Harriet Atkinson thought that going to the police to say her bodybuilder boyfriend had beaten her up would finally give her the fresh start she needed.
The 22-year-old graduate from Ipswich claims she was beaten black and blue by her childhood sweetheart Lewis Rookyard, 22, a personal trainer and former solider. But instead of getting justice, magistrates threw her case out of court after bungling court officials gave her the wrong time to attend. “I felt as though I was just written off as just another domestic abuse stereotype,” says Harriet.
“The authorities are constantly saying that they take domestic violence seriously and I knew that I had to do the right thing by going to the police. “But it was all for nothing. He beat me black and blue and just walked away.”
Harriet met Lewis in high school and even though he was in the army for five years afterwards, she didn’t expect to end up with anyone else. “We dated when we were both in school and as soon as he was discharged, we got back together again almost straight away,” says Harriet. “Everything was nice at first. He was completely charming and said everything a girl wants to hear. “We talked about the future, about buying our own home and starting a family. But then things started to change. He’d fly off the handle at the slightest thing. Or he would storm off when we were out leaving me in town to walk home alone. When I got back he was slamming doors, banging his fists on the table, screaming and shouting at me. In the morning his mum asked me, ‘He’s never hit you, has he?’ I thought it was such an odd thing to ask. I should’ve known then.”
Harriet was studying for a degree in fashion at Leicester University and drove for five hours each weekend to spend time with Lewis. But when she arrived, Lewis would barely acknowledge her. “He wouldn’t even get out of bed. And when he did, it would only be to go to the gym,” says Harriet “He was obsessed with looking good and being strong. He was very vain. “When he left the army he decided he wanted to be a personal trainer. I helped him set up his own business, but it got to the point where we couldn’t go out for a meal or a day out together without him rushing back to go to the gym. Even our conversations revolved around it – all he would talk about was going to the gym or protein shakes.”
The recent divorce of Harriet’s parents and the pressures of university life were slowly getting on top of her. So when she found a suspicious text on Lewis’s phone, it made her feel ten times worse. Harriet says: “I saw a message he’d written to his best friend saying ‘Sorry I ditched you the other night, but I thought I was going to go home with that girl’. “When I asked him about it he just denied it, making out I was just being jealous.” “All I wanted was a nice Christmas, so I let it go, but I felt lower than ever.
The couple spent Christmas with Harriet’s mum in Scotland before returning to Ipswich for New Year’s. Harriet had mentioned to Lewis that she was feeling down and might seek counselling, but believes he largely ignored her pleas. They spent New Year’s Eve apart. Harriet chose not to drink and offered to drive her friends around instead, while Lewis went clubbing with his mates. “I text him throughout the night,” Harriet says. “I even tried to call him at midnight to wish him ‘happy new year’ but got no response from him. “He’d given me a key to his parent’s house and I went back there to wait for him. “An hour later, I heard him stumble through the door, crashing about. When he came into the bedroom he was texting someone. I couldn’t believe it. I’d been texting him all night and he’d not bothered to reply once, and here he was grinning and texting someone. Who are you texting, when you didn’t text or call me all night’ I said.
“He said he’d text me but that the message must have failed because it was New Year’s. Harriet says she demanded to see the texts he’d sent, but when he quickly flashed her his phone, a message popped up saying, ‘Grrr, baby. I want some more’. “It was obviously another girl,” says Harriet. “I started crying, saying, ‘Oh my god, what have you done?’ But I didn’t care what his answer was. I just grabbed my bags and started packing my suitcase. That’s when he flipped.”
Harriet alleges that as soon as she started getting ready to walk out the door, Lewis attacked her. She says that, after pinning her to the bed, he started hitting her in the head with his phone. “He had this huge HTC smartphone and he was smashing it into my face,” she says. “He was sitting on top of me with his knees on my arms – I was trapped. He kept saying I was f***ing mental and f***ing tapped as he hit me. Then he started bashing my head against the radiator before sinking his teeth into my left arm, drawing blood. I was absolutely terrified. He had me pinned down with his hands around my neck strangling me. I thought to myself, ‘This is the end’ as he was literally squeezing the life out of me. But something in me wouldn’t give up and I was able to scream and alert his parents who were sleeping in the next room.”
