Portsmouth victim of abusive partner speaks out as charities warn domestic violence has 'never been so prevalent'

A WOMAN assaulted and spat at by her partner has urged domestic violence victims to speak out and said: ‘You don’t have to accept it.’

Wednesday, 26th May 2021, 4:55 am
Updated Wednesday, 26th May 2021, 8:06 am
Gemma Foster s former partner has been convicted of assault Pictured: Gemma Foster at her home in Stamshaw on 14 April 2021 inset: picture of former partner, Henry Willis Picture: Habibur Rahman

The call from victim Gemma Foster comes as experts say domestic abuse has never before ‘been so prevalent in our lifetime’.

Both Havant-based Stop Domestic Abuse and Portsmouth’s Aurora New Dawn have seen more referrals and calls to helplines – with a huge increase in women in refuges.

Hampshire police figures show 6,327 domestic abuse crimes and incidents between March last year and April this year, an increase of 6.55 per cent on the previous 12 months.

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Gemma Foster at her home in Stamshaw. Picture: Habibur Rahman

Brave Gemma, 33, has spoken out after her ex-partner Henry Willis was convicted and sentenced for assaulting her just before the second lockdown last year.

Mum-of-two Gemma told The News she was at a low ebb when she started a relationship with scrap metal collector Willis.

They had first met when Willis had come to her home to collect scrap.

Red flags soon started flying – and their relationship came to an end when he assaulted her three times over two days in October.

Henry Willis, 37, of Moorland Road, Fratton, outside Portsmouth Magistrates' Court

Gemma is telling her story after Willis, 37, faced justice at Portsmouth Magistrates’ Court on Monday.

Just three months into their relationship, by October 25 last year he had become jealous and controlling, she said, and flew into a rage one morning about her having seen a friend in the evening.

‘I could tell there was something wrong with him and that’s when he just started screaming and shouting,’ she said.

‘I got up and went downstairs. I didn’t really argue back. One, he scared me. Two, I just wanted him to go.’

Gemma Foster's former partner Henry Willis has been convicted of assault. Picture: Habibur Rahman

Grabbed by the throat and spat at

In the kitchen at her Portsmouth home Willis grabbed her by the throat before letting go and starting to leave the house.

Stamshaw mum Gemma went to shut and lock the door behind him but he pushed the door back ‘trapping her finger against the wall’ in a ‘reckless’ assault before spitting in her face and leaving, the court heard.

But he was back at 10am the next day – the anniversary of Gemma’s step-mother’s death – in his van ‘as if nothing had happened’.

Gemma said she went with him in the van to avoid any clash being witnessed by her son.

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Prosecutor Elizabeth Miller told how Willis ‘became agitated, screaming and shouting at her and foaming at the mouth whilst driving’.

‘Whilst he was driving along Gamble Road (in Buckland) Mr Willis has back-hand slapped her to the face.

‘He then stopped the van. He shouted at her that he would “burn her alive”.’

Gemma then got out of the van, went home and packed up his bags but he came back and ‘grabbed her by the throat’ before leaving again.

Gemma called her family who arrived and helped back his personal items and left them in bags outside her home.

It was only after family urged her to call the police that Gemma felt she had the support needed to do so.

She told The News: ‘I knew I had to but I just wanted him to stop.

‘(At first) I didn’t want everyone to know what had happened because I've always been a strong person.

‘I didn’t realise until the end how much he’d changed me. My friend said “you need to remember who you are” - I didn’t realise it had changed me until afterwards.’

On publicly speaking out, Gemma said: ‘It might help someone else to think that in the future you can sort it out regardless of how long you’ve been with them, and that you don’t have to accept it.’

‘It has been lonely’

She is urging others to come forward but added: ‘It has been lonely, I haven’t really got any family, I don’t get on with my mum and my dad is overseas so it’s not been great.

‘My depression and anxiety has been horrendous.’

In court Willis was handed an 18-month community order by magistrates who said his crimes were ‘serious’.

Willis, of Moorland Road, Fratton, must undergo a six-month course for his alcohol use, do 30 days’ rehabilitation activities and pay £650 costs and £95 surcharge.

Those costs are heaped on top of his current more than £2,200 court bill from previous traffic and drug offences.

Magistrates ordered him to abide by a 8pm-6am curfew with tag. A 12-month restraining order bans him from contacting Gemma or going to her street.

‘I just wanted it over with,’ Gemma said. ‘The damage has already been done.’

Gemma spent 90 minutes answering questions in court at the trial in April where Willis was convicted of three battery offences. He denied them.

‘It’s been a long process,’ she said. ‘(The trial) was awful, I was off for a long time.

‘But it means that men can’t go around doing this and getting away with.’

Gemma has since had alarms put on her doors and windows. Willis was cleared of a harassment charge.

Huge increase in domestic abuse in pandemic

CHARITIES in the area have told of a huge rise in contact and referrals.

Referrals to Stop Domestic Abuse were 42.5 per cent higher in April this year compared to February last year in pre-lockdown times.

This April has seen 91.5 per cent more adults being supported by the charity on a one-to-one basis at any one time compared to February.

And in the year since the first lockdown there has been a 40 per cent increase in referrals to refuges.

Claire Lambon, from Stop Domestic Abuse, said: ‘Never has domestic abuse been so prevalent in our lifetime.

‘Whilst lockdown itself does not cause domestic abuse, the measures aggravate pre-existing behaviours in many abusive partners.

‘Abusers use the pandemic as a tool for abuse to increase fear and anxiety.’

Portsmouth-based Aurora New Dawn has seen a 63 per cent increase on its crisis response service helpline since the pandemic started.

Stop Domestic Abuse’s refuges and services remain open.

For the refuge service call 033 0016 5112.

For advice, call 0330 016 5112 or if you are in Portsmouth call (023) 9206 5494.

Call Aurora New Dawn’s helpline on (023) 9421 6816.

Police praise ‘bravery’ of victim

POLICE have praised the courage Gemma Foster showed in coming forward.

Police Staff Investigator Sam Bird, who investigated Gemma’s case, said: ‘We know it’s never easy for victims of domestic abuse to come forward and we understand the level of bravery that the victim in this case has shown to help us secure this result.

‘Domestic abuse is often a hidden crime with incidents taking place behind closed doors without any witnesses.

‘It takes a lot of courage to report these incidents to us, and we want anyone who is suffering from this type of abuse to find the confidence to come forward and speak to us.

‘Tackling offenders of domestic abuse is a priority for Hampshire Constabulary. Together with our partners and local domestic abuse charities, we focus on support for victims and provide help to those leaving abusive relationships.

“Anyone who is facing abuse or harm should call 999. If you’re not in a position to speak press 55 and our controllers will know what to do. We are there for you – please call us if you need us in an emergency.”

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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