A woman convicted of seriously injuring her baby begins her appeal today following the emergence of a ‘horrifying history’ of coercive control and evidence suggesting she had been punched in the face by her partner on the night in question whilst holding the child.
The woman, known as ‘Jenny’ (anonymised for legal reasons) was originally sentenced in 2017 to a ten-year extended prison sentence for forcefully throwing her baby on the ground. Medical evidence cited by the prosecution had apparently contradicted her claim that she dropped the child by accident. The jury convicted her, and she was given a 10 year sentence which was later reduced on appeal to five – she served half in prison.
The woman is being represented by the legal charity APPEAL, formerly the Centre for Criminal Appeals who see the case as a potential landmark challenge on the law about coercive control. According to the group, evidence will include a statement from Jenny’s psychologist describing her alleged abuse as equivalent to ‘torture’ and including being deprived of sleep and food and being unable to leave the house for extended periods of time. New witnesses will attest to a fight between the couple on the night with Jenny shouting ‘You hit me’; as well as medical evidence confirming that she had been diagnosed with ‘post-concussion syndrome’ after being taken to A&E on her arrest. The court will also be presented with a contemporaneous note of a hand injury to the fist that Jenny’s ex-partner is alleged to have punched her with that was not disclosed to her original trial lawyers.
‘I was permanently petrified of my ex-partner,’ said Jenny of her domestic situation prior to her incarceration. ‘A few weeks after I got to prison and was physically apart from him, my mental state gradually relaxed allowing me to acknowledge and process the abuse. Only then could I speak the truth.’
According to APPEAL, Jenny was not questioned outside of the earshot of her abuser. ‘Jenny didn’t feel she could disclose what had really happened, and eventually went along with his version of events,’ the group says.
The police were called to violent incidents at the couple’s home 11 times over two years, including on four occasions between her arrest and trial. ‘Her partner’s controlling behaviour after her arrest included monitoring her movements and driving her to and from the trial,’ APPEAL says. ‘The abuse and coercive control she suffered was so severe, says Jenny, that it prevented her from revealing her ordeal to her legal representatives at trial. Only in prison, after she was diagnosed with PTSD and met other survivors did Jenny finally feel safe and able to disclose the trauma she had been through.’
Her hearing arrives in the wake of intensive scrutiny of how the criminal justice system deals with cases of domestic abuse. A recent review of police responses to domestic abuse during the 2020/2021 year by the UK’s police watchdog, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, found that over half of domestic abuse cases (54.8%) were discontinued due to a lack of support for police action. This was despite the recording of domestic abuse cases rising by 180% from the same period in 2014.
APPEAL point out that delayed disclosure of domestic abuse is ‘sadly common’, esepcially amongst black and minority ethnic women like Jenny. According to a 2017 report, BME women on average suffer domestic abuse for approximately eight years before disclosing abuse compared to a national average of two years. The charity reckons this is the first case to deal with these issues and will set a precedent for others. ‘If Jenny wins, it will change the way the cases of abused and coerced women are understood by the courts and law enforcement’, said APPEAL’s legal director Emily Torr. ‘Jenny deserves justice, and she deserves to finally have her voice heard.’