POLICE have hailed the bravery of two workers who made a citizen’s arrest on a youth suspected of a violent sex attack on a nine-year-old girl in Great Harwood.

Tim Bolchover, 22, and Matthew Clegg, 24, told how they chased the suspect for some time before detaining him near a stream and taking him to police.

Officers said the girl was playing with friends in the Alan Ramsbottom Way area when she was approached by a man who asked her to follow him into woodland at around 6.45pm on Monday.

Once in the secluded area, the girl was attacked. She eventually managed to struggle free and raised the alarm with Mary Smith, 32, who runs a scrap business which borders the scene.

Mrs Smith said: “You could see she was in distress.

“She was saying ‘help me, help me’. At first I wondered what she was saying.

“When I realised something had happened I gave her a hug. I couldn’t help it. I have young daughters too. Then I rang police.

“The girl tried to tell me what happened.

“It is disgusting, sick and terrifying.”

Mrs Smith then told two of her workers, Mr Bolchover and Mr Clegg, to go and look for the suspect.

Mr Bolchover said they ran for some time as the suspect headed towards Clayton-le-Moors.

He said: “We were walking along the stream and then we grabbed him and brought him to police.

“We just did what anybody else would have done. It wasn’t brave.”

Mr Clegg said: “Anybody in their right mind would have done the same.

“We just kept going until we found him.”

After making the citizen’s arrest, the pair brought the suspect back towards the Alan Ramsbottom Way area where they were met by police.

Detective Superintendent Andy Webster, who is leading the investigation, praised Mr Clegg and Mr Bolchover.

He said: "I would commend the bravery of the two local men who immediately went to search the area while the call was made to the police.

"They detained a suspect, making a citizen's arrest prior to police arrival.”

Mr Webster said he had 12 detectives on the case, and stressed that such attacks were rare.

The police had a good record of catching such attackers, he said.

“This is a horrific attack which is clearly exacerbated by her young age,” Mr Webster said.

“Her medical treatment will take precedence followed by a forensic medical examination then an interview with specially trained officers.

“We have to go at her pace. This is a very serious attack on a very vulnerable young girl. She is clearly traumatised.

“This nine-year-old girl has been subjected to a serious violent attack.

"We are still in the very early stages of our investigation."

Forensic scientists and crime scene investigators were last night continuing a detailed forensic examination of the scene.

Mr Webster said: “There is a police cordon and there is a crime scene investigation.

"We have recovered some evidence and we plan to carry out a fingertip search of the area by specially trained officers.

"Inquiries are at an early stage and I would appeal to members of the public who may have been in the area between 6pm and 7pm last night to come forward and contact us.”

Anyone with any information should call police on 08451 23 35 45 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.