‘My husband picked me up by the neck while I was 7 months pregnant and only let me go when he said my lips went blue’
Rachel Williams was 21 years old and a single mum to her two-year-old son Josh when she said she met a “very charming” and “funny” man named Darren in March 1993, with whom she went on to get married and have a baby.
Seven months into her pregnancy, Rachel, 49, recalled how “he picked me up by the neck, only letting me go when he said my lips went blue.”
The 49-year-old now views this incident as the start of her husband’s 18-year “reign of terror and abuse”, which culminated in his shooting Rachel in her workplace and their 16-year-old son Jack taking his life.
READ MORE:London crime: Over 1,500 people arrested in Met police crackdown on domestic abuse and violence against women
Despite his always saying to her that “there was only one way out for me and that was in a wooden box”, Rachel said Darren’s last assault was on 9 July 2011 when “he strangled me and slit his wrists in front of his 16 year old son”. Then she claimed that he was arrested and given bail with restrictions, which he broke.
Rachel described the life changing incident that occurred at 2.20pm on 19 August when Darren came into the hair salon where she worked with “a sawed-off shotgun”: “He hit me on the head with it and I tried to wrestle it off him. I remember being on the floor and a 92 year old who had been having her hair done was shaking me and telling me to get out, but I was so weak at that point.
“Darren stood over me and I was in the foetal position. He shot me in the leg and the next shot scraped my ear. I somehow mustered up superhuman strength and held onto the gun and he couldn’t get it off me, but he was kicking me and raining me with blows.”
Rachel had to spend five and a half weeks recovering in hospital. She said she fought against an initial suggestion of her leg being amputated. Meanwhile, she said that Darren was “found hanging in the local woods” on the night of the shooting. She added that her 16 year old son Jack also “took his own life” on 26 September – three days after she was released from hospital.
But, at the time of that first strangulation, she said her husband was so “remorseful, on his knees crying and apologising”.
This is classic behaviour of a domestic abuser and is part of what the psychologist Lenore Walker called the cycle of violence – tensions build to abuse, which is followed by a period of reconciliation often involving loving gestures from the perpetrator.
Rachel explained: “A lot of perpetrators will manipulate their ex’s into taking them back this time of year.
“They will use the children, saying, ‘Daddy should be home with them for Christmas’, and if there are no children, then they will say things like, ‘We should be together for Christmas’ and ‘I don’t want to spend it on my own’ and ‘Show some compassion’.”
Increased cases of domestic abuse are often reported during the Christmas period, due to factors like financial pressures, higher alcohol consumption and being cooped up together, according to Domestic Violence Assessment Consultancy and Training .
The pandemic has only worsened matters, with Christmas last year seeing the number of domestic violence incidents nearly double nationally, from 200,000 reports in 2019 to 369,000 in 2020.
As it is Christmas time and coronavirus restrictions are descending once again, the Met’s DI Kelly Allen offered advice for all those who are, have or might experience domestic abuse.
She urged anyone who is in danger to immediately call 999. Otherwise, those who have found a safe place can ring 101 for support, while people with access to a computer can report incidents online .
Beyond reaching out to the police, the DI said that charities like Women’s Aid and ManKind Initiative offer support, as well as Refuge’s free 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline (0808 2000 247) – with more information available on the Met’s website .
Allen said: “We’re about raising awareness as otherwise people are suffering in silence. Awareness leads to greater reporting, which leads to greater offences being recorded – that is a positive.”
Officers across London recently engaged in its targeted 16 Days of Action, when they increased the work they do to protect victims of domestic abuse and violence. Overall, 1,185 males and 250 females were arrested, with 70 not categorised. So far, 560 of those have been charged, while 165 have been issued a caution.
Rachel still urged the police to do more, saying: “Police need to step up their game when it comes to stalking, you only need two or more unwanted calls, texts, emails for it to be classed as stalking and it isn’t taken seriously enough.”
She added: “I hope that with all the deaths this year from male violence that the police (ALL police) will see domestic abuse, and coercion as a priority.”
Following the kidnap, rape and muder of Sarah Everard in March 2021 by Met Police officer Wayne Couzens, women’s groups have described an erosion of trust in the police, especially when women are reporting sexual or domestic abuse.
To this, Allen said: “I still believe that the vast majority of police officers are dedicated individuals. We are working to rebuild trust and confidence. Everyday we’re working within communities and listening to concerns so that we can address them.”
The Met added that it is introducing 500 officers who will be joining 19 Town Centre Teams across London to address violence, including the forms that affect women and girls disproportionately.
Rachel now campaigns tirelessly in her efforts to end domestic violence and abuse, partly via Stand Up to Domestic Abuse .
The language that Rachel used in describing her experiences were not exaggerations. Whether that is her need for “military” and “strategic” planning in order to get out of the abusive relationship unharmed, or her view that “my perpetrator was a tyrant”, she said: “Living in that house was like living with a terrorist. They’re not just perpetrators, they’re domestic terrorists.”
Allen said the Met’s primary message is, “Please come forward as we can help.” She added: “Even though the pandemic is ongoing, we want offenders to face the criminal justice system. We are still here.”
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