'I sat there with bleach and told him not to come near me' - Brave abuse survivor bids to help others
PUBLISHED: 13:31 20 April 2019 | UPDATED: 10:26 21 April 2019
A domestic violence survivor who had to spray her boyfriend with bleach to stop a vicious assault has urged people to reach out and get protection from abusers.
Carley Fletcher was subjected to the horrific attack by her boyfriend of five months David Learmonth, who repeatedly kicked her in the head and held a broken chair leg to her throat.
Shortly before the attack, which took place on December 13 last year, Learmonth changed his relationship status on Facebook to 'widowed', before trying to climb up to her flat on a ladder outside.
She said: “I didn't want him to kick off outside because there is a baby in the building so I went running down and let him inside.
“He was getting mad so I locked my dog in my bedroom. My dog doesn't like him anyway because of the way he speaks to me.
“He had been drinking and pushed me, then kicked me in the head seven times. Then he broke a chair against the wall and tried strangling me with it. He knocked me unconscious.
“Somehow I managed to get up and run to the kitchen. I ripped a bit of cardboard and put it on the cooker to set the fire alarm off, because it goes off in every flat in this building.
“He came towards me again so I grabbed a bottle of bleach because it was the only thing close to try to get him away. I sprayed it and he shouted that I had blinded him and he ran to the bathroom.
“I was covered in blood and the fire alarm was still going off.
“I texted my neighbour to say phone the police and I sat there with the bleach and told him not to come near me.”
The police arrived and arrested Learmonth, while Miss Fletcher was taken to hospital to have her head glued.
The ordeal continued for Miss Fletcher, who had to recount the attack at Ipswich Crown Court last week to give evidence in the trial after Learmonth denied charges of assault causing actual bodily harm and criminal damage, claiming he had been the victim of abuse after being sprayed with bleach. He also claimed the damage caused in the house was the result of a television falling off the wall.
In the weeks leading up to the trial, Miss Fletcher attempted to take her own life, but praised the work of the mental health team based at Victoria House, in Alexandra Road, Lowestoft, for saving her life.
The 39-year-old said: “I was terrified through it all. I didn't want to go to court but my neighbour and I were summonsed to give evidence.
“I really thought he was going to get away with it. For what he did to me, I don't think the sentence is enough.
“It was all really quick. I wasn't aiming for his face with the bleach, I just squirted it to keep him away. A lot of people like him pick on people with mental health difficulties.
“I see a lot of people complaining about mental health services but the team down here have been absolutely brilliant.
“I suffer from borderline personality disorder and three weeks before the trial I tried to take an overdose because of all of this. They realised I wasn't right and phoned an ambulance and saved my life.”
Learmonth, who is known to many as Leroy, was jailed for 27 months after a jury found him guilty of the assault and criminal damage.
Miss Fletcher now hopes her experience can encourage other people to seek help and support.
She said: “I have got to try and help someone else.
“I know it is not just women who are the victims of domestic abuse, men go through this too, but a lot of them are too embarrased to stand up.
“People are too scared but there is a lot more protection out there now that people don't realise.
“If I can stand up and believe then they can too.
“I don't want anyone else to go through this. If it makes a difference to one person then it is all worth it.”
Survivor forced to leave home
After living in Lowestoft for nearly two years, Miss Fletcher is now preparing to leave the town following the attack, but has called for a public register of abusers.
Currently, under Clare's Law, applications can be made to the police if you have concerns about someone's history.
Miss Fletcher said: “I have got to leave because of him. I made a home here but he is a very dangerous man with a past.
“I had a bad childhood growing up in Colchester and I needed a fresh start so I came here.
“I gave up work and left my home. Now I need to leave again.
“I think there should be a list like with sexual offenders that people can see because people need to be protected more.
“I need to thank my neighbour for saving my life too because if she didn't wake up to the fire alarm and call the police then I wouldn't be here. She was so scared going to court too because she has seen his nasty side, but I am very proud and grateful to her.”
New laws inspired by Kerri
New laws are in the works aimed at clamping down on domestic abuse, with plans outlined in January.
The legislation will introduce the first statutory government definition of domestic abuse to specifically include economic abuse and controlling and manipulative behaviour.
It followed the death of Norwich mother Kerri McAuley in January 2017 by her controlling ex-boyfriend Joe Storey, who had attacked five previous girlfriends, but staff shortages meant he was not properly monitored.
Storey was jailed for 24 years after being convicted of her murder in June 2017.
As well as ensuring victims will no longer face cross-examination by their abusers in family courts, the new law will also establish a domestic abuse commissioner to drive the response to domestic abuse issues.
Earlier this year, Norfolk County Council released a series of hard-hitting videos as part of their Norfolk Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Board campaign called 'Things Need to Change'.