"THEY’VE all been through a terrifying ordeal and I hope they can move forward with their lives in the knowledge their attacker is now behind bars.”

So said DC Catherine King, of Avon and Somerset Police after a 36-year-old man who sexually assaulted three women in Street and Shepton Mallet was jailed for four years and seven months.

Mark John Butcher, of Evercreech, attacked the women within the space of three months.

He previously admitted three counts of sexual assault and was sentenced at Taunton Crown Court today (April 12).

After being released from prison, he’ll be on licence for a further three years and will be on the Sex Offenders’ Register for life.

One of the victims was grabbed by Butcher while out jogging. She was pulled to the ground but managed to fight him off and hide in a field.

At today’s hearing, Judge Cook said Butcher committed serious offences which showed an “escalation in violence”.

He said the offending was planned as Butcher “lay in wait” for his victims.

In the first incident, on Tuesday June 5, Butcher attacked a 24-year-old woman in Somerton Road, Street.

He pushed her against a wall and sexually assaulted her but ran off after she shouted out for him to stop.

The victim was able to give officers a detailed description including the fact the offender was wearing brightly coloured construction trousers.

From CCTV footage officers identified a man matching this description close to the scene of the incident and an image was circulated as part of a public appeal.

Bridgwater Mercury:

EVIDENCE: A CCTV image of Butcher

The second incident happened just over a month later, on Thursday July 19.

An 18-year-old woman was attacked shortly after leaving a supermarket. During the attack, Butcher grabbed the victim around the throat and pulled her backwards.

She managed to force him off and run home where her mother contacted the police.

The third incident happened in Dark Lane, Shepton Mallet, at about 7pm on Friday, August 31.

A 20-year-old woman was out jogging when she was grabbed around the throat and pulled to the ground.

She fought back and managed to release Butcher’s grip.

As she tried to run off, he attempted to rugby-tackle her to the ground but she kicked him again and escaped.

At the end of the lane, she spotted a Peugeot car with an 'S' prefix on the registration – details of which she gave the police when she reported the incident.

In a statement given to the court, the victim described how the incident had left her “paranoid” and had affected her emotionally.

It read: “I have started to go running again but I have changed my route and how far I run. I am very paranoid about seeing anyone, especially a man.

"The few days after the incident, I couldn’t sleep as it was troubling me and I couldn’t process what happened.

“I have not wanted people to know it was me who had been assaulted. I have heard people talk about it but I can’t say it was me.

"I’ve only been able to tell my close family and friends.”

Bridgwater Mercury:

IN CUSTODY: Mark John Butcher

How was Mark Butcher caught?

Investigating officer DC Catherine King said: “As part of our enquiries we attended several local businesses to show people the public appeal and CCTV image from the first incident.

“At one of the businesses – a local quarry – two members of staff identified the man in the image as an employee. Mark Butcher, who worked as an HGV driver, was arrested the same day.

“A the time of his arrest he was wearing a black polo shirt identical to one in the CCTV image, so this was seized along with other clothing, including pairs of high vis trousers and a baseball cap. We also noticed a blue Peugeot on the driveway matching the description given by one of the victims.

“A DNA sample was taken from Butcher and tests found he was a potential contributor of DNA found on the clothing of two of the victims. He was identified by the third victim in an ID procedure.

“All this helped to build a compelling case against him and resulted in him admitting the offences at court.

“This was a very frightening series of crimes on women in public places. Stranger attacks like this are rare but when they do happen, it understandably causes great concern.

“I’m pleased Butcher has now been brought to justice and will no longer be able to carry out indiscriminate attacks on innocent people.

“I’d also like to recognise the immense courage shown by all three of the victims. They’ve all been through a terrifying ordeal and I hope they can move forward with their lives in the knowledge their attacker is now behind bars.”

For tips about how to stay safe while exercising outdoors, follow the police Jog On advice, available via www.avonandsomerset.police.uk/news/2019/01/getting-fit-for-2019-you-need-to-jogon.