“I was being tortured,” Charlotte Rooks told journalists of her ordeal at the hands of Craig Thomas. In 2013, Thomas repeatedly beat Rooks with hammers, made her sleep naked standing up and forced her to eat pictures of loved ones who had passed away. At one point, Rooks says, she begged Thomas to kill her. The case was, at the time, billed as “one of the worst ever cases” of domestic violence seen in Wales – and yet, despite its gravity, and despite police twice visiting the property where Rooks was held to investigate alleged abuse, nothing was done. Eventually Rooks, now 35, managed to escape herself. She was pregnant with her abuser’s child at the time.
Five years after Thomas was eventually jailed for 10 years for crimes committed against Rooks, an investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) found an array of failings from police in how they handled Rooks’ ordeal. For many victims of domestic violence, making contact with police is something they simply are unable to do, due to a host of reasons: fear of repercussions, perhaps, a lack of access or a cohort of other complicated factors. But for Rooks, an even more harrowing reality: that even when police were alerted – even when a neighbour raised the alarm on her behalf – she was let down by the very people employed to protect her.
The publication of the damning report from the IPCC has led to South Wales Police issuing a "sincere apology" and admitting that Rooks was let down. The report itself details a truly shocking timeline of police errors made over a 12-month period.
On Wednesday 22 May 2013, a member of the public reported hearing the sound of a woman screaming at Rooks’ home in Cardiff. The witness also told police they had recently seen Rooks and that she was visibly bruised. Two officers attended the home and after calling at the property they concluded the couple had been having loud sex. In actual fact, Thomas had been brutally beating Rooks.
While there, the officers did not attempt to speak to the victim in a separate room to her then-partner, despite it being their policy to do so – and they even failed to record the names of the couple, so other officers would know if similar incidents happened. Rooks even tried to tip the officers off by saying it was her baby that had been heard screaming. It was a cry for help from her – but they did not pick up on the hint that she didn’t have a baby.
Just months later, police were again called to the same property following claims that Thomas had been seen attacking Rooks from a window. Four officers arrived at the property, but Thomas managed to convince them the call was fake, suggesting that “people had a vendetta against him over drugs” and were out to get him in trouble. For the second time in that year, officers failed to realise that Thomas had been repeatedly battering her in the stomach with the metal extension of a vacuum cleaner. They noted visible fresh reddening on her cheeks and a very clear eye injury, yet officers claimed there were no signs of a disturbance and no action was taken against Thomas. That same day, he battered her again as soon as the police left the property.
Two officers attended the home and after calling at the property they concluded the couple had been having loud sex
“When they left I knew that I was fucked, I thought that I was going to die,” she told Wales Online. “That night I remember saying to him to just kill me. He said: ‘I will either give you bleach or you can put a bag over your head’. I remember really weighing up these options because I just wanted to die.”
Thomas lifted up their sofa and made her lie down and put her arms above her head, so that her hands were trapped underneath it. He then repeatedly jumped on her stomach. When she tried to protect herself, he would stamp on her head.
“I was being tortured,” she continued. “That is exactly what CID said. [The person interviewing me] had to take a break himself during the interview.”
Just two days after the second police visit, officers turned up at the property again on an unrelated matter. Fearing for her life but also disillusioned by the police, she took the opportunity to escape the property while the door was unlocked without alerting them.
“I remember thinking that if I don’t go now I will never leave,” she said. “I could walk out and be with the police but they had already left me 24 hours before and I wasn’t taking that risk. I wasn’t taking that risk because if they had left me again I would be dead. I just ran.”
Her escape led to Thomas’ eventual arrest, and he was later sentenced to 10 years in prison at Cardiff crown court. In 2013 he pleaded guilty to four counts of attempting to cause grievous bodily harm with intent, one count of unlawful wounding and one count of wounding with intent. The judge who jailed Thomas labelled it “one of the worst cases of domestic abuse” he had ever come across. Post-traumatic stress from the horrific beatings and psychological abuse has left Rooks physically incapable of crying about what happened to her. She recently learned from social media that he is about to walk free, having served half of his jail time.
In the IPCC report, the investigator said there was “insufficient evidence” to charge the officers with misconduct but South Wales Police said that the actions “fell below the standard expected and that their performance was unsatisfactory”. “Not one person has lost their job over what happened to me. I think that is disgusting,” Rook said.
“If I am one of the worst cases of domestic violence they have ever seen what message does that send out when they didn’t help me? Please don’t get me wrong. I am not telling women not to report things but I find it really hard to have the faith in the justice system after what I have been through. It wasn’t just me – I was pregnant."
The Freephone 24 Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline, run in partnership between Women's Aid and Refuge, is a national service for women experiencing domestic violence: 0808 2000 247