Published: 00:01, 20 June 2014
A victim of a notorious Ashford sex offender is pleading for street lights to be turned back on at night to stop others suffering the ordeal she did.
Jemma Russell was just 18 when John Williams – who was jailed for life last month for a string of sex attacks dating back more than 20 years – grabbed her from behind as she walked to her boyfriend's house, near Singleton Lake, in the dark.
Now she has bravely waived her right to anonymity to speak publicly for the first time about the sickening attack in November 2010 - and has launched a petition against the lights switch-off.
She said: "The guy that attacked me came from behind and pulled me onto the floor.
"He put his hand down my top and had a fumble. Then he heard a cyclist coming and he ran off.
“I felt mixed emotions. I was shocked and I thought: 'Oh my God, did that really happen?' I didn't see him coming and I didn't see his face because there were no lights."
Jemma did not find out it was Williams that attacked her until almost three years later, in October 2013, and was in for a double shock as he was known to her family.
She said: "My sister used to go to his house and play with his daughter. I recognised his face when I saw it because I'd seen him walking around.
"I felt a lot of anger, but I also felt relief that I knew who had done it. I was so happy when he admitted what he'd done that I cried."
When Jemma heard Kent County Council planned to switch off streetlights overnight to save money, painful memories of that dark night came flooding back.
Now 22 and living in Singleton, she agreed to waive her anonymity in a bid to explain to council chiefs why plunging the borough into darkness could be putting people in danger.
Jemma, who works for manufacturer and distributor VJ Technology Ltd in Brunswick Road, added: "I was disgusted when I heard what the county council planned to do. I thought safety should come first, not money.
"It was about 5.30pm when he attacked me so it wasn't exactly late, but it was dark.
"I don't know why the streetlights were off then - perhaps they were broken."
She added: "In my old job, at McDonald's in Eureka Park, I had to walk to work in the dark and this winter I will have to for my new job.
"I feel paranoid walking in the dark now, I think it could happen again.
"I know he has been sentenced now, but that doesn't stop other people doing it."
Jemma has launched an online petition, which she hopes will persuade KCC to rethink its decision to switch off streetlights between midnight and 5.30am – longer in some areas and between 1am and 6.30am during British Summer Time – to save cash.
Williams, 47, of Essetford Road, South Ashford admitted 13 charges and asked for 16 others to be taken into consideration.
The offences took place between November 1991 and August 2013 and involved nine victims aged from 16 to 50.
The new street lights policy was introduced by KCC in December last year, with the view of reducing energy costs, carbon emissions and light pollution.
Some lights have been completely switched off on a 12-month trial basis, while part night lighting has been introduced permanently in other areas.
The switch-off in Ashford was implemented in February.
Cllr Harriet Yeo, (Lab) ward member for Norman Ward, said the changes needed to operate for at least a year before any judgments were made.
She said: "Some people want it and others don't, but we're only halfway through the trial period.
"These things take time. Sometimes I like it and others I don't, like the other day when I was locked in my car and couldn't see to get out - I didn't love it then."
Chris Hatcher, KCC project engineer, said that since the measures began in December 2013 there had been fewer than 1,500 inquires received county-wide, which had included 110 formal complaints.
To sign the petition, click here.
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