THEY had been friends and colleagues for ten years.

Sarah Rix, supervisor at a highly-successful Hampshire pre-school, used to socialise with Melissa Morey and regarded her as more than just a workmate.

But their friendship came to a violent end when Morey suddenly flipped and lured Ms Rix into an ambush in the dead of night.

Armed with a bottle she launched a vicious and unprovoked attack that left her terrified victim fearing for her life.

After hitting her on the head she knocked her to the ground and repeatedly kicked her in the back before stealing her car and setting it on fire.

Appearing at Winchester Crown Court, Morey was jailed for eight months after she admitted assault, taking a vehicle without consent and arson.

Speaking after the case, Ms Rix said she was at home at 9pm when she was telephoned by someone claiming to be a police officer.

“She said there had been a break-in at Milford Pre-School Plus and asked if I could inspect the damage,” she said.

Ms Rix, who did not recognise the caller’s voice, drove to the premises and glimpsed a hooded figure lurking in an alcove. Seconds later, she was struck on the back of the head with a wine bottle.

“The impact knocked me to the ground. I tried to get up but she pushed me down and we struggled,” she said.

“I started screaming in the hope that someone would hear me. She said ‘Shut up, I’ve got a knife’ – even though nothing was ever found.

“She kicked me in the back as well as stamping on me several times. I thought she was going to kill me.”

Ms Rix’s ordeal finally ended after Morey ran off, taking the keys to her victim’s Fiat Punto. After driving to All Saints Church, Milford, she set the vehicle on fire before running back to her own car.

Ms Rix was taken to hospital and treated for a deep gash that has left a scar on the back of her head.

Morey, 43, of Hilary Close, Lyndhurst, was sacked from the playgroup after the incident on August 30 last year.

Five months later her victim is still trying to work out what drove her ex-colleague to attack her out of the blue.

In court Morey claimed she had been bullied by Ms Rix but this was rejected by the judge, Susan Evans QC, who heard that Morey had been prescribed anti-depressants following the death of her father.

Ms Rix said: “The police told me they’d never known anything like it – they said it was the strangest case they’d ever come across.

“Even she doesn’t know why she did it.

“We hadn’t fallen out or anything like that. Maybe something came to a head during the school holidays. She’d tried to resign several times but had always changed her mind.”

Ms Rix is still the supervisor at the playgroup, rated “outstanding” by the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted).

But she suffers from panic attacks as a result of being assaulted, has trouble sleeping and is too scared to go out after dark.

“The thought of her (Morey) in prison is awful but you can’t do things like that. She could quite easily have killed me,” she said.

“If I saw her now I wouldn’t even look at her.”