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BLOG: Harassment and stalking – husband jailed for controlling behaviour 

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It has been reported this week that the ex-husband of ITV Wales presenter, Ruth Dodsworth has been jailed after a nine-year campaign of harassment and stalking during their marriage.

The Court heard how, after eight years of marriage, Mr Wignall’s controlling behaviour began in 2010 following a move to Cowbridge and a shift in Ms Dodsworth becoming the main breadwinner.

Mr Wignall refused to allow Ms Dodsworth to attend filing locations alone, would turn up at the studio unannounced and force her to spend her lunch hour with him in the car park. He would incessantly call his wife, watch her open her mail, attend doctor appointments with her and check her phone by using her fingerprint whilst she slept. In addition to his controlling and coercive behaviour, Mr Wignall was also physically abusive to Ms Dodsworth in October 2016.

At one point, Ms Dodsworth did not return home right away after a night shift, and her husband called her 155 times and threatened to kill himself. When arrested for harassment, he told police “Harassment? But she’s my wife.”

It was later discovered that Mr Wignall had put a tracker on Ms Dodsworth’s car linked to his phone and laptop and set an alarm for whenever she was on television.

Following the law change which specifically made controlling and coercive behaviour an offence the number of reports has increased year on year.

Controlling or coercive behaviour is defined as a pattern of behaviour “used to harm, punish or frighten the victim and/or designed to make a person subordinate.” *

It usually includes isolating the victim from friends and family, monitoring their phone/laptop/social media, being verbally abusive to affect the victim’s self-esteem and making threats (to harm themselves or the victim).

In many cases, the behaviour is very subtle at first and it is only with hindsight or when the behaviour is noticed by others that the victim realises what is happening. These behaviours are designed to make the victim feel low and to rely solely on the perpetrator which in turn increases the control. Many people do not feel like they can report this behaviour especially if they have been in the relationship for a number of years and/or are married as they feel they should have spotted the signs sooner or that there is little that can be done about it.

Thankfully this case highlights the Court’s approach to coercive and controlling behaviour as there is much more insight into the effect of this on the victim’s mental health and general wellbeing. Both the criminal and family courts take this abuse very seriously and will ensure that the victim is protected from experiencing further abuse from the perpetrator.

If the above behaviours sound familiar and you are worried that you are currently in a relationship such as this, please do not hesitate to contact us to speak with one of our domestic abuse specialists for further information about what action can be taken to protect you through the family courts.

Coercive control: Five red flags to look out for:-

  1. Isolation from friends and family. This may manifest as making negative comments about your family/friends, trying to guilt you into spending time with that person over your friends/family or insisting on being present at every gathering.
  2. Monitoring You. This may be through checking your phone or social media, requesting your passwords and/or preventing you from having your own phone or going out without them. It can also include constant communication asking where you are and what you are doing.
  3. Degrading You. This may be through making negative comments about the way you look, do certain activities or what you do. It will usually include making you feel like you are worthless through constant criticism and telling you that you would be nothing without them/will not be able to find anyone else.
  4. Controlling Regular Activities. This is likely to include how you dress, what you eat, where you go and whom you spend time with.
  5. This is usually where the other person tries to convince you that their actions were your fault or deny certain things have happened that you know have. It causes confusion and self doubt about your own behaviour.

If the above behaviours sound familiar and you are worried that you are currently in a relationship such as this, please do not hesitate to contact us to speak with one of our domestic abuse specialists for further information about what action can be taken to protect you through the family courts.

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*(Re L Relocation: Second Appeal) [2017] EWCA Civ 2121 (paragraph 61).

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