A RAPIST targeted a woman he spotted walking alone at night, before striking after luring her into an alleyway, a court heard.

Alexander Neil Dixon was said to have been driving around looking for a potential victim in the Bishop Auckland area, late on Sunday October 27, last year.

Durham Crown Court was told he saw the woman, who was making her way from a town centre pub to meet a friend further up Cockton Hill Road, shortly after 10pm.

Dixon pulled up in a nearby street, got out and walked back towards the woman then turned and walked slowly in the same direction as her, to allow her to catch up with him.

Jonathan Walker, prosecuting, said as she reached him he began to engage her in conversation as they walked together and she felt he was “weird”.

Dixon told the woman she was “pretty” before going into a nearby alleyway, a few metres from the main road, “to talk”.

But once there he pinned her against the wall and sexually assaulted her before carrying out the rape, despite her repeatedly urging him to stop.

Mr Walker said Dixon did stop and apologised, briefly left the alleyway, but then returned, committed a further assault and let out a “psychotic, high-pitched laugh”, before leaving the scene.

The victim rang police and her friend found her in a distressed state hiding between cars.

Mr Walker said assisted by number plate recognition Dixon, 38, was arrested three days later.

Despite initial denials the defendant, of Newlands Rise, Ferryhill, went on to admit rape and sexual assault.

The court heard the attack left the victim in a highly agitated state and in her victim statement, read to the court, said she found it hard going out alone in the aftermath of the attack.

Dixon's past convictions do include indecent assault, where he also approached a lone female and told her she was “pretty”, plus a public order offence involving a lone woman in an alleyway.

Nicholas Askins, mitigating, said Dixon has few past convictions and has never previously served a prison sentence.

He added that his guilty pleas spared the victim the ordeal of having to give evidence.

Judge James Adkin said Dixon was, “acting as a predator that night” seeking a victim to target.

As he considers him a risk of committing further serious offences, the judge imposed a nine-year extended determinate prison sentence with six years licence supervision on release.

Dixon must serve at least six years behind bars but can only then be released with the approval of the Parole Board, but may have to serve the full nine-year term in prison.

He will be banned from driving for ten years after his release, which could result in a total disqualification of 19 years, and he was also made subject of registration as a sex offender and a Sexual Harm Prevention Order, both for life.