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Masked, naked pervert targets mums walking their babies by the River Stort at Harlow Mill Beefeater

Three young mums taking their babies for a stroll along the River Stort on Monday morning (July 8) were terrified to see a masked, naked man staring at them and masturbating.

In the past eight-and-a-half months, Hertfordshire police have received reports of seven such incidents in Bishop's Stortford and Sawbridgeworth in which a man, wearing only a white mask, indecently exposes himself to girls and women.

However, Monday's incident happened just over the county border in Essex at Harlow Mill, only a mile-and-a-half from the two most southerly sightings of the creep.

Natalie Clark, 31, who lives in High Easter, had taken her 10-week-old daughter to meet her friends – one of whom had her eight-month-old baby with her – at the Harlow Mill Beefeater. The trio had breakfast together then decided to take a walk along the river.

As they were wandering along the towpath, they saw a man on the other side of the river. He was wearing only a white Mexican wrestling-style mask and pleasuring himself.

"It was really creepy, like something out of a horror film," said Natalie. "There was this hole in the trees and bushes and it was just so that you could see him framed."

Natalie and her friends were completely taken aback by the encounter.

"It was too creepy for words," she said. "We kept on walking and tried not to look or react. We were so stunned, I think it took a while to sink in."

The group walked away from the man and, 30 seconds later, called 999. By the time they got back to the Beefeater, six police cars had arrived and officers were setting out to hunt for the pervert.

Natalie was left feeling shaken. "Having my baby there is quite upsetting. I don't want her to experience anything like that ever," she said.

"He's still in the area and he's still going about doing this.

"It was so menacing, the way he was entirely nude just with a mask on.

"He was a pervert having his thrill, but I feel if he's not caught it would lead to him doing something more."

The incident follows another sighting of a naked, masked man on the outskirts of Bishop's Stortford on June 23. A Thorley Park mum saw the weirdo while she was running along Moor Hall Lane, on the southern side of the A1184 St James Way, towards Southern Country Park and St Michael's Mead. He too was masturbating.

On June 6, police arrested a 53-year-old man in connection with the series of crimes. He was released under investigation while inquiries continue.

On May 10, an 18-year-old girl in Southern Country Park heard a man call out and when she turned round she saw a naked pervert in a white mask.

On April 17, three women were confronted by a masked, naked man near St James the Great Church at Thorley while they were walking a dog.

On January 2, a woman sitting in a vehicle on High Wych Lane saw a naked man, with a bandage across his face, touch himself and flee. On February 6, a woman was targeted in the same location.

On October 24 last year, two 13-year-old girls in Southern Country Park were terrified when a naked man in a white leather mask emerged from bushes and started to masturbate.

On May 19, a naked man, this time wearing a blue mask, was seen hiding in bushes at Three Mile Pond in Sawbridgeworth by a passing motorist.

A spokesman for Essex Police confirmed that they were called shortly after 11.45am on Monday to the towpath near the A1184 Cambridge Road in Harlow.

He said: "If you have any information, please call us on 101 quoting the crime reference number 42/107833/19 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111."

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