Man dragged lone woman off Darlington street before attempted sexual assault

Joseph Holmes was jailed following the alleged sexual assault in Duke Street, Darlington
Joseph Holmes, 51, was jailed after attempting to sexually assault a woman in Duke Street, Darlington. Credit: Evening Gazette.

A man who pretended he was homeless before trying to drag a woman off a street late at night has been jailed for 10 years.

Joseph Holmes had targeted a lone woman walking through Darlington town centre last December.

The 51-year-old was sitting with a sleeping bag draped over him in Duke Street in the early hours of 18 December 2021.

Police later found CCTV footage showing him following one woman - who managed to get away.

Holmes then sat and waited for another woman to walk past on her own. When he spotted a lone female - he followed her.

Prosecutor Sam Faulks told Teesside Crown Court that when the woman crossed the street to get away, Holmes crossed the street too.

The woman then crossed back to the other side, with Holmes following.

The court heard he then got hold of his victim and tried to "drag" her onto Raby Terrace.

A judge found Holmes had intended to sexually assault the woman, but that his attack was stopped after a man saw him trying to drag her into a back alley and intervened.

Holmes, of Finkle Street in Bishop Auckland, pleaded guilty to attempted sexual assault and assault on the day his trial was due to start - having previously denied the charges.

The court heard that he has 111 previous convictions for 205 offences, including a similar attack where he dragged a woman to the floor in Durham city centre in 2017.

He was jailed for that sexual assault for four years.

In an emotional statement, Holmes' latest victim - who is in her 30's - said she had problems with sleep and nightmares since the attack.

She said: "I wake up screaming due to the incident. I feel sad all of the time. I have severe panic attacks and I have been binge drinking to block out the memories of that night. I feel scared to be alone or go out in the dark. At times I have contemplated suicide."

Robert Mochrie, mitigating, said his client had not planned the attack, but that it was "opportunistic, while he was drunk.

"This is a man with significant problems himself," Mr Mochrie continued. "He is an alcoholic. He has related dementia caused by lack of vitamin B1."

Judge Benjamin Nolan told Holmes that he was "entirely satisfied, with your previous record, that you intended to sexually assault her. In your case, you pose a high risk for sexual assault and violence."

The judge categorised Holmes as a "dangerous offender" and jailed him for 10 years. He will sign the sex offenders' register for the rest of his life.

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