I’d endured three years of hell at the hands of my violent boyfriend, then one horrific night changed everything…
By Annie Merrilees, from Canvey Island, Essex
When Dean asked me out, it was like all my Christmases had come at once. He was a bouncer at a local nightclub, and he always used to let me in for free with a nod and a cheeky wink.
So when he asked a mutual friend for my number, I couldn’t say no. Gorgeous and funny, he was a real charmer – and treated me like a princess, everything a girl could ever want!
Soon enough, we were spending most of our spare time with each other. When we weren’t at the pub or out for fancy meals, Dean would come over, and we would snuggle up in front of the television together.
He was brilliant with my daughter from a previous relationship, Rosie, now four – which only made me like him even more.
After three months, Dean was over at my place so often we decided to move his stuff in permanently – it was bliss.
But six months into our relationship, everything changed. Dean started getting jealous of time I spent with my friends and even my mum, and insisted on chaperoning me wherever I went.
If my phone beeped with a text message, he would tut with annoyance.
‘Who’s