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DOMESTIC VIOLENCE COURT

Tears of ex-wives as abusive thug finally gets justice Every Thursday a special session at Medway Magistrates’ Court hears harrowing cases that all have two things in common: the victim knows the attacker and the abuse nearly always takes place behind closed doors. Dan Bloom reports from Medway’s new domestic violence court

O

KKES OZKAYA stares ahead as his girlfriend weeps at the back of court. Flanked by guards, he denies three charges of beating her and one of threatening to set her house on fire. He is 19. The last allegation was just six days ago but his girlfriend, 18 and pregnant, has retracted her statement. Prosecutors refuse to drop the case. The teenager is led away to the cells, where he will stay for two months before a trial, as his lover looks on in shock. Ozkaya, of Christmas Street, Gillingham, is just one of a string of men accused of domestic violence at Medway Magistrates’ Court every Thursday. Some avoid court for years because their partners fear giving evidence, but abuse can escalate. A stark reminder came last summer, when jealous husband Agris Titans strangled Edite Titane, 22, in their Rochester home. He was jailed for life. A month after the brutal murder, Natalie Wood joined Medway’s court as an independent domestic violence advocate She helps women take the stand and the results have been dramatic. “The story doesn’t stop in court,” she said. “The minute a suspect appears we have to make a safety plan. Will that woman be in danger if she goes home? Do I have to take her to a refuge?” She hugged an emotional Debbie Johnston, 35, outside court. Her husband of seven years had just been given a restraining order after a late-night attack. She got through three months of police and courts thanks to an unlikely friend, his previous wife Sharron Burgoyne, 38.

MUTUAL SUPPORT: Debbie Johnston, 35, and Sharron Burgoyne, 38, had both been married to Michael Hurley Debbie said: “I was never allowed near her. He painted her as the bitter, twisted ex who wanted to destroy him. Now we’re really good friends – we found each other on Facebook.” Debbie had already told former soldier Michael Hurley, 41, she wanted a divorce when he waited outside a house party at her Twydall home on December 10. The court heard the last guest left at 4.15am and Hurley phoned Debbie to say: “If you don’t [let me in] I will take the door off.” Hurley, of Richmond Road, Gillingham, forced his way in and snatched Debbie’s phone as she called for help. Michael Munn, prosecuting, said: “She was thrown headlong across the kitchen by a hard shove to her back while the defendant was shouting ‘whore’. “He spun her round with his hand and choked her against the window.”

The attack spilled into the street where Hurley hit her hard across the face. When police arrived he swore at them, adding “I will take the pair of you,” before they drew Tasers and he was arrested. Debbie was taken to A&E and her husband admitted assault, using violence to enter a premises and obstructing a policeman in his duty. Debbie and Sharron wept as he was given four months’ jail suspended for two years, an indefinite restraining order and 150 hours’ unpaid work. He will also pay £250 compensation to Debbie. Trevor Linn, defending Hurley, said: “He is a man of good character. There are no previous convictions and he has lived hitherto a relatively constructive life.” For Debbie, it followed a stormy seven-year marriage. She fell pregnant three months after meeting Hurley and they wed. When she was diagnosed

with depression and the chronic pain disorder fibromyalgia, Hurley became her carer – and she felt trapped. The former Rainham School for Girls pupil said: “Looking back it was all too quick. He was really supportive, loving and caring but things started to change.” Sharron, who started dating Hurley aged 16, first saw Debbie when she and Hurley were dealing with a bitter divorce. Sharron said: “I went and sat next to her and said simply, ‘I hope he’s changed.’ “For me, I wasn’t believed. I had no help and I had him manipulating my family and my friends into believing him. I had a very hard battle convincing people.” Mr Munn, a specialist prosecutor in domestic violence cases, said: “Women often retract their evidence, maybe because they love him or he has said sorry. “It makes things much more difficult but we have to consider public safety.” Scores of men appear in the specialist court. Last Thursday they included Luke Moss, a 26-year-old recovering heroin addict of Amber Court, Gravesend, who hit his sister Emma at a family barbecue. He was given a three-month suspended sentence. Also in the dock was James Thurlow, 22, of Kingsley Avenue, Dartford, who breached a non-molestation order against his ex-girlfriend. He changed his plea to guilty the day of the trial, when she was determined to give evidence. He was given a two-month suspended sentence. Debbie said: “If one case apart from mine has a good result, I’ll be happy. I’ve been so much happier since Michael came out of my life, and I want other women to make that change.”

Friday, April 6, 2012 Medway Messenger (MM)

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United in trauma: The two ex-wives who were abused by the same man