A Tale of Two Police Forces
I was in a support session when I spoke to the police officer on the phone. I told him what had happened for ten years; what was continuing to happen. He said that as it was an initial call, he could only focus on a few specific details. I gave him everything he wanted.
Afterwards, he said that the allegations were very serious indeed. He said he wanted to investigate my wife for Assault, Controlling and Coercive Behaviour, Child Neglect and Child Abuse; my mother-in-law for Controlling and Coercive Behaviour (aiding and abetting); and my father-in-law for Assault on a Child when he slapped my daughter and he and my wife covered it up. I had no idea the police would go after all three of them.
To be heard, after so long being ignored, was the most liberating experience of my life. It was the moment that I stood up and declared that I would no longer be a victim. My support worker cried; she was so proud of me. My mum cried. I felt like I’d been reborn.
It didn’t last long.
A police officer visited to take an initial statement. I gave her the 200-page document comprising ten years of emails, text messages and diary entries recording what she’d done to me, and spent four hours detailing incidents, dates, times, witnesses. I gave her the text messages where my wife admitted threatening to hit me, threatening to abort my baby, using my children to control me – the ones where she’d said that it hadn’t been her; it had been Mr Hyde.
I was bursting to get it all out, but the officer told me that while she knew we were only scratching the surface, this was just an initial statement to get the ball rolling. I would have plenty of time to make fuller statements later on in an interview suite, where I would be interviewed on camera. She told me to expect things to move very quickly; that with the amount of evidence I had provided, an investigation was likely to proceed even if I withdrew my consent for it; that the case would be passed to the Domestic Abuse Team in CID and that things would move very quickly. She told me I should expect many phone calls over the coming week.
I had mixed feelings about reporting my wife to the police – about charging my wife, the mother of my children, with a crime. But the fact was, I had been a victim all my life. If I walked away, it would follow me all my life and I would never be free of it. The only way to get over this was to turn and confront it, and say that this isn’t right, and I’m not going to put up with it anymore. One of my favourite sayings is, ‘Keep facing the sun, and the shadows will always fall behind you.’ The flipside to that is that if you turn your back on the sun, you will always walk in the shadows. I wasn’t prepared to live the rest of my life under a shadow.
It would also show my kids that I fought for them. It was the right thing to do. You’re not a good person because you do the right thing when it’s easy, you’re a good person because you do the right thing even when it might destroy you. The world needed to know that you couldn’t do this to someone – you couldn’t abuse someone, take away their marriage, their children, their home and their health, and then walk away with everything you wanted.
I wanted to serve as an example to others. I probably had more evidence of Controlling and Coercive Behaviour than anyone before me. Where others had not being able to pursue a prosecution, everyone told me I had more than enough. I would be a beacon of hope for all the downtrodden survivors of domestic abuse.
Because my wife lived half-a-mile into the next county, and that’s where the crimes predominantly took place, the Force that took the statement where I was now living handed it over to the Constabulary who oversaw my wife’s area.
And that’s when everything started to fall apart.
On the first birthday my daughter had spent apart from me, I got a call from the new police officer assigned to the case. He said he’d looked through my statement, and it didn’t look like there was much there. He certainly couldn’t identify any crimes, but he wasn’t really an expert in abuse cases. What did I actually want him to do about it? Did I really want him to investigate?
‘Yes,’ I said, appalled. ‘What she did was wrong; she needs to be held to account.’
‘Well, I honestly don’t think it’ll go anywhere, but like I said, I’m not an expert in this type of thing. Look. I’m going on holiday for a fortnight, but when I get back, I could talk to my supervisor about it.’
‘Do you have the attached document?’
‘Yeah, I haven’t read it yet – it’s really long. What are you actually hoping to get out of this?’
‘Unless I have her prosecuted, I will never be free of her control.’
‘Mmm,’ he murmured. ‘Don’t rely on it. I don’t think you have anywhere near enough evidence for a charge. We could investigate and then in six months, the CPS could just drop it anyway.’
‘I’d still like you to try.’
He sighed. ‘Okay,’ he said. ‘As I said, I’m going on holiday for a fortnight, but I’ll be in touch when I get back.’
It was like he just couldn’t be bothered. I couldn’t believe that one Police Force was so keen on pressing for a prosecution, but the other couldn’t care less. I’d been told that it would be investigated by CID and/or the Domestic Abuse Team; that things would move very quickly; that I’d have to make further statements on camera, and that it would be taken very seriously indeed. Instead, from that very first call, I had a dreadful sense of foreboding.
If 200 pages and 90,000 words of emails, blog posts, diary entries and text messages in which she’d admitted her guilt, weren’t enough evidence for a charge, then what the hell was?
