Man bailed in murder bid and rape investigation of Northern Ireland child in 1994
Police investigating the brutal rape and attempted murder of an eight-year-old girl in Northern Ireland more than 20 years ago have made an arrest, it has emerged.
The girl was sexually assaulted, tied to a tree and left for dead in woodland in Newry.
She was playing with a friend near Barcroft Community Centre on June 10, 1994, when she was approached by a man.
He separated her from her friend and took her to a secluded area, where he attacked her.
The crime was so shocking that it made headlines across the UK at the time.
Now it has emerged that detectives have made a breakthrough nearly a quarter of a century on.
A suspect was arrested and interviewed two weeks ago. He was later released on bail pending further enquiries.
The dramatic development was revealed by the Newry Reporter. A PSNI spokesperson told the Belfast Telegraph yesterday: "A man, aged in his 40s, was arrested in the Newry area on January 30 as part of a police investigation into the serious sexual assault of an eight-year-old girl in the Barcroft area of the city in 1994.
"He was interviewed and subsequently released on police bail pending further enquiries."
Five years ago, in February 2013, the PSNI reopened its investigation and made a fresh appeal for information.
In October 2013, and in June 2014, two computer-generated images of the suspect were released.
At the time, detectives appealed for anyone who had initially come forward in 1994 but had not made contact with investigators since to contact them. They appealed specifically to a couple who met the boy who had been with the victim and was in a distressed state, and two boys who had been playing at the community centre on the day of the assault, to contact them. However, the arrest is the most significant development in the case to date.
The rape and attempted murder took place at around 7pm on Friday, June 10, 1994.
The attacker, believed to be aged in his late teens or early 20s, lured the young girl away on the pretext of looking for someone, before taking her to a secluded, wooded area.
The vicious nature of the assault, in which the girl was tied to a tree, sent shockwaves through the community and left people living in fear.
At the time, detectives said the eight-year-old girl had been subjected to a "prolonged and violent sexual attack".
Speaking to the BBC in 2014, the victim said she wanted to track down the attacker to prevent him repeating his crimes on others.
"I do get angry about it, thinking 20 years later he's still walking about, you know?
"Is he still in this area? Does he know who I am now, maybe?" she said at the time.
"Stuff like that goes through your mind, especially now that I have children of my own."
The victim said she was making her way to play football at the community centre with the boy, who was aged seven at the time of the attack, when they were approached by the man who asked them to help him find his younger brother.
The children went with the man into woodland behind the community centre, where he convinced them to take different routes through the trees.
The children became separated and the victim said that when the boy left the area, the man attacked and sexually abused her.