THE family of a schoolgirl who threw herself into the Union Canal to escape the clutches of a sex attacker have described their daughter as “incredibly brave”.
The 15-year-old victim’s mother also told how she hopes police catch her attacker “before he hurts someone”.
Police have revealed that the girl believes the attacker was another passenger on the bus she had taken to Ratho to visit the nearby climbing centre after school.
The girl suspected she was being followed as she walked along the canal footpath before being grabbed from behind by the man who was exposing himself to her.
The brave teenager shouted for help as she fought the man off before running back towards Ratho as he chased after her.
In what detectives praised as a “split second decision”, the quick-thinking girl flung herself into the murky waters of the canal when she saw he was gaining on her.
Asked how she was bearing up after the ordeal, the young girl’s mum said: “My daughter is OK. She is being incredibly brave and I hope the police catch the man involved before he hurts someone”.
Lothian Buses has handed police CCTV footage from its on-board cameras which officers hope will give them an image of the suspect, who was in his early 20s.
The schoolgirl had taken an X12 bus from the city centre and got off at Ratho at around 5.30pm on Wednesday when the suspect tracked her to a more isolated part of the
Detective Inspector David Storey, said: “She was walking along the footpath to the climbing centre, a journey of about 0.8 miles, and she was around half-way when she was grabbed from behind.
“She struggled to free herself and ran back towards Ratho with this man running after her. After a short distance she took the decision to jump into the canal.
“It was a split-second decision. I’m not sure whether she knew the depth of the water or whether it was safe, but she extracted herself from what could’ve been a more serious attack. It turned out well for her because she was safe.
“She managed to stay upright in the canal and clambered out of the water after the man fled. A woman jogger who heard her shouting returned to the scene and assisted her. “She was helped along to the climbing centre where police were called.”
The part of the canal where the teenager leapt in was about 4ft in depth.
The suspect was described as being in his early 20s, of slim build, between 5ft 8in to 5ft 9in tall, and spoke to the victim with a Scottish accent. He had short dark spiky hair and was wearing a grey cardigan with buttons, loose jeans and was carrying a white shoulder bag.
Det Insp Storey added: “The victim thinks this man was on the bus with her. Part of our inquiry is trying to trace other passengers from that bus.
“We’re very happy that she managed to get way from this man. She’s doing fine and is being supported by her family, but she’s still very shocked.
“We’re extremely keen to catch this individual. This was a sexually-motivated attack which could’ve escalated further.”
Detectives are not currently linking the attack to any other incidents.
A dozen officers are working on the inquiry.