.
Thomas Joshua Bird, aged 30, from Fairburn, near Knottingley, was sentenced today (Friday) at York Crown Court.
Bird was found guilty of all four offences following a trial in November last year.
These included two counts of attempted sexual assault, sexual assault, and failing to provide the police with the PIN to access his phone during the investigation.
Sentencing was adjourned to allow time for the Probation Service to fully assess the risk Bird posed to the public.
Taking this report into consideration, the Judge handed him the 12 year sentence, with an extended six years on licence. Bird has also made subject to a Sexual Harm Prevention Order and will remain on the Register of Sex Offenders.
As a result of the attack, the victim is still suffering from injuries sustained to her jaw, shoulder, leg, and ribs.
She is also suffering from the significant mental trauma caused by Bird, which has completely devastated her life.
Victim still suffering
The terrifying incident occurred at around 6.54am on Thursday 18 June 2020 when the victim – who is aged in her 60s – was walking alone beside the A1246 between Fairburn and Holyrood Lane.
An man approached her from behind, pulled her to the ground, and sexually assaulted her.
The victim bravely fought with the suspect who ran off towards Fairburn. She reported the incident immediately.
Intensive police searches and enquiries were carried out in the effort to identify and arrest the suspect.
This included a trawl of public CCTV in the area and a media appeal for private CCTV and dash-cam footage from passing vehicles between 6.15am and 7am that day.
The victim described the suspect as having a stocky build and he was wearing a blue surgical face mask, a black woolly hat folded over at the bottom, black bottoms and a black top.
Crucial CCTV evidence
The response to the media appeal was outstanding with dozens of reports submitted with information, sightings and possible CCTV and dash-cam footage to assist the investigation.
A team of detectives from York and Selby CID – supported by the Major Investigation Team – worked to identify Bird as the suspect, which resulted in his arrest on 28 June 2020.
Crucially, CCTV footage was recovered in Fairburn village on Cut Road.
This is located about 1km away from the attack scene and it was captured around 30 minutes before the incident at around 6.30am.
It showed a man matching Bird’s description walking down to Fairburn Ings nature reserve.
Based on that image, CCTV development work was undertaken which established that the man had arrived at the location in a black Vauxhall Astra car.
Further work was required to identify the car itself and then its recent movements using ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) data, both locally and in the region.
Ultimately, Bird was linked to the car – and therefore became a suspect in the sex attack – through insurance records.
The Operational Support Unit carried out the arrest and Bird was taken into custody for questioning.
A search of his home led to the recovery of CCTV footage from inside the property, including him leaving at 6.07am. He was wearing fluorescent orange trousers and top and appeared to be setting off to work.
Face masks matching those worn by the attacker were also recovered inside, as well as surgical-type gloves which he is also believed to have been wearing during the attack.
Bird refused to provide the PIN to his phone to assist the investigation.
Re-arrested and charged
During a three-week period while Bird was released on conditional bail, the investigation team were able to build the case against him using the circumstantial evidence that had been gathered.
Prior to the attack, CCTV shows Bird’s car driving into Fairburn. It passes a lone woman, turns around, and then parks near to the Ings.
The driver is seen to change into dark clothing before he follows the woman on foot.
Detectives were able to trace this woman and discovered that she had stopped to speak to a fisherman by the Ings.
It is believed that Bird may have intended to attack her but was disturbed by the fisherman’s presence.
Instead, he returned to his car and changed out of the dark clothing. He then drove away towards the scene of the attack where he again changed clothing.
Following the attack, CCTV recorded at Bird’s home address – only a couple of minutes away – shows him returning and disposing of the dark clothing in a work’s vehicle.
With this additional key evidence in hand, he was re-arrested on 20 July and appeared at York Magistrates’ Court the following day.
Bird made no comment throughout the investigation and he did not give evidence at the trial to dispute the findings of the investigation team.
‘The worst day of my life’
The victim’s statement
Words cannot truly express the massive impact this has had on my life and the lives of my loved ones. I am left devastated by the attack and I do not recognise myself anymore.
At times I do not even like the person I have become. I feel guilty about the upset this has caused my extended family, even though I have done nothing wrong. I was merely going for my regular walk on what appeared to be an ordinary day.
Little did I know it would turn out to be the worst day of my life.
Before the incident I was very strong and independent living on my own for many years, holding down a job, looking after my mental and physical health by eating well and exercising. I was happy in my own company.
I am not that person anymore.
I have been left feeling extremely isolated, a prisoner in my own home. I cannot comfortably go outside and feel on edge all the time. This prevents me from going outside to exercise or socialising with my neighbours or people I know locally or beyond.
I also don’t want people coming to the house to visit. I am afraid that I will have a flashback and become upset, and I don’t want people to see me like that or make them feel uncomfortable.
Every noise outside my house makes me feel upset and fearful as to the cause.
I have recurring nightmares which disturb my sleep. It’s like I hear a ‘bang’ but I know that nothing is banging, and I am there falling on the floor with him stood over me, on top of me. I see this over-and-over again. I wake up to find myself sweating.
This can happen at any time of the night. I now only have a few hours of sleep each night.
I do have another dream as well, but not as often. I dream that I am laid down and he has his hands around my neck strangling me. I can see his facemask and dark clothes. I don’t break free and I wake up again sweating.
I think at times I must be mad as I think I can see his face sometimes in my living room window. Or when I have gone into the kitchen in the morning when it is still dark, I think I can see him in my kitchen with his dark clothing on wearing that hat and mask. It terrifies me for a second and then I realise it is not real.
Sometimes I think that it would have been better if he had killed me, then I would not be burdening everyone with how I feel. I see myself as a failure as I am not coping with what has happened.
The attack has turned my life into chaos, and I don’t know how to overcome this. Although I do have some support I still feel very alone.
It is fair to say that I may in time learn to cope better, but I will never overcome what has happened and I will never be the same person again.
I miss the person I was before the attack.
An extremely dangerous man
Detective Inspector Alan Williams, York and Selby CID, said: “This was a planned, premeditated and predatory stranger sexual attack, during which Thomas Bird followed one lone woman before attacking the victim in this case.
“His despicable actions have had a catastrophic impact on the victim’s life, and he has created so much anxiety and fear in the local community.
“We truly hope the outcome at court provides a measure of comfort to the victim, and that she can slowly rebuild her life following this devastating experience.
“This was a very challenging investigation in that there were no witnesses or forensic evidence to go on.
“However, with outstanding support from the public in providing vital CCTV and dash-cam footage, we were able to build a strong and purely circumstantial case which proved beyond any doubt that Thomas Bird was responsible for this sickening crime.
“An extremely dangerous man is now serving a considerable prison sentence and he will be subject to stringent public protection measures for the rest of his days.
“I have nothing but praise for the York and Selby CID investigation team and everyone who played their part in securing this conviction, including invaluable support from our Major Investigation Team.”