Domestic abuse survivor praises Emmerdale for its powerful Rhona storyline

Rhona Goskirk’s recent domestic abuse storyline in Emmerdale moved many viewers. Here, domestic abuse survivor Mandy Thomas, explains why she’s thankful the soap tackled such a sensitive subject…

51-year-old Mandy Thomas is an artist, writer, and mum-of-four. She’s also a Survivor’s Ambassador for Women’s Aid, after surviving 18 years of horrific abuse at the hands of her ex-husband.

“I suffered every kind of abuse imaginable at the hands of my ex, including horrific physical attacks,” Mandy explained. “My eldest son even saw his father take a blow torch to me.”

And now Mandy – whose son Jahméne Douglas won the nation’s heart when he took part in The X Factor in 2012 – has praised Emmerdale for raising awareness about the horrors of domestic violence through Rhona Goskirk’s story.

“Hats off to the Emmerdale scriptwriters and actors for tackling such a sensitive subject,” she enthused.

“Storylines such as Rhona’s not only raise awareness about the different kinds of abuse – from verbal, to coercive control and physical – but also help victims know that they’re not alone.”

Although the dramatic scenes of Rhona being raped on her wedding night were clearly powerful, for Mandy, it was the more recent court scenes which really struck a chord.

“My heart was in pieces for Rhona,” she explained. “I was pleading for her to get justice, as so many do not.”

Talking about her own experiences, Mandy told us: “My trial went on for a year and my children were dragged through the court, as my ex pleaded not guilty. In the end, he was sentenced to 15 years (six for rape and nine for GBH with intent and false imprisonment).”

However tragically, that wasn’t the end of Mandy’s ordeal. Her ex-husband was released from jail early after serving just six years, and shortly after her son Daniel took his own life.

“We still live in an era where people are unaware about what goes on behind closed doors,” Mandy explained.

“It’s so important that TV shows like Emmerdale show exactly what victims of domestic abuse have to go through to get justice.”

Mandy isn’t the only person who’s been impressed by Emmerdale’s work. Sarah Newton, Minister for crime, safeguarding and vulnerability, echoed Mandy’s comments, saying: “I welcome Emmerdale raising awareness of domestic abuse to millions of people.

“More abusers than ever are being brought to justice, but with so many people still suffering from this horrendous crime it is clear there is more to do.”

What is the UK government doing to tackle domestic abuse?

The Domestic Abuse bill

The UK government recently introduced the landmark Domestic Abuse bill, which will help them to protect and support victims, recognise the life-long impact domestic abuse has on children, and make sure agencies effectively respond to domestic abuse. This will include measures to:

  • Enshrine a definition of domestic abuse in law
  • Create a consolidated new domestic abuse prevention and protection order regime
  • Make sure that if abusive behaviour involves a child, that the court can hand down a sentence that reflects the devastating life-long impact that abuse can have on the child
  • Establish a Domestic Abuse Commissioner, to stand up for victims and survivors, raise public awareness, monitor the response of statutory agencies and local authorities and hold the justice system to account in tackling domestic abuse
  • Demonstrate our commitment to the Istanbul Convention by extending our extra-territorial jurisdiction over Violence Against Women & Girls (VAWG) related offences to ratify the Convention.

Coercive or controlling behaviour offence

A new coercive or controlling behaviour offence came into force in December 2015. It carries a maximum five years imprisonment, a fine or both. Guidance for professionals on the new offence was also launched at the same time. The offence means victims who experience coercive and controlling behaviour that stops short of serious physical violence, but amounts to extreme psychological and emotional abuse, can bring their perpetrators to justice.

Justice for victims

In the year ending March 2017 the police recorded 464,886 domestic-abuse related offences – a 10% increase over the 421,185 offences recorded the previous year. This increase is likely to be due to improvements in crime recording and more victims coming forward to report crimes to the police.

More perpetrators of domestic abuse than ever have been brought to justice with the highest volume of prosecutions and convictions ever recorded. There have been year on year improvements for domestic violence prosecutions and in 2015-16 the volume of prosecutions rose to 100,930, the highest ever recorded. The volume of convictions in 2015-16 reached 75,235, also the highest ever recorded.

Funding and projects

Earlier this month the Home Secretary announced a £17million Violence Against Women and Girls Fund.

More than 40 projects will share the money to help prevent violence against women and girls.

