A ONCE-HAPPY school relationship between Harley Smith and Chelsea Bush turned dark when he began to control Chelsea’s life and cut her off from her family, turning her from a ‘happy girl’ to a vulnerable young woman who blamed herself for the situation.
And now Smith is one of the first people in Hampshire to be prosecuted for coercive control. He was found guilty after a trial and has been given a suspended jail sentence.
After Smith’s prosecution, Chelsea is ready to speak out about her experience and send a message to young people that controlling relationships are not acceptable.
The two met at Portchester Community School when Chelsea was 19.
Chelsea, who is now 22, said: ‘I was with Harley for two years and about three months into the relationship that’s when he started to change and that’s when I realised he started getting violent towards me.
‘He started abusing me. He cut me off from all my family and he would not let me have any contact with anyone at all.
‘He took my phone’s sim card out and snapped it in front of me so that I couldn’t do anything. I had so many chances to walk out and I couldn’t. If I said no to him he would get in a strop and he would punch things.’
The relationship carried on in this way for nearly two years until Chelsea’s two grandmothers visited with police following Harley being arrested for assault and coercive control.
Introduced in 2015, the law regarding coercive control concerns intimate or family relationships where controlling behaviour by the perpetrator is used ‘repeatedly or continuously’ that has a ‘substantial adverse effect on the victim’s day-to-day activities.’
The offence carries up to a maximum of five years imprisonment, a fine or both.
Smith, of Greater Horseshoe Way, Knowle, appeared at Portsmouth Magistrates’ Court, where he denied assault and coercive control.
Following a three-day trial this year, Smith was sentenced to a 12-week prison sentence suspended for 12 months, 20 rehabilitation activity requirement days and a two-year restraining order which allows no direct or indirect communication with Chelsea.
As one of the first cases of its kind in Portsmouth finished, Darren Bush, Chelsea’s father, said: ‘I am not very happy with the outcome.
‘During the trial he was saying the right things and they tried to get him off on technical terms.
‘Like a harassment case there are guidelines with what they can give but with this they kept saying “we need to get it right, we need to get it right”.’
He added: ‘To start with we felt sorry for Harley and we brought him into the family and it was only a couple of weeks before we realised the person he was and how he treated her and how withdrawn and upset she was every time we saw her.
‘It was out of character for Chelsea to be acting like she was and he changed her, totally.
‘It came to a head when Chelsea’s nan met up with her and saw Chelsea had a black eye. It turned out Harley had told Chelsea to hide her face and cover up, and that was when the alarm bells were set ringing.
‘We don’t believe this (sentence) is good enough for him to realise that he can’t do this again.’
Chelsea had three jobs before she met Harley – including a catering position at Fratton Park and as a cleaning operative at HMS Nelson.
She said: ‘When I was working at HMS Nelson he met me outside of work and he was forcing me to quit but I didn’t say no to him because I was worried what he would do to me when we got back home because he is capable of anything.
‘He made me quit my job and beg with him on the streets.
‘My brother saw me once and it was so embarrassing.
‘If I said no he would take it out on me. For me to think he was a nice person.. I obviously thought wrong.’
Mr Bush added: ‘Chelsea was a premature baby and has always been vulnerable and he latched on to her vulnerability.
‘When she came to see us when Harley was not around she would just break down in tears.
‘It was horrific to watch your daughter go through the time that she went through.’
After her horrific ordeal, Chelsea signed up to a 12-week course from the Prince’s Trust in partnership with Hampshire Fire and Rescue.
She said: ‘It’s a programme where they develop your confidence and self-esteem. My confidence has gone from down to the ground to up high.’
Mr Bush added: ‘It was brilliant there should be more charities like them.’
Chelsea is now in a new relationship and is looking fondly towards the future after her new partner proposed to her a few months ago.
She said: ‘I feel much happier now I am not in that relationship any more because I have realised that I should have seen when it was going on but I just didn’t think much of it at the time.
‘I have got a new partner and I can see the difference between the two people, how Harley treated me and how my new partner treats me.’
‘I would like to put out a message to anyone who has been in my situation, don’t hide it from your friends and family and actually try and speak out and tell them what you’ve been through.’