“His father knocked on the door and Lewis leapt off me as the door opened. Finally, I thought, he has to stop now. I sat on the bed crying as Lewis told his dad that I had attacked him. He told us to keep the noise down and then closed the door. I couldn’t believe it and then Lewis pounced back on me and began beating me all over again.”
Harriet says she was lucky enough to escape. She ran out of his parent’s home and drove to her friend’s house. In the morning she rang the police. After weeks of giving statements, Harriet was finally given a date to attend court in the April. “I felt vindicated that someone believed me. The CPS said the attack was very serious,” she says. “They coached me through the whole process of giving evidence; I was in talks with Witness care and they’d even given me a tour of the court so I’d feel comfortable on the day. But Lewis’s solicitors had asked for more time and the case was adjourned until September.
“The thought of five more months was completely soul destroying. I had to keep going over it in my mind to keep it fresh so I’d be able to recall it all in court. I was in my final year at university – I had other things I needed to focus on. Plus, I’d just lost the person I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with. As my life collapsed around me, I was held together by regular visits to the university counselling service. It was my lifeline.”
On the morning of the hearing, Harriet had planned to relax before having lunch with her mum and sister. But at 10.10am she had a call saying she was supposed to have been in court 10 minutes ago. “I was flabbergasted. They had told me 2.15pm. They had told the other witnesses, my friend and the police. They had told us all it was 2.15pm,” says Harriet. “I said: ‘What the hell am I supposed to do? I’m sitting here in my pyjamas and I’m supposed to be in court now? “They said they would send a police car to pick me up, but by that point I was a complete mess. I had no time to prepare myself, have a shower, get properly dressed. I was shaking all over the place.”
“When we arrived my solicitor came to meet me with a man from Witness Care. “He said: ‘I’ve got some bad news.’ “I broke down there and then because I knew exactly what he was going to say. “The magistrates had dismissed the case despite my solicitor’s application for an extension. They knew I was on my way, but they threw it out anyway.”
Over 6,000 cases of domestic violence incidents fail each year because the victim either fails to attend court or retracts their evidence. This is one in three of all failed cases.
“It was the worst day of my life,” says Harriet. “It was the worst thing I’ve ever gone through. I felt as though I was just written off as just another domestic abuse stereotype. The CPS had made a mistake, and I could forgive them. But the magistrates were just being malicious. It felt like I had been kicked in the teeth. I had to go home and read all these horrible and offensive things people were saying about me. Lewis was on Facebook saying ‘justice has been served. I’m innocent.’ His friends were commenting on his status saying things like, ‘Well done, mate, she’s such a liar, she makes me feel sick.’”
Harriet made a number of appeals to the court including a personal letter in which she pleaded with the magistrates to have her voice heard. While the CPS has appealed to the High Court for a judicial review, the magistrate’s response has been lukewarm at best. Deputy Justice Clerk David Carson, the legal advisor in the case insisted the court was not at fault for her being given the wrong time to attend, saying: ‘The court’s procedures did not fall down.’ He stated that the case had now ‘concluded’ due to the dismissal of the charge, and added: ‘I appreciate this is not the reply you have been looking for.’
“It’s not acceptable,” says Harriet. “Lewis should have stood trial so that the magistrates could have decided whether he was guilty or not after hearing all the evidence.”
Since the attack, Harriet has moved to London where she is currently working in fashion. “There have been so many times over the past eleven months when I could have cracked. I could have let it ruin my degree, I could have dropped out altogether. I love my job, and my family and friends have been so supportive. Before I had a tendency to take things for granted, but if I hadn’t survived that night I wouldn’t have the life I have now, which is wonderful. It made me realise so much. I still would have been in that relationship – an abusive relationship and I would have been stuck there. I would advise people to get out at the slightest sign of abuse, whether it’s physical or emotional.”
If you have a story to tell that could help people in a similar situation, please let us know. SWNS has published many stories on behalf of victims of domestic abuse. Not only will your story be handled sensitively, but you can really make a difference by reaching out to others who may not have the courage to go to the police or leave their situation. Please contact us by using the form on the right hand side of this page.
In most cases we’d need to use your real name, but sometimes we are able to publish anonymously if there has been a court conviction. Read more about how to sell an anonymous story here.