Surrey Police leads the way with England’s first conviction for coercive behaviour without a victim statement
Steven Saunders, 31, of no fixed abode has been sentenced to 18 months in prison for coercive and controlling behaviour against his partner.
This case is believed to be the first time in England that the crime of coercive and controlling behaviour has led to a prison sentence without the need for a victim statement or involvement from an already vulnerable and terrified victim.
Saunders had manipulated and controlled his partner to the extent of removing her from the safety of supported accommodation where she was living, forcing her to live on the streets. He spent her benefits, held her bank card, and forced her to shoplift. He also sold her mobile phone.
Saunders was finally brought to justice thanks to the intervention of a midwife, and further evidence submitted from other medical professional, social services and the police. They evidenced his behaviour, the disclosures his partner made and the fear she was under. He would not want her to be seen by any professionals alone and displayed aggressive jealousy regarding the couple’s unborn child.
All of this meant that charges could be bought against Saunders without the victim, who felt worn out and fearful of him, needing to give a statement.
DC Seb Valentine, who led the investigation, said:
"Steven Saunders was placing his vulnerable partner and unborn child in great danger. He was aggressive and manipulative and wanted to retain full control over her. Such coercive and controlling behaviour has been a criminal offence since 2015, but securing a conviction on hearsay evidence is unusual, and this is the first example of it for this crime.
"I am pleased to say that the victim has now been relocated and is determined to re-build her life away from Saunders."
District Judge Ashworth, who heard the case at Staines Magistrates court commented on the use of hearsay evidence during the trial:
"The evidence of other people that met both of you is that when she is with you she is dominated, downcast and when she is away from you she springs up and wants to tell everyone what’s going on.
"The hearsay evidence I have admitted are very clear you were controlling and overbearing to here. That evidence has not come from here and I still have to decide what weight to give to them. When assessing that I see it said again and again by the professionals that you control her, push her around and won’t let her see her family. You won’t let her spend time in a refuge and lie to her to get her back onto the streets and under your control."
As well as the 18 month sentence, Saunders also received an additional three months for failing to fulfil a community order from a previous case and an indefinite restraining order.
Police and Crime Commissioner David Munro said:
"This case marks a really significant milestone in the ongoing battle against domestic abuse and is a testament to the sheer hard work and determination of those agencies in Surrey working together to tackle it.
"More importantly, this is a great outcome for the survivor in this case who is now able to rebuild her life away from the clutches of a clearly manipulative and controlling abuser.
"I hope this case sends out a clear message to those who believe they can use control and fear to silence their partners that there is no longer any hiding place for those that perpetrate domestic abuse. It also demonstrates that agencies at the forefront of tackling this crime will use all those powers at their disposal to bring offenders to justice and help survivors reach places of safety."
Michelle, Chief Executive of East Surrey Domestic Abuse Services, said:
"It has been two years since the coercive control law came into force. This marked a big step forward for understanding, preventing, and tackling domestic abuse in our society. Coercive control is a factor in nearly all domestic abuse cases and it is also often an indicator of the level of risk a perpetrator of domestic abuse poses to their partner. A key element of coercive control is a perpetrators desire to limit their partners space for action, remove their liberty and freedoms which means that even reaching out for help can feel too unsafe. As a community and network of professionals we need to be able to support survivors of abuse to realise their strengths and speak out when safe to do so. However more importantly this legislation and this result show that we must hold perpetrators to account for their behaviour even when a survivor may feel they have been silenced by coercive control. We all have a part to play in holding perpetrators of coercive control and abuse to account and support survivors and children to live lives free from abuse."
Fiamma Pather, Chief Executive of Your Sanctuary, said:
"We at yourSanctuary are very pleased that Surrey Police have been so proactive in prosecuting a coercive control case. We often talk to clients who have been controlled and abused for many years and who find the prospect of giving a statement to the police and appearing in court very frightening and daunting. By using the evidence from others who had witnessed the coercive behaviour the perpetrator has been held to account, and others who are using these tactics to control their partner can see that as a community we will not tolerate this kind of criminal behaviour"
Steven Saunders was sentenced on 18 January 2018 to 18 month’s imprisonment for Coercive and Controlling behaviour. He was also sentenced to an additional three months for failing to fulfil a community order, and was issued a lifetime restraining order, preventing further contact with the victim.