The charge of ‘coercive and controlling behaviour’ hit the headlines recently after TV presenter Ruth Dodworth’s ex-husband pleaded guilty to the offence.
Coercive and controlling behaviour is a criminal offence. If you are charged on these grounds, your case will go to court. Contact us at Ashmans Solicitors for legal representation. We are available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
What is coercive and controlling behaviour?
Coercive and controlling behaviour became a criminal offence in 2015. It is defined as:
“An act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten a victim.
“Controlling behaviour is a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour.”
Incidents of coercive and controlling behaviour arise between people who are personally connected. Ordinarily, the victim and the defendant are romantically involved, although this is not always the case. One person then starts to exert coercive and controlling behaviour over the other.
The case of Ruth Dodsworth
This is exactly what happened to Ruth Dodsworth, who is an ITV Wales weather presenter. She married her husband, Jonathan Wignall, in 2002. However, it was not until 2010 that his behaviour became controlling. At that point in time, his nightclub business was failing and his alcohol intake had increased.
The judge said that for the next nine years, Mr Wignall has been an “unrepentant, possessive bully”. He called Ms Dodsworth incessantly, with 150 phone calls in one day alone. He would go with her to appointments, check her phone while she slept, open her mail and even stand outside the bathroom while she used it.
Ms Dodsworth eventually went to the police in 2019. After his arrest, Mr Wignall was bailed with conditions not to contact his wife. However, he breached these conditions by placing a tracker on her car. He accessed the tracker via an app on his phone 250 times within 19 days. He also set an alarm to go off every time Ms Dodsworth was on television.
The case went to Cardiff Crown Court, where Mr Wignall pleaded guilty to coercive and controlling behaviour and stalking. In April 2021 he was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. He will serve half of this sentence before being released on licence. A restraining order has also been placed against him.
Prison sentences for coercive and controlling behaviour
Custodial sentences for coercive and controlling behaviour are not unusual. Defendants Joshua Dalgarno and ‘JB’ were given three years imprisonment and one year and eight months’ imprisonment respectively. Female defendants have also been convicted, including Jordan Skeel, who faced six months’ imprisonment for coercive and controlling behaviour, along with further sentences for assault.
The maximum sentence for coercive and controlling behaviour is five years in prison.
When will I be found guilty of coercive and controlling behaviour?
If you are to be found guilty of controlling or coercive behaviour, the prosecution must prove that all of the following took place:
- You repeatedly or continuously engaged in behaviour towards another person; and
- That behaviour was controlling or coercive; and
- You and the other person were personally connected; and
- That behaviour had a serious effect on the other person; and
- You knew or ought to have known that the behaviour would have a serious effect on that other person.
As criminal defence solicitors, it is our duty to show that the prosecution has not proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt. Of central importance will be that your behaviour was not ‘controlling or coercive, as defined under the legislation.
If you are convicted, then there may be mitigating factors that need to be brought to the court’s attention. These could explain your actions, and/or persuade the judge to show leniency during sentencing. Examples of mitigating factors include genuine remorse, mental health issues and co-operation with the police.
If you are being investigated for coercive or controlling behaviour, contact us at Ashmans Solicitors. Our criminal defence lawyers can help you.
Call us on 0333 009 6275 for a free initial enquiry. We are available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.