POLICE are treating an unprovoked attack on four off-duty nurses in Yeovil on Tuesday evening as racially motivated.

The four nurses from Yeovil District Hospital were walking home to their staff accommodation when they were approached from behind by three suspects, two of them female, close to the Esso garage in Reckleford between 8pm and 9pm.

The nurses, who joined the East Somerset NHS Trust, were verbally abused and became separated in a scuffle.

The smallest of the group was knocked to the ground and suffered cuts and bruises. Another was slapped on the face. The other two were unhurt, but badly shaken up by what happened and all were taken to the hospital's Accident and Emergency department.

The nurses, aged in their 20s and 30s and believed to come from India, are now on special leave from duties and receiving support from specialist staff. The Trust has acted quickly to condemn the attack which was unprovoked and in daylight.

Director of nursing and clinical governance, Liz Robb, said: "They are our staff and we feel protective of them - whether on or off duty.

"This shocking and unprovoked attack is totally unacceptable. The Department of Health is very clear in encouraging all NHS organisations to support a zero tolerance policy, and we feel very strongly about supporting our staff, both on and off the premises.

"We are now working closely with the police, including own hospital police officer and security staff, to see what lessons can be learned, if any, and we will be advising other members of staff accordingly."

A police spokesman confirmed yesterday (Wednesday) that the incident was being treated as racial attack.

"We believe it was racially motivated," she said. "The nurses received racial abuse before it led to the scuffle.

"We are appealing for witnesses and anybody who can help us with our enquiries should get in touch with the police."

The police have relased descriptions of the three people involved in the attack. The first female was white, aged 18-20, 5'3 tall and of slim build with black straight hair and dark clothing. The second female was white, aged 18-20, with blonde hair and wearing jeans and a tea-shirt. The third was a white male, aged about 20, 5'10 tall with black hair and a small black beard.

Anyone who has got information can call the free Crimestoppers number on 0800 555111.