Victims’ commissioner to meet woman who went into hiding after ex freed | Society
The victims’ commissioner for England and Wales is to call for increased support for domestic abuse victims after a woman went into hiding when her violent ex-partner was released from prison early.
Dame Vera Baird will meet Abigail Blake on Monday to discuss her case and ways to improve experiences for other victims.
Blake sustained a broken back and neck and was left permanently disabled after Sebastian Swamy attacked her at their home in July 2017. He removed her mobile phone so she could not call 999, and she was rescued by neighbours as she lay unconscious outside the property with a severed spinal cord, five broken ribs and a punctured lung.
Six months after he was sentenced to three years and four months in prison, Swamy was granted early release. Blake, 42, a mother of two, said her case raised serious concerns about the way the justice system supports domestic violence victims.
Baird, the victims’ commissioner, has said victims need more support to feel safe.
“We all have a duty to ensure they feel safe and supported when they make the often painful decision to report the crimes being committed against them,” Baird said. “This means having appropriate public protection arrangements to keep them safe and give them peace of mind. And it is important the criminal justice system recognises the suffering of victims and their children by handing down appropriate sentences for convicted perpetrators.”
Swamy, a telecoms executive, was initially charged with causing grievous bodily harm with intent but admitted a lesser charge of grievous bodily harm (GBH), saying he had been drinking heavily on the night of the attack.
Blake, from Knutsford in Cheshire, only met CPS lawyers on the day Swamy was sentenced in January this year. She received no legal advice and was urged by the police to accept his plea bargain to avoid the trauma of a trial. She believed Swamy would spend a minimum of 20 months of a three-year sentence in prison.
However, the time Swamy had spent on bail wearing an electronic tag was taken into account as part of his custodial sentence and he was granted early release.
Swamy was given a travel warrant and was allowed to make his way from Wrexham prison to his family home in Berkshire without a police escort, prompting Blake to go into hiding for 24 hours with her infant son.
Swamy is now once again wearing a tag and is under a home detention curfew. He was also handed an indefinite restraining order and any breach of this would result in a recall to prison.
Before his release, Blake was not consulted about the licensing arrangement, as is usual practice.
She said: “He left me for dead and now he is out. This is a daily hell, and will be for years. Forever looking over my back, laying in bed paralysed hearing sounds. Scared to death for the children and I. This is not living, this is existing, all while for Sebastian it’s the start of a new life having had zero punishment [as a result of] his abysmal sentencing.
“I would like to know who is responsible for not providing me with the correct information regarding [the sentence]. Why wasn’t I consequently given the option to take it to trial? I had endured more than a lifetime’s trauma, no trial could have made it worse. I wanted to at least the opportunity to fight for what he deserved. However, due to the inadequate information I received, I wasn’t even able to do that.”
Helen Newlove, a former victims’ commissioner, said the case had highlighted flaws in the justice system.
“Time and time again, after speaking to many victims and survivors of this horrendous [domestic] abuse, the one thing that they constantly told me was that no one communicated with them,” said Newlove, the patron of Resolve, a national antisocial behaviour and community safety organisation.
“As we see in this case, did the CPS really expect Abigail to fully understand the implications around the sentence? And knowing that the victim has no legal rights, yet again the victim’s voice has been silenced.”