Blind Bexhill woman speaks out after attack

Dawn Penney and her guide dog, Wallace, were attacked last year in Eastbourne. SUS-150826-145109001
Dawn Penney and her guide dog, Wallace, were attacked last year in Eastbourne. SUS-150826-145109001

A blind woman from Bexhill has spoken of her terror after she and her guide dog were subjected to a ‘devastating’ assault.

Dawn Penney and her Labrador Wallace were attacked by Roxanne Cole in Eastbourne on October 26 and then verbally abused by her and Julia Foulds on December 19.

Cole was sentenced to a total of nine months in jail after pleading guilty to assault and intimidating a witness at Brighton Magistrates’ Court on Thursday, August 20.

Foulds was given a four-month prison sentence, suspended for 12 months, with a 12-month supervision order, after she pleaded guilty to intimidating a witness.

Ms Penney was very traumatised by the incident, as was her guide dog who had to spend three month desensitising at a canine retirement home.

“I care more about my guide dog to be honest,” she said.

“They threatened to kill me – it was horrible. I had back pain, became anxious and started having panic attacks and was put on medication.

“It really affected Wallace and it takes time to adjust, I don’t take him out when it’s dark or at the beach.”

Ms Penney started experiencing discrimination for her disability before the attack with restaurants and shops asking her to leave three weeks after moving to Eastbourne from Lancaster in September.

She said at the time she regretted moving and that was only reinforced after the verbal and physical assaults from Cole and Foulds who were neighbours in her block of flats.

Ms Penney described the attack as a hate crime which she hopes to raise awareness of by publicising her ordeal.

“I wouldn’t want anyone to go through what I have gone through,” she said.

“I want something positive to come from this.”

The attack on Pevensey Road forced Ms Penney to relocate to a hotel in St Leonards for three months because she was so petrified.

In March, she moved to Bexhill and is starting to get back to normality and feeling at home.

Looking back at the incident, Ms Penney remembers just how helpless she felt.

“They came storming up to me shouting and swearing all sorts then just started punching me,” she said.

“I just had to lie there and take it in the street.”

Ms Penney is thankful that her attackers have been brought to justice and is comforted by the lifetime order meaning they cannot contact her.

Acting chief crown prosecutor of the Crown Prosecution Service South East Kris Venkatasami was appalled by the ‘terrifying assault’ which has seriously affected her life.

“Any attack on a vulnerable and disabled victim is appalling, but in this case, the terrifying assault suffered by this victim has had a long lasting and devastating impact on her,” he said.

“As a result of the defendants’ actions, she has had to move home, taking her away from her support network of both family and friends. “

Mr Venkatasami stressed the importance of highlighting hate crimes like this to try and convince victims that people are prosecuted so it is worth reporting it.

“This case highlights just how much of an impact disability hate crime can have on victims and how important it is such incidents are reported to the police, so they can be prosecuted. We know victims are sometimes reluctant to come forward because they fear repeat victimisation. In this particular case, that is exactly what the victim suffered.

“Now those responsible for the original attack and for the intimidation that followed have been brought to justice.”

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