If you or a friend or family member need support, you can contact the Freephone 24 Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline (run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge) on: 0808 2000 247

First published in Closer Magazine August 2017

Jeremy Hunt visits Treliske

Last week Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt visited Treliske – his second visit in three months – to thank staff and have a conversation about patient safety.

The independent Commonwealth Fund said of the 11 countries analysed, the UK has the safest healthcare system in the world – a great tribute to NHS staff.

However there is more work to do as across England there are potentially around 150 avoidable hospital deaths every week.

Understandably, he got a number of questions about resources. He agreed that the NHS is treating more people than it ever has before, and trusts are grappling with significant financial pressures. “Some people assume that the goals of sound financial management and providing good quality care are mutually contradictory – but in fact the opposite is the case, with ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’-rated CQC trusts likely to be in surplus and ‘requires improvement/inadequate’-rated ones likely to be in deficit.

“Looking after patients and looking after pounds go hand in hand – I suspect because good financial management releases more resource for patient care, which in turn reduces the more than 10% of hospital expenditure which goes on avoidable medical mistakes or infections that people catch in hospitals.”

He agreed that we need more doctors and nurses, which is why he said “we are training tens of thousands”. But he added that culture, leadership and transparency are vital too.

“In 2012, many trusts had cut adult nursing numbers by several thousand – and were planning thousands more cuts to follow. Following the Francis report we then asked them to publish nurse numbers every month on every ward – after which instead of cutting numbers they went up by around 13,000.

“That is surely the reason why NHS in-patient satisfaction rates are currently at their highest ever level, despite ever-growing demands for care.”

First published in the West Briton 09/08/17

Microbeads

Microbeads will be banned to prevent tiny pieces of plastic entering the world’s oceans where they are then swallowed by wildlife, the Environment Secretary announced last week.

He also pledged action to reduce plastic waste in the world’s oceans and set out the Government’s ambition for the UK to lead the world in environmental protection.

As new figures published last week revealed more than nine billion fewer plastic bags were used since the government introduced a 5p charge, an 83 per cent reduction, the Environment Secretary set out further plans to prevent other sources of plastic finding their way into our oceans and seas.

Speaking at WWF UK on Friday morning, he said: “Eight million tonnes of plastic are discarded into the world’s oceans each year, putting marine wildlife under serious threat.

“There is more we can do to protect our oceans, so we will explore new methods of reducing the amount of plastic – in particular plastic bottles – entering our seas, improve incentives for reducing waste and litter, and review the penalties available to deal with polluters – all part of a renewed strategy on waste and resources that looks ahead to opportunities outside the EU.”

Greenpeace UK oceans campaigner Louisa Casson said: “The UK government has just proposed the strongest ban on microbeads in the world to date.

“This is great news for our environment and a positive sign of Britain’s global leadership on ocean plastics.”

For some time I have worked with St Agnes based Surfers Against Sewage, campaigning for these vital changes – small changes that make a huge difference. Some people are concerned about post Brexit environmental protection. Along with transferring EU laws to the UK, the plans laid out demonstrate commitment to delivering our pledge to leave the environment in a better state for the next generation.

First Published in the West Briton

Acid Attacks

We have seen a worrying increase in reports of attacks using acid or other similar substances as offensive weapons. Of course violence of any kind is unacceptable, but there is something particularly troubling about these kinds of attacks. Corrosive substances cause severe burns and serious tissue damage. All too frequently, victims’ lives are altered forever. Nobody should have to go through the kind of mental and physical trauma they suffer.

I have heard from victims and survivors, including from Truro, and they are at the heart of the new plan to tackle these appalling crimes that, as Home Office Minister, I announced in Parliament last week.

While mercifully there are relatively few attacks, I am acutely aware of this growing problem and I refuse to let those behind such attacks spread fear through our society. The law in this area is already strong, with acid attackers facing up to a life sentence. Meanwhile, by law, suspicious transactions involving sulphuric acid must be reported to police.

But there are ways we can and will improve. The plan I announced in Parliament is wide-ranging and a comprehensive cross-Government review of our response to this profoundly concerning phenomenon.

Earlier this month the Home Office, with the National Police Chiefs’ Council, hosted a conference which brought together a range of organisations and people united by a determination to make a difference, from law enforcement, from Government, from the medical sector, mental health experts and representatives of the retail industry. Because there is no one simple answer, this joined-up approach has informed this action plan.

