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Gravesend man Aaron Payne jailed after trying to strangle young mother Carly Steel in random alleyway attack

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A young woman believed she was going to be strangled to death during a terrifying random attack in a Gravesend alleyway.

Carly Steel was grabbed from behind and pushed to the ground as she walked down the path leading from Freeman Road to St Gregory's Crescent last summer.

Her attacker, Aaron Payne, then got on top of her and put his hands around her neck - squeezing her windpipe to such an extent that she could not breathe, Maidstone Crown Court was told.

Aaron Payne has been jailed for eight years
Aaron Payne has been jailed for eight years

Payne, who did not know young mother Miss Steel, put his hand over her mouth and was pushing down onto the 23-year-old's face.

The attack at 6.30pm on August 1 only came to an end when Miss Steel had the presence of mind to bang her hand on one of the garden fences lining the alleyway, alerting the occupants who shouted at Payne and gave chase when he fled.

Payne, 26, of Fenners Marsh, Gravesend, was arrested that evening and later admitted attempting to cause grievous bodily harm with intent.

He denied attempted murder and a formal not guilty verdict was entered into the court record after the prosecution offered no evidence.

At the time of the attack on Miss Steel, Payne was subject to a community order and three years' supervision for an offence of outraging public decency when he looked up a woman's skirt in the Gravesend branch of Boots in 2011.

Another previous conviction for threatening behaviour, also committed in 2011, related to lewd comments made by Payne to a woman riding along a cycle path.

Sentencing at the last court hearing in January was adjourned for reports to consider dangerousness.

Carly Steel was attacked on a path from Freeman Road to St Gregory’s Crescent
Carly Steel was attacked on a path from Freeman Road to St Gregory’s Crescent

Today, Judge Michael Carroll said although there was no sexual element to the attack on Miss Steel, it represented a "massive escalation for no apparent reason" in his pattern of behaviour towards lone women.

He found Payne represented significant risk of serious harm to the public and imposed an extended prison sentence of 13 years.

This is made up of a jail term of eight years, of which he must serve two-thirds less time already served on remand, and five years on licence.

Miss Steel, who is now 24, was in court with her father as Judge Carroll passed sentence and told Payne he could not imagine "a more frightening experience" than being "jumped upon by a complete stranger".

He added: "This is as close to the full offence of strangulation causing really serious bodily injury with intent as one can imagine.

"It made her physically sick then and she was physically sick the following day... One would struggle to think of anything more frightening from a psychological point of view than believing that one is going to die from being strangled."

Judge Michael Carroll
Judge Michael Carroll

Judge Carroll added the attack was a premeditated, sustained assault for which Payne lacked empathy, insight and acceptance of responsibility.

"I am satisfied that there is a significant risk of serious harm to members of the public in future, in particular females who are unaccompanied and strangers to yourself," he said.

Miss Steel made a victim impact statement in September last year, but it was not read in open court.

Prosecutor Jeffrey Lamb said Payne at first quickened his pace as if to catch up with Miss Steel, and then slowed down as she did so to let him pass.

However, he remained behind her and it was as the alleyway turned out of view from the road that Payne made a grab for Miss Steel.

Having got her to the ground, he then put his hands around her neck.

"He was squeezing her windpipe so tightly that she, in her words, 'could not breathe at all'," said Mr Lamb.

"He put his hand over her mouth and was pushing down on her face. She said she could not breathe and thought the man was going to kill her."

The case was heard at Maidstone Crown Court
The case was heard at Maidstone Crown Court

However, as Miss Steel struggled with Payne she was able to bang her hand against a garden fence.

As she did so, Payne continued his attack. "He put both his hands around her neck again and began strangling her again," said the prosecutor. "She said he was staring at her with wide eyes."

John Fitzgerald, defending, argued that Payne, who suffers from autism and Asperger's, had expressed remorse and said himself that Miss Steel must have been "terrified" by what he had done to her.

"This was an entirely unprovoked, random attack on an innocent woman that must have felt like a horror story come to life..." - DC Brian Smith

Mr Fitzgerald added Payne was suffering from various "emotional and personal" problems at the time and had subsequently told him: "I always think about it and I feel guilty. I know it was wrong.

"It was not her fault. There's no reason for it. I took it out on the wrong person."

DC Brian Smith, from Kent Police, said: "This was an entirely unprovoked, random attack on an innocent woman that must have felt like a horror story come to life.

"One moment she was walking along the street and the next she was being throttled by a complete stranger in a deserted alleyway.

"She has been left utterly traumatised by what happened but showed a huge amount of courage on the night in question when she refused to give up and managed to attract help.

"She also showed courage as she was forced to relive her ordeal when Payne appeared in court and initially denied any wrongdoing.

"I'd like to pay tribute to her bravery and hope Payne's sentence gives her the necessary closure to move on with her life.

"His senseless act of violence has landed him behind bars, which is where he undoubtedly belongs."

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