A LONER who walked into a town centre store and groped a shopper’s breast has avoided a jail term for an assault that left his victim “shocked and violated”.

Gordon Bryant, 40, from Cambridge Road, was brought to justice after the St Helens Star carried a police CCTV appeal showing his face.

After being named by callers and subsequently arrested Bryant initially denied touching the woman’s breast while in the Home Bargains store, instead claiming that he had sneezed and was wiping any residue off her.

However, once at court, he pleaded guilty at the first opportunity to sexually assaulting the 42-year-old woman at the Hardshaw Centre shop on September 5.

In a hearing at St Helens Magistrates’ Court, prosecutor Ali Sarwar said Bryant can be seen on CCTV moving into the same aisle as his victim: “She was browsing, then he suddenly approached her directly and grabbed her left breast.

“He looked straight into her face then calmly walked away, leaving her in a state of disbelief and shock.

“She stood there for a few seconds until the realisation sunk in. An employee alerted police over the shop link system, but he had left the area.”

Reading out a statement written by the woman, he said that the incident left her “shocked and violated”.

Mr Sarwar continued: “She wrote: ‘It took me totally off guard and took a few seconds to sink in. I’m more guarded about going out and always wear a coat and cardigan.

“I’m looking over my shoulder more and for a few days after a work colleague had to walk with me to the sandwich shop.

“It’s knocked my confidence, which I didn’t think would happen.”

Rob Haygarth, defending, said when Bryant was made aware of the statement, he was “shocked” and said “no one should have to go through what she’s going through”.

Mr Haygarth added: “He has expressed that he’s very sorry to the lady and fully accepts he’s responsible for the ordeal she’s going through.”

A still from the CCTV footage was circulated internally among the police, but it was after the picture appeared in the Star that two people came forward to identify him.

Described as a “loner” and “socially isolated”, Bryant was said to have one or two friends and did not go into the town centre very often.

Magistrates told Bryant he was fortunate not to go to jail and ordered him to attend the Northumbria Sex Offenders Programme.

He was also placed under supervision for 36 months and ordered to pay £85 in costs.