A witness appeal has been launched after a 24-year-old woman told police she was raped on the outskirts of Stevenage town centre during the early hours of Sunday morning.

The woman was walking along the footpath on Six Hills Way close to the junction with the A602 Lytton Way between 3am and 4am, after the clocks had been turned back.

It is believed she became involved in a verbal altercation with a man, who then raped her. The location is understood to be a grassy area between two underpasses on the path.

The man is described as being a white man, around 5ft 6in tall, of medium build and had black facial hair or a short beard. He was wearing a dark coloured jacket and dark jeans. He spoke with a local accent and smelt of cigarette smoke.

The woman is currently being supported by specialist officers.

Detective Sergeant Claire Hill-McGrath, from the Sexual Offences Investigation Team, said: “This was a serious but unusual incident. We are very keen to speak to anyone with information that could help our investigation.

“Were you in the area at the time and saw something? Did you see or hear an altercation taking place? Or did you see a man matching this description?”

Anyone with information is asked to contact Herts police on 101, quoting crime reference 41/50614/18, or report information online at www.herts.police.uk/report.

Alternatively, you can contact the independent crime-fighting charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or through the anonymous online form at www.crimestoppers-uk.org. No personal details are taken, information cannot be traced or recorded and you will never need to go to court.

• If you have been the victim of sexual abuse there is support available via hertssunflower.org.