Rachel Court, a domestic violence survivor and advocate, has taken to Facebook to share a letter from her old boss, revealing the extent to which her partner controlled her life for years.
Six years ago, Rachel– then Rachel Williams – had turned up to work her usual shift at a local hairdressers in Wales. A few hours later, her husband, Darren, burst into the salon, unable to accept the fact that she had left him six weeks earlier.
He fired a double-barrelled shotgun at her at point-blank range, leaving her bleeding on the floor; he later killed himself.
Rachel had been abused by Williams throughout their 18-year relationship – so much so that her previous employers were aware of his violent behaviour towards her.
Taking to her Facebook page, Don’t Look Back, Rachel writes: “If there are any employers out there [reading this, then] please be observant of your fellow staff members.”
Then, in a bid to help them understand how far-reaching the effects of an abusive relationship can be, she added: “This is an email I had from my old employer with regards my case.”
The letter, which was used as evidence during a trial against Rachel’s husband (for a different incident), reads: “I employed Mrs Rachel Court - then known as Haywood - as a Junior Hairstylist at my salon Bonkerz Hair Centre from June 1999 until Easter 2002.
“Although I was always very pleased with Rachel's standard of work, her employment didn't come without problems; her partner, Darren Williams, controlled her working life.
“For example, we all led him to believe that our male trainee was gay. This was because Rachel was not allowed to work with heterosexual males, [and] she was also not allowed to cut the hair of men or lesbians.”
The letter continues: “Darren's demeanour was intimidating and we were all afraid of him ‘kicking off’; he would make surprise visits to the salon and check our appointment book to try to catch her out.
“I remember one particular day when Rachel was the only stylist available to cut a gent’s hair and I had to order all my trainees to circle around her and the client to block any view from the street whilst she cut his hair.
“The fear of her getting caught was tangible and the whole salon was on [tenterhooks].”
Rachel’s former employer finishes by writing: “Rachel was also only allowed her hair to be styled in [Darren’s] preferred style and was not, under any terms, allowed it coloured. One time we broke the tinting rule, [and] the following day Rachel came into work and begged for the colour to be removed. Rachel explained that she had been ordered by Darren to reverse her hair back to its natural colour.
“I have no doubt that Rachel was controlled by Darren and, to be honest, myself and the rest of my staff were all fearful of him.”
As is made clear throughout the letter, Rachel’s husband was so obsessive and controlling that he refused to let her carry out even the most basic parts of her job description. His insecurities caused him to lash out if she spoke to any other man, regardless as to the context, and he used anger and intimidation-tactics to force her to follow his ‘rules’.
Rachel has called upon her followers to read the letter – and make a point of familiarising themselves with the signs that someone is in an abusive relationship.
“If you feel powerless and that there is nothing you can do when you think someone is being abused, then please, please just ask your local police force about Clare's Law [a domestic violence disclosure scheme],” she writes. “It could save a life.
“Just raise your concerns please.”
Welsh Women’s Aid announced that Rachel would be their new ambassador in 2015.
As well as raising awareness of the signs of domestic abuse, Rachel also revealed her intention to champion the organisation’s Children Matter programme, which aims to provide services to young people affected by abuse.
It is an issue that will always be close to the Newport local’s heart, as, just six weeks after her ex-husband shot her, her 16-year-old son Jack committed suicide.
“A programme like this could have saved Jack. If he’d been taught in schools that this wasn’t normal perhaps he would have sought help,” Rachel told Wales Online.
“Perhaps the authorities would have got involved earlier and given me the strength to leave.
“I tried to hide it from them but my sons saw the abuse. Both my sons were in the room one day when Darren strangled me.
“He was remorseful afterwards and would cry but he was manipulating us.”
Clare's Law helps to provide information that could protect someone from being a victim of attack; police are now allowed to disclose information on request about a partner’s history of domestic violence or violent acts.
The initiative is named after 36-year-old Clare Wood, who was murdered in 2009 by her ex-boyfriend, George Appleton.
Appleton, who strangled Ms Wood and set her on fire at her home in Manchester, had a record of violence against women – and her father, Michael Brown (who campaigned for the introduction of Clare’s Law), is convinced that his daughter would still be alive if she had been made aware of Appleton’s past behaviour.
Speaking to the BBC, Brown said: “I can remember standing outside the coroner's office feeling lost. I'd lost a daughter and I thought I'd lost the battle.
“I wish I'd known what I know now because I felt desolate and for the pendulum to swing so far around, that has put a smile back on my face, it's hardly worth believing.
“[Clare’s Law is] there to be used. Get it used, ask! If you are in a domestic violence situation or you think you could be seek advice and get out of there, because the ultimate is 120 women a year have lost their lives, mostly at a young age.”
To learn more about the warning signs of domestic abuse, visit Refuge now.
You can also contact the 24-hour National Domestic Violence Freephone Helpline on 0808 2000 247.