Anger as man who abused girlfriend is spared prison by judge who told him there are ‘lots more fish in the sea’

Man waited until girlfriend was asleep and used her thumbprint to unlock her mobile phone and read texts before waking her up in the middle of the night to question her

Maya Oppenheim
Women's Correspondent
Saturday 11 May 2019 13:26 BST
Anger as man who abused girlfriend is spared prison by judge who told him there are ‘lots more fish in the sea’

A man who has been convicted of coercive control has been spared prison after a judge told him to leave his ex-girlfriend alone because there are “lots more fish in the sea”.

Alexander Heavens, 24, subjected Stacey Booth, also 24, to a campaign of physical and emotional abuse during their relationship.

He waited until Ms Booth was asleep and used her thumbprint to unlock her mobile phone and read texts – before waking her up in the middle of the night to question her about who they were from.

Manchester Crown Court heard how on one occasion Heavens, from Failsworth, Greater Manchester, bent Ms Booth’s fingers so far back she thought they would break.

But Heavens walked free from court on Friday after being told by Judge Martin Rudland “everyone is entitled to a second chance”.

Domestic violence charities have fiercely criticised the judge’s comments – arguing that they demonstrate a “serious lack of understanding” about the nature of coercive control.

Ms Booth, from Blackley, Greater Manchester, said she was left feeling like Heavens had “got away with it”.

She now fears the non-custodial sentence could deter other women in controlling relationships from speaking out against their partners.

She said: “The fact he’s been given a second chance is like they’ve let him get away with it. They’ve not made an example of him.

“It’s a second chance – so basically I was a bit of a trial for him? He’s allowed to do that but if he does it to someone else it’ll be dealt with – but it’s not been dealt with on my part.

“This could have a negative effect on other women [in abusive relationships] coming forward. I think no matter what promises you get, those people will never change no matter what happens. Only time can tell.

“He was always quite an angry person from day one really. It did just fuel it a lot more when he was taking cocaine. But at the end of the day, it’s not an excuse. You can’t just go into a courtroom and say ‘I hold my hands up, I was drinking and taking drugs’ – well it’s no excuse.”

Heavens confessed to engaging in controlling and coercive behaviour in an intimate relationship and was handed a 12-month community order. He was also handed a restraining order that prevents him from contacting Ms Booth.

Ms Booth claims she was not even able to attend the hearing because she only discovered it was happening an hour beforehand – after making her own enquiries.

She said: “I only found out an hour before the court was taking place after calling the witness care team on the day. They said they weren’t sure whether it was going ahead, then I got a phone call to say it was taking place within the hour. I would have had a family member going.”

Adina Claire, of Women’s Aid, said: “The judge’s sentencing remarks show a serious lack of understanding about the nature of coercive control. This is not a matter of perpetrators ‘adjusting their lifestyle’.

“We know from our work with survivors that abusers often go on to control and abuse their next partner. Perpetrators of coercive control must be held to full account for their crimes and not told that ‘there are lots more fish in the sea’.

“Coercive and controlling behaviour is at the heart of domestic abuse and has a long-lasting and devastating impact on the survivor.”

She said Women’s Aid successfully campaigned to make this “harmful form of abuse” a criminal offence but argued that more needed to be done to make sure coercive control is taken seriously throughout the criminal justice system.

She said this was why Women’s Aid are calling for “robust and ongoing training” on domestic abuse and coercive control, delivered by specialists such as themselves.

Sandra Horley, chief executive of Refuge, said: “For too long, controlling and coercive behaviour has not been treated with the seriousness that it deserves. It is essential that the public understands that drink and drugs do not cause domestic violence.

“Responsibility for violence and abuse lies solely with the perpetrator who chooses to control and intimidate his victim. The future relationship prospects of an abuser are not the key issue here – survivor safety is.

“Even now, in 2019, around two women a week are killed by their partner or ex-partner in England and Wales. Coercive and controlling behaviour is a serious crime and needs to be treated as such.”

Additional reporting by agencies

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