A man has been given a 13-year extended sentence for a series of “sinister and scary” sex attacks on lone women in Brighton.

Hanok Zeray, 32, who arrived in the country illegally from Eritrea, conducted a campaign marked by persistence, sometimes targeting more than one woman on the same night, a court was told.

After arriving in Britain in 2021, Zeray was arrested on suspicion of rape in April last year. He was on bail when he carried out the sexual assaults last summer and autumn. The rape case never made it to court.

Zeray admitted attacking six women over six months although Judge Martin Huseyin accepted that it was likely that at least one other woman had been attacked but had not been traced.

On more than one occasion, Zeray struck at least twice in the same night. Judge Huseyin said that a student who was attacked by Zeray had just seen another woman, who was never traced, as she shouted at him to leave her alone, possibly after a similar assault.

Zeray then harassed and attacked the student, following her into her halls, although she managed to keep him out of her room.

Rebecca Austin, prosecuting, told the court: “She was so traumatised and felt so unsafe that she left the university accommodation and moved home.”

Judge Huseyin told Zeray that his actions had had life-changing effects – and that three of the women had been more concerned for him than about him when he approached them because he seemed drunk.

Zeray repaid their kindness by sexually assaulting them, the judge said. One woman “bravely” managed to escape by elbowing him sharply in the stomach and running off.

He tried kissing some of the women on the face and neck, threw his arms around some to hug them to him so that he could touch them.

The judge said that, with one of the victims, Zeray persisted even though she made it clear that she was disgusted by him.

In one case he put his hand up a woman’s dress and sexually assaulted her so roughly that she was in intimate pain for weeks afterwards.

The judge added: “She said you were smiling as she tried to fight you off.”

In the struggle, she managed to start filming with her phone, recording Zeray as she told him that she was calling the police and pleading with him to stop his attack.

Judge Huseyin said: “She must have felt trapped by you, by your persistent violence, pulling her hair, by what you did.”

Greg Johnson, defending, said that when Zeray was shown what he had done on video, he struggled to remember it.

Mr Johnson said: “A major factor in his offending is that he was clearly drinking alcohol to excess.

“He would like to say sorry to each and every victim.”

At Lewes Crown Court, Judge Huseyin said: “You carried out a very sinister and scary campaign of serious sexual assaults.

“It seems to me that women – particularly young lone women – are in real danger from you of serious harm from sexual offences in the future.

“That risk may be reduced in the future but at the moment you pose a high risk.”

He imposed an extended sentence of 13 years and three months, including a prison sentence of eight years and three months, with the rest to be served on licence. Zeray will serve at least five years and six months before he can be considered for parole.

The judge told Zeray, who has lodged an application for asylum, that he was likely to be deported after serving his sentence unless his claim for asylum succeeded.

After Zeray was charged, Detective Sergeant Melissa Trevelyan, from Sussex Police, said: “Women have a right to go about their business without having to fear being raped or sexually assaulted.

“These reports came from women who were simply out in public spaces – places where they should have felt safe.

“We are pleased to have a suspect in custody and I would like to thank all of these women for reporting the incidents to police so we could take positive action.”

Source: Brighton and Hove News

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