Man guilty of causing ex 'severe psychological harm' avoids jail
- Credit: Archant
A man guilty of coercively controlling his ex-girlfriend managed to escape a jail sentence after his new partner, heavily pregnant with his IVF twins, pleaded with the judge to spare him.
Joe Jno-Baptiste, 37, of Catkin Close, Norwich, appeared at Norwich Crown Court on Monday, November 22, for sentencing after pleading guilty to one count of coercive control at an earlier hearing.
The court heard the pair began a "tempestuous" relationship in late February 2018.
Prosecutor Marc Brown said the victim had suffered "severe psychological harm" and physical injuries as a result of Jno-Baptiste's behaviour — and three incidents in particular.
The first was in July 2018, when an argument about infidelity in a hotel room saw the victim dragged from her bed in the night and slammed against the bathroom wall.
Then, on New Years Eve, Jno-Baptiste smashed the victim's head against his car dashboard, wrestling her phone from her hand when she ran away and tried to call the police.
Seven months later, long after they'd separated in January 2019, Jno-Baptiste then spotted the victim on a lunch break in Chantry Place.
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He walked her outside by tightly grabbing her waist and then kissed her on the lips while accusing her of seeing someone else.
But the court also heard Jno-Baptiste frequently sent her messages asking where she was and would walk past her workplace and look in the window, knowing by doing so "he would get in her head".
Oliver Haswell, defending Jno-Baptiste, said the 37-year-old knew he had done wrong but that the death of his six-month-old son born 24 weeks premature had ruined his mental health and turned him to alcohol as a coping mechanism.
"There has been a sea change in Mr Jno-Baptiste's behaviour", he said. "He has a new partner. He's her absolute rock and she has been his guiding light."
In defence of Jno-Baptiste, his new partner Louise Billman said he had turned his life around and was attending AA meetings.
Pregnant with the couple's IVF twins, she said: "I am completely dependent on Joe emotionally and financially. We've taken out a £12,000 loan to fund IVF, and we have a mortgage to pay."
Judge Alice Robinson said while there was no doubt the death of Jno-Baptiste's son had influenced his behaviour, his previous convictions of battery against other former partners proved he was a "risk" to people he was in a relationship with.
But given he had "shown evidence he could be rehabilitated", Judge Robinson gave him a suspended jail sentence of two years and saved him from immediate custody.
This came with the condition he must engage with alcohol abstinence monitoring, 120 hours of unpaid work, 30 days rehabilitation and pay court costs of £1,000.
A restraining order also means he cannot interact with the victim or attend her place of work.
Speaking in reaction to the case, domestic abuse victim and campaigner Megan Campbell, 25, said she "couldn't believe" violent people were still avoiding jailtime.
"Restraining orders mean nothing", she said. "They don't make you feel safe because the person who caused you all that suffering is still out there.
"A suspended sentence suggests to people that somehow the perpetrator "isn't that bad", or "isn't that violent". It makes it hard for people to believe you, or understand why you're so scared all the time."
Chief executive of Norfolk domestic abuse charity Leeway, Mandy Proctor, agreed that it was important for coercive control to be taken seriously.
She said: "Coercive control survivors may become withdrawn from family and friends, and lose confidence to do things independently.
"The lasting emotional emotional impact it has on those who experience it must be recognised in the sentences that perpetrators receive.
"I'm hopeful the Domestic Abuse Act, currently in the process of being implemented, will provide greater protections for people, as well as taking a tougher stance against perpetrators."
Clive Lewis, MP for Norwich South, said he wanted all victims to feel safe where they live, but that the issue of "toxic masculinity" breeding systemic violence needs to be addressed in schools via relationships education — rather than just tougher sentencing.