A group of up to six men were involved in a late-night brawl in a park moments before a woman was subjected to a horrific rape, police have revealed.

Detectives investigating the rape of the 21-year-old woman in Blackhill Park, at Consett, County Durham say that the men were involved in a fight only yards from the scene of the attack and may have vital information which could help catch the rapist.

Detective Inspector Mick Nail, who is now leading the investigation, said: "We know there were people in the area and so far half a dozen have responded to our appeals, but only one of these was in the park at the time and others have yet to come forward and we would urge them to do that.

"We have now established that a group of five of six men were involved in a fight in the park shortly before the rape.

"Although that incident was about 200 yards away, those men may have seen something important. We want to speak to them, not about he fight, but about what they might be able to tell us."

The woman, who was wearing a black vest top and mini skirt, was attacked and left for dead as she made her way home from The Trades nightclub in Consett, shortly after 2am on Sunday.

Police also want to speak to a young man, thought to be in his teens, who befriended the victim and chatted her shortly before the attack. Officers yesterday revealed that the pair had went into the park and sat chatting on a bench for up to 15 minutes, before the man left.

Shortly after they parted company, the woman was confronted by a stranger, thought to be in his 20s, wearing dark clothing.

Despite a determined struggle in which she screamed for help, she was eventually overpowered and thrown to the ground where she was subjected to a prolonged sex attack during which she lost consciousness.

When she came round, she ran to a nearby cottage and raised the alarm.

Det Ins Nail said he also wanted to speak to the man who had chatted to the victim as a matter of urgency. "The woman was very comfortable in her escort's company and spent some time simply chatting to him.

"We need to talk to this man as a matter of urgency - he could be a very important witness. He is not a suspect but may be able to provide vital information."

Anyone with information is asked to ring police on 0845 6060365.