A HUNT is under way today for a rapist who dragged a young woman into bushes and assaulted her in a city centre park.

The terrifying attack happened in the early hours of yesterday morning – just a stone’s throw from where the 19-year-old victim’s friends were waiting for her on a bench.

The group had been on a night out and were sitting together moments before the young woman left them and entered the park.

Moments later the student was pounced on from behind by her attacker, who put his hand over her mouth and pulled her into the undergrowth before carrying out the frightening sex assault.

When the ordeal ended, the girl managed to get away and return to her friends, who she then told what had happened.

They took her to a parked ambulance, where she told staff, who then raised the alarm and alerted police.

Yesterday the scene at Palmerston Park, at the back of Above Bar Street, Southampton, was cordoned off as scenes of crime officers carried out investigations.

Detectives leading the hunt said that urgent forensic samples had been sent off for testing and they were hoping to have results as soon as next week.

Throughout the bank holiday weekend extra police patrols will be deployed to the city centre in a bid to reassure revellers enjoying a night out.

Meanwhile extensive enquiries are under way to try to trace the man responsible – with footage from nearby CCTV cameras being scoured in the hope of identifying any suspects.

The assault, which happened at about 2am, is the latest in a series of similar incidents in Southampton in recent months.

However, detectives say that there is nothing currently to link them – although they are keeping an open mind and will be looking at other sex attacks reported in the city centre as part of their enquiry.

Detective Inspector Jim Park is leading the hunt and wants to hear from anyone who saw a man running away from the park area.

Currently the description is vague – the victim has only been able to tell police that her attacker was white.

DI Park said: “I would like to hear from anyone who witnessed what happened or was in the area at the time and saw anything suspicious.

“There is nothing at this stage to link this investigation to previous recent allegations of sexual assault in Southampton.”

Superintendent James Fulton also warned people to ensure that they take responsible measures to keep themselves safe.

He said: “As we’re moving towards the summer months, we’ve got lots of students and young people heading for nights out in the city and I hope that everyone has an enjoyable time.

“I would always urge you to be aware of your personal safety and look after yourself and your friends. This applies to both men and women of all ages.”

Anyone with information is asked to call police on 101.