THE mum of a 10-year-old girl grabbed as she walked home from school said she felt ‘helpless’ as she read her daughter’s text message plea ‘Mummy I’m scared’.

The primary school pupil had been walking along the canal towpath in Clayton-le-Moors when she was grabbed from behind by a man. Police were told the man ran his fingers through her hair, touched her thigh and pulled at her bag.

The youngster, who was walking the 10 minute journey to the bus stop alone to meet her mum, immediately rang and text her pleading for help.

The girl’s mum said: “When I got on the bus and checked my phone I had a missed call from her and a text saying ‘a man put his body against me sexually’ and another saying ‘Mummy I’m scared’.

“I felt that my heart would burst out of my chest when I received the message. I rang her but I could hardly hear her because she was so terrified. She said, ‘He groped me, he put his fingers through my hair’.

“I told her to run to the bus stop, not to talk to anyone and not to move while her dad came to pick her up, then I rang the police. I felt helpless because I couldn’t get to her quickly.

“I also felt guilty I let her walk the 10 minutes alone to the bus stop.”

Detectives have now launched an investigation to find the man responsible. The attacker was disturbed when a dog came round the corner followed by its owner and gave the girl the chance to get away, police said.

The heartbroken mum said: “He must have seen the dog and guessed the owner wasn’t far behind. I can’t even think about what would have happened if the dog hadn’t been there.”

Detectives were appealing for the dog walker to come forward. DI Mark Gillibrand, who is leading the investigation, said: “We aren’t entirely sure what the offender’s motive was but that said, we are treating it very seriously.

“We appreciate that it will cause people some concern and so we have stepped up patrols in the area. We need to trace the dog walker described as white, between 30 and 40 years old, with a beard and a green jacket. He was walking a bulldog and may have some important information that could assist with our investigation. If you think this was you, please get in touch.

“We would also like to speak to anyone who may have seen a man acting suspiciously in the area around the time of the incident.

“Similarly, if you recognise the description of the offender, please make contact with us.”

The attacker was described as white but very tanned, aged between 18 to 20, over 6ft tall with short cropped dark hair. He was also said to have full, unkempt, short facial hair and a pierced nose. He was wearing a red hooded top, white trainers, sunglasses and a gold ring on one of his hands.

The mum said: “He could have just been a young lad wanting to exert his power over someone or he could be something much worse. Either way I want him caught and I want him off the streets.

“I don’t care what happens to him, I’m not into this naming and shaming, as long as he is reprimanded. We need to stand together and make people aware that it is not acceptable.

“She’s very paranoid. Her teacher rang and said she’s too scared to go in the playground. She is a very strong little girl. She is just worried that something is going to happen to someone else but worse.”

Police are also investigating an incident where a schoolgirl was offered a lift by a man in a car on Charles Street, Rishton last Wednesday. The girl was walking to school at around 8am when a vehicle pulled up alongside her.

The male driver offered the youngster a lift, which she refused and the man then drove off. Police said she was not harmed and inquiries are on-going, but they are not linking the incidents. Cllr Ken Moss, who represents Clayton-le-Moors, said: “The world is a different place these day and these awful incidents seem to be more common.”

“It is a pity that the world is like this but we need to make sure we are looking after each and parents know where their children are.”Anyone with information should call police on 01254 353601 quoting incident reference 1003 of October 2.