Time dragged on. My children grew ever more distant from me and the custody case was still months away. The only thing I had in my favour was the police investigation. It was a slam-dunk case, and if she was prosecuted for Controlling and Coercive Behaviour, it would prove that I was the responsible parent.
‘What if they claim she’s not responsible for her actions because of her personality disorder?’ asked my support worker Vicki.
‘They’re caught in a bind,’ I said. ‘If they try to claim she’s not responsible for her actions, then she’s not responsible enough to have the children. If she is responsible enough to have the children, then she’s also responsible for her actions. The only way they can win the custody case is by losing the criminal case; and the only way they can win the criminal case is by losing the custody case.’
For the first time in years, I felt like things might go my way.
The trouble was, I hadn’t heard anything from the police. I spent seven weeks chasing up the officer, only to learn he was, in fact, a Neighbourhood Policing Officer, more used to dealing with parking violations and noise complaints than a complex domestic abuse case. He also likely knew my wife’s father, a prominent local landowner in the officer’s local beat. I felt forgotten and ignored. Why on earth hadn’t he spoken to me in seven weeks? Why hadn’t he contacted all the support workers I’d listed as witnesses? Why hadn’t he looked at my medical records? Why was a Neighbourhood Policing Officer dealing with it? Shouldn’t it be passed on to somebody with expertise?
The silence was deafening.
PC Noise Complaint eventually emailed to apologise that I had felt the need to chase him up, which wasn’t an apology at all. It had only been seven weeks, and didn’t he already tell me he’d been on holiday? He was still seeking advice on what sort of evidence might be needed to build a case of Controlling and Coercive Behaviour. If there was deemed enough evidence, he would be sure to pass it to somebody else to investigate it i.e. he wasn’t interested in the slightest.
More weeks passed. I sent him more text messages I found from her on an old phone, and he said they weren’t really evidence, and he didn’t think I had a case.
I let rip at him. I sent him a massive email in which I told him that the officer who took my statement had led me to expect a number of phone calls over the coming week; to be put in touch with Victims Support; to be spoken to by either the Domestic Abuse Team or CID; to have further interviews on camera in an interview suite; for things to move very quickly; and that with the evidence presented, an investigation was likely to follow even if I withdrew my support for a prosecution.
Regarding the supposed lack of evidence, I told him that according to the Crown Prosecution Service’s own legal guidelines on the crime of Controlling and Coercive Behaviour, Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act (2015), the types of evidence by which to build a case included copies of emails (of which I had hundreds written by me to Vicki reporting incidents of my wife’s abusive behaviour; and several written by my wife admitting to and apologising for what she’d done); text messages (of which I had many wherein my wife admitted threatening to hit me and threatening to abort my baby to control me); evidence of abuse over the internet (I had dozens of examples of her using Facebook to put pressure on me); records of interactions with support services (I had reported my wife to my Care Agency, Social Services, Children’s Services, my GP and the Mental Health Nurse); medical records (including the dates I reported the abuse); witness testimony (in which various support workers, friends and family could testify to what my wife did to me and the effect it had on me); diary kept by the victim (of which I had six years of continuous record, including numerous instances of her threatening me with homelessness and to take away my children); and the victim’s account of what happened to the police (in which I had only given an initial statement and was prepared to give so much more).
By any token, I said, there was more than enough evidence to build a case, if he would only do his job. I told him I felt I was being ignored because of my gender – that I was being discriminated against because I was the male victim of a female abuser. Social Services didn’t care; Children’s Services openly admitted they would have had me and the children in a refuge if I was a woman; my GP, on being told I was being abused, advised me to do everything she said and maybe she’d stop abusing me; and the domestic abuse helplines wouldn’t talk to me because I was a man. At a time when domestic abuse was supposed to be a national priority, I could not understand why I wasn’t being taken more seriously.
Two days later, PC Noise Complaint told me he was pleased to announce that after undertaking an evidence review, he was passing the case to CID to be progressed. Thank God, I thought. I felt like I was finally being taken seriously. Finally, I was going to be treated with respect, and afforded the dignity that I deserved.
And then my support worker Vicki dropped a bombshell in my lap. She’d been contacted by PC Noise Complaint. He wanted her to set up a meeting between us in three weeks’ time.
‘Sorry, did you say PC Noise Complaint? As in, Neighbourhood Policing Officer PC Noise Complaint?’
‘No, PC Noise Complaint.’
I felt like I’d been floored by Mike Tyson. He said he’d passed it on to CID, so why was he still the officer in charge of the case? Why was he setting up a meeting with me through Vicki? Why didn’t he have the decency to tell me what was going on himself instead of this Chinese Whispers bullshit?
It was cruel. I’d been abused and humiliated; I had to kowtow to my abuser every time I did a handover with the children; and PC Noise Complaint had treated me to such indignity, like I didn’t even matter, that he could talk to Vicki about me but not talk directly to me.
