A man who sexually assaulted a woman and tried to snatch another woman’s bag has been jailed for seven years with an extended licence for five years.

James Castle, 32, was sentenced at Stafford Crown Court yesterday after pleading guilty to robbery, sexual assault and assault. He will also be required to sign the sex offenders register.

The court heard that the sexual assault took place at around 7am on 1 May this year. Castle followed a woman on the cycle-path, running along the River Sow towards the town centre from Fairway, and grabbed her with enough force to send her to the ground. He held onto her and sexually assaulted her.

A woman came to the victim’s aid and a man tried to follow the attacker, capturing an image on his phone before losing him.

Officers were able to identify the man from the image and arrested Castle. He pleaded guilty to the offence on 14 October.

The court was told Castle had also committed a robbery in the early hours of 24 February. A woman had been walking home from a town centre pub when Castle attacked her as she reached her home in the town.

He grabbed her by her hoodie and she suffered a broken finger as he snatched her bag. The bag was found discarded later. Officers viewed CCTV from this assault and identified Castle, who had worn the same clothing for both crimes.

Castle had been homeless in Stafford for some time.

Detective Constable Laura Board, from the force’s CID, said: “These were unprovoked attacks on lone women, who were alone at times when the streets were quiet. We’re glad Castle has been sentenced and thank the witnesses and people who helped them.”