And we need to make sure that when these attacks do take place, victims are given the care and support they need; from the initial medical response to giving evidence in court and throughout the recovery process.

Drugs Strategy

Drugs destroy countless lives. They lead to crime, violence and disorder on our streets. They are one of the creeping and corrosive threats to our society that we must do more to tackle. But I am also determined to do all I can to protect the most vulnerable, who too often become the victims. I am proud to have played my part in the development of the Government’s new drug strategy which sets out how we will tackle the deadly impact of drugs, including substances like spice or fentanyl.

Drugs are illegal because they devastate lives. They are illegal because traffickers target vulnerable people all over the world and exploit their misery. They are illegal because of the agony caused by those solely focused on their next fix.

Last year, the Psychoactive Substances Act introduced a blanket ban on so-called ‘legal highs’, meaning back-yard chemists can no longer dodge the law by making small changes to the make up of dangerous drugs.

Being tough on drugs is vital, but it cannot be all we do.

It is vital we protect the vulnerable – to prevent them falling into the cycle of drug abuse and to help them turn their lives around. Doing so will spare countless families the agony of seeing a loved one’s life destroyed. It could save lives. And it will reduce the burden placed on our public services, in particular the police and the NHS.

While drug use is falling we are not complacent and are redoubling our efforts to prevent children taking drugs.

The new post of Recovery Champion will travel up and down the country, meeting NHS staff, police officers, teachers, community groups and local authorities, who all have a vital role to play in enabling people to live their lives free of drugs.

First Published in the West Briton 18/07/17

Special Educational Needs and Disabilities

Last week Cornwall welcomed inspectors from Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission who jointly carried out an inspection of our local area. Under the Children and Families Act 2014, the government placed new duties on our local health, social and education services that provide for children and young people with special educational needs and/or disabilities.

The inspection will evaluate how effectively the local area identifies the needs of children and young people who have special educational needs and/or disabilities, and meets the needs of these children and young people so that their chances of participating fully in society improve.

Improving the lives of the most vulnerable people in our community is I believe amongst the most important roles of Cornwall Council. Our public services working effectively in partnership with local businesses and charities as well as families and carers is essential for improving lives. This is especially true when public finances are tight as we all want to see public funds spent on improving the opportunities for children and young people with special education needs and/or disabilities.

Central government has its role to play too and I am pleased that an ambitious project which will help support vulnerable children and families in Cornwall has been awarded almost £2m from the Government’s Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme.

The project, developed by Cornwall Council in partnership with health organisations, is one of 24 projects across the country to receive funding from the Department for Education’s £200m programme which has been set up to encourage local authority children’s services to innovate their practice and the way they deliver services.

This new and additional funding will help transform the way education, health and social care services work together to better meet the needs of children, young people and their families.

First published in the West Briton 12/07/17

Housing in Cornwall

Everybody should live in a decent and safe home. No one should be homeless or living in poor quality housing.

Since being elected I have worked hard to deliver more genuinely affordable homes for local people and improve the quality of existing homes.

I have championed community led housing for local people. New taxes on second homes are being used to build new homes for local people in Cornwall. For the years 2015-2018 Cornwall Council and the Isles of Scilly Council will receive £21,248,740 which will provide 909 affordable homes for local people. This is in addition to government schemes to help people own their own home.

While I’m confident that the majority of landlords in Cornwall provide decent accommodation, unfortunately I know from my constituency casework that there are some landlords who will cut corners to get as much money as possible while potentially endangering their tenants.

I am pleased to have supported measures that crack down on this minority of “rogue” landlords in Cornwall. Landlords who flout rules on safety and affordability face tougher penalties. New rules came into force on 6 April 2017 so that landlords cannot shirk their responsibilities.

To help Cornwall Council build up their capability to tackle “rogue landlords” I helped secure additional funding for this purpose. Cornwall Council officers are now taking action including prosecutions. The financial penalties that Cornwall Council now have the power to secure should enable them to fund much more rigorous action.

Cornwall Council now has access to tenancy deposit protection data that help them identify rental properties and so that they can take targeted prevention and enforcement work.

Please don’t suffer in silence and fear “revenge eviction” contact me if you feel your home is not safe. We will try and help you resolve issues with your landlord.