I lost it. I thought, What’s the point? She’d stolen ten years of my life, and now she was living the life of Larry because nobody cared. I thought of hanging myself; jumping off a bridge. She’d taken everything from me, and the police had taken away my last shred of dignity. They’d treated me as though I was nothing. If they came out in three weeks, it would be three months since their Force had been passed the case – three months before I saw a single officer from their constabulary.
What I couldn’t understand was that if I threw a brick through a window, they’d be out like a shot – I’d be talking to an officer face-to-face within ten minutes. So why was a pane of glass more important than my dignity? Why would they respond to a broken window in a matter of minutes, blue lights and sirens, but after someone abused me for ten years and then stole my children, they’d keep me waiting for three entire months? It made no sense.
If things were the other way round, I thought – if I’d been abusing my wife, I’d been the violent one, I’d cut her hair, I’d thrown drinks over her, I’d used her as a slave, I’d stolen and extorted money out of her, I’d coerced her into letting me break the lockdown, and then when she left, I’d denied her access to the children – oh, and she happened to be a vulnerable adult with a neurological condition who was still recovering from a breakdown – do you think that Social Services would have refused to do anything? That Children’s Services would have sided with me? That the police would wait three months before talking to her?
Let’s call it what it really is: discrimination. Discrimination on the basis of sex. I’m a man. Justice isn’t blind; it wears a dress.
After many fevered calls to the police, PC Noise Complaint finally condescended to ring me and tell me direct that he was dropping the case. They had looked at the evidence and decided there was insufficient to do anything at all. There was simply no case to answer.
‘You haven’t spoken to any of my witnesses. You haven’t looked at my medical records. You haven’t even taken a statement from me. How can you say there’s insufficient evidence when you haven’t even looked at the evidence?’
‘Look, Richard, I’m not going to argue with you. I’m just telling you the outcome. Now, I’m going to visit your wife and tell her that you’ve made an allegation against her.’
‘You’re going to what?’
‘I’m going to tell your wife that you’ve made an allegation of domestic abuse against her, that we’ve investigated, but there’s insufficient evidence to pursue a charge.’
‘Why on earth would you do that?’
‘Wouldn’t you want to know if you’d been investigated?’
‘You’re going to go to the person who abused me and pat her on the back and tell her she got away with it? You’re going to tell the people who control when I can see my children that I reported her and that she’s untouchable? So they can laugh in my face?’
‘I think she has a right to know that a complaint has been made.’
‘Well thanks!’ I snapped down the phone. ‘Thanks for nothing, you’ve been a real help. I’ll probably never see my kids again. What a great job you’ve done.’
‘You can complain if you want,’ he said sourly, ‘but a complaint isn’t an appeal, and the case won’t be reopened.’
And then he rang off, and left me devastated.
How could two police forces, side by side, come to two completely different conclusions about the same crime? How could one force want to prosecute her and the other not care one jot? It couldn’t be right that the only reason she wasn’t being prosecuted was because she lived half-a-mile over an invisible line on a map, could it?
I’m not sure how I survived the next month. I was in so much pain, it felt like my brain was collapsing. I thought I was cracking up, losing my mind. I felt I’d lost everything; had it taken from me. The grief, guilt, shame and humiliation of all the abuse I received hit me like a fist to the face.
I paced from room to room, agitated, so agitated. At night, I kept waking up, digging my fingers into my scalp and scratching back and forth, without conscious control, like I was disturbed. The rational part of my mind was thinking, ‘Dude, what the hell are you doing?’ but still I scratched, as though I couldn’t control myself.
I was tormented, tortured, lost in grief and sorrow, retraumatised by everything I’d gone through with Social Services, Children’s Services, the police. The worst thing was that they all believed me – they believed my wife had abused me – they just didn’t think they should do anything about it.
The doctor gave me sleeping pills, but still I tossed and turned in my bed, thrashing around like a fish flung onto the dock. The only thing that had got me through the previous few months had been the belief that I would have my day in court; that I would be heard. Instead, everyone was doing everything they could to help my wife, the perpetrator, look after the children and overcome her demons, while I was receiving no help, no respect, no support, despite everyone agreeing that I was the victim.
If my wife and her family had taken me ninety-five percent of the way towards destruction, how I’d been treated by the authorities got me the rest of the way there. I’d believed in justice all my life, trusted the criminal justice system, but I was shaken to the core – the innocent suffered and the guilty went unpunished. I’d done everything right, followed all the rules, sacrificed my whole life for my children; my wife did everything wrong, broke every rule, and sacrificed nothing. I would always be the man who abandoned his family during the lockdown. She was rewarded for her behaviour with custody of the children, a nanny, a nice house, and her reputation entirely unblemished.
How was that justice?