This is a programme about domestic violence. Violence against women. It follows Thames Valley’s domestic abuse unit, over a twelve month period, as its police officers go about the business of support Jemma, Helen and Sabrina and gaining a conviction against their attackers. The evidence seems straightforward. Helen’s dad, Russell, puts it this way, ‘I feel gutted. You never know what happens behind closed doors’.
Actually, we do. We know that just over forty percent of the men responsible for violence will be prosecuted. And that figure is a gross exaggeration –of reported cases. We know that funding for supporting the victims of domestic violence is being eroded. We know that organisations such as Women’s Aid has a shrinking budget and more victims of domestic abuse they can cope with. And we know that there will be a phone number at the end of the programme that you can phone if you’re a victim of domestic abuse – good luck with that.
We, the viewers, follow the cameras as the police respond to a case of domestic abuse. The telephone call that Sabrina made asking for help is flashed up on screen. She claims to have been assaulted by her boyfriend. Over a six hour period he beat her and she claims tried to kill her. The evidence is there for the viewer to see. Her face is puffy, eyes closed and bloodshot, tone of skin purple, which extends to her arms and legs, with a punctured lung and broken ribs. She’s a horror story with arms and legs. And if her partner of five years Paul Mason has been wearing shoes at the time of the assault she might not have been alive for him to be arrested and prosecuted.
We witness Paul’s arrest and see excerpts of the police interview. He denied the charges. Sabrina he explained had gone to see her dealer. She owed him money. The drug dealer had worked her over. A variation of the bad man done it and ran away. Open and shut case. Only it’s not.
Another common theme is the victims of domestic abuse retract their statement and without them standing up in court as a witness there is no prosecution of those guilty of abuse. In their five year relationship Sabrina had form, she’d did that before. But this time she was determined. She hated him.
Let’s cut to the chase. Paul Mason is charged with Assault and Bodily Harm (ABH) and not Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH). GBH carries double the custodial sentence tariff to ABH. He appears in the Crown Court and eventually agrees to plead guilty. This allows more of his sentence to be commuted. Instead of a possible eight years he’s sent down for two years and as he’s already served part of that sentence will be out in around ten months. That’s a good deal for Paul Mason. Thank God he almost murdered someone and didn’t do something really criminal like steal a roll of cash then he’d really have face serious time.
The sting in the tale isn’t unexpected. Because Mr Mason has pleaded guilty Sabrina does not have to appear as a witness or even attend the trial. But the camera follows her on the train and waits outside the Crown Court until she appears to hear the verdict.
‘I still love him,’ Sabrina says.
‘I’ll be here for him when he comes out.’
‘We can start again.’
Jemma is the most straight forward of the three victims. Her attacker Dwaine was an ex-boyfriend that broke into her house and seriously assaulted her. He’d followed the usual pattern of threatening her by phone and social media. Jemma felt she had to go through with the trial because Dwaine would do this to someone else. Of course he already had. She wasn’t his first victim. Result. Seven years. He’ll be out in three.
Helen is a bit of mishmash of Sabrina and Jemma. Her partner of ten years Lawrence had lived with her, but became increasingly jealous and controlling. Whilst on holiday on Orkney, with her young son, he had assaulted her and was later fined £1700. Since they split up he had been sending threating messages and phone calls. They are played for the viewer and indeed they are threatening and the conclusion any right-minded person would reach is, he’s a nutter to be avoided. He also sees the law as being incapable of stopping him. A three month non-molestation order which he breaches with impunity is followed by, you’ve guessed it. The renewal of a three month non-molestation order. And when he breaches that and swans off to America and comes back again, spends two days in the cells. Well, that’s what I call scary.
The sting in the tale here is, much like Sabrina’s. But Helen is more cute. She denies having any contact with Lawrence. But when the viewer is shown an excerpt of an interview in which Lawrence claims to have met Helen and their son and went for lunch with them it seems like another lie. But it checks out. Video footage of Helen and her son meeting Lawrence is shown. And when the police officer reminds Helen that she did meet Lawrence she’s got an excuse – it was her son’s birthday and Lawrence wanted to give him a present. Life’s not always black and white. I guess we’ll read another tabloid headline of some poor woman murdered by her boyfriend and there’ll be calls for more to be done, while the money needed to do anything quietly puts its jacket on and slips out the back door, and says it wasn’t me guv. Prove it.