I thought there was no escaping him

Join the Independent on Sunday's Christmas appeal to help those affected by domestic violence

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Alice, from London, thought there was no escape from her fiance until she got help from the domestic violence charity Refuge. The Independent on Sunday is supporting Refuge for this year’s Christmas appeal, which you can donate to HERE. This is her story in her own words.

(Names have been changed to protect her identity.)

“David was so charming initially. He was 20 years older than me but it didn’t bother me - I thought he was great. He had pursued me and seemed to be very caring, so when he asked me to marry him I said yes.

I first guessed his frightening side when he spoke about his ex-wife. He said he wished she had died of cancer. If only I had done a criminal records bureau check on him I would have seen he’d had a violent outburst before, but I had no idea.

At first it was only words. Sometimes he was charming and you couldn’t ask for a better fiance, then he would just turn. He’d come back in a terrible mood about something, like he’d decide I hadn’t done the dishes properly. He could pick on my attitude or what I was wearing. After a while I felt I couldn’t even make phone calls because he’d just stand there glowering over me.

I started to feel frightened when I was in bed next to him.

He was a clever man. He would break me down and keep at me, saying he was trying to help me. Then if there was anything I  wouldn’t give him, like passwords to accounts, all hell would break loose.

I felt I was proving my innocence by giving him access to everything and he just took over. He even controlled the finances of my own business. When he could see I was managing to get away from him he burnt a lot of my business contacts. He called my clients and put on this really charming front. Most women who met him fancied him, and he’d say ‘oh, Alice has had some kind of break down, it’s best that I take over’.

I’ve grown up in a nice area and I’ve never come across a properly evil and vindictive person before. I just wasn’t prepared for it. People expect domestic abuse to be something that happens in council estates in Warrington, but anyone can be a victim.

The physical violence was the last straw. The first time I called the police, the detective sergeant called me into the office and said ‘I want you to retract this statement of assault, we’ve spoken to the man in question and we think you’re wasting police time’. He said I was using the police to settle a personal argument.

I’ve never seen a Jekyll and Hyde like this guy. When the police came round he’d laugh and say I was throwing a strop again. The police just believed him and any attempts I made to leave him were impossible.

A few days after the police visited, when everything had been laid to rest, I had a call on my mobile. It was a blocked number and they said ‘Are you on your own?’ and ‘If you can’t be on the phone you can hang up’. They were calling from the domestic violence charity Refuge and they understood the kind of person he was in a way that I didn’t.

I spoke to the woman - she was called Sarah - for about half an hour. It was amazing because by that stage I was so isolated that I didn’t talk to my friends and family about it. I’d never heard of domestic abuse and speaking to someone saying ‘it’s not right that you’re frightened and calling the police’ was a help. She was an Independent Domestic Violence Advocate (IDVA), and she was there to support me and help me navigate the police and legal systems.

I was determined to make things work with the relationship but talking to her had planted the seed in my head that I needed to go. She called about a month later when it had been a bad few days. Then she became a lifeline. I spoke to Sarah almost every day and I wasn’t speaking to anyone else.

The police often refused to take my word against his. He was very well versed in the law and two years older than me. When I reported him to the police he had the police apologise for arresting him. He was so plausible, really confident.

It was on New Year’s Day this year that things got really bad. We were staying at his house out in the countryside. David had no neighbours there and it was really isolated.

He decided I was being lazy and started throwing all my stuff out of a first floor window and smashing up my things. I tried to stop him as I didn’t have much left by then. He grabbed my arms and bent them so they were close to breaking and I could tell he was trying to throw me down the stairs. It was so scary because it was such an isolated place. I managed to get away by pulling the ceiling light out of the ceiling.

I ran out into the lane in bare feet in the pouring rain. It was freezing cold and I had no phone and no money because he had them. It was a cold January and  had nothing - I thought ‘I’m going to freeze to death out here’. I also realised I’d left my dog at his house and couldn’t leave her. I went back and he’d cooled down. Then he went into a rage again.

I was clearing up broken glass from a work top and he began screaming and threatening me, saying: ‘how many fucking times have I said not to do that.’ He said how my family were pieces of shit I’d collected and that I’d be nothing without him. My phone had no reception, so I put it in my pocket and pressed record, praying he couldn’t see the red light.

He became reasonable overnight and the next morning I packed my things and said I was going back to London. We’d come separately so I had my own car. Even when I got back to London I still unbelievably tried to make it work. I was just so embarrassed and I didn’t want my family to know he was physically assaulting me.

If I didn’t know him I’d think he was a really confident, upstanding member of society. Before January I’d be in two minds about him and think I was being silly. Then it was becoming clear, thanks to Sarah at Refuge, that it wasn’t normal to be scared.

It was a very short time before he started hitting me again. Shortly after that a member of the public saw him really lose his temper in public. That and the recording was enough for the detective sergeant to say ‘we’ve got it’. He put a restraining order on him right away.

When I finally broke up with him and was staying at a friend’s, he’d wait outside the house and I’d have 30 or 40 missed calls. I told the police that I was frightened because he was outside saying if I didn’t come out he’d destroy me. But he just made counter-allegations, saying ‘it’s her bullying me’ and that I was the one outside his house. I managed to get a neighbour to say to the police that I hadn’t been there.

Sarah liaised with the detective sergeant in charge of the case. Without her holding my hand I’d never have had the strength to go to court. She helped me see that if I didn’t he was never going to stop.

I’ve moved into my own flat and am living out of the neighbourhood now, but I still have to work near him. If I drive past him, which I do every couple of weeks, he’ll stop his car and grin or glare at me.

But at least now I’m able to get on with my life. I’m hugely grateful to Sarah and Refuge. She made me feel strong enough to leave and even helped my family understand what had happened. It is largely thanks to her that I’m still in one piece.”

 

A checklist for spotting the signs of domestic abuse

Is your partner excessively jealous and possessive?

Are they charming one minute and aggressive the next?

Do they stop you from seeing your family and friends?

Are you constantly being criticised and put down in public?

Is your money being controlled by them?

Are you pressured to have sex when you don’t want to?

Do you get told what to wear, who to see, where to go, what to think?

Are you starting to walk on eggshells to avoid making them angry?

Don’t ignore the warning signs of domestic violence: www.refuge.org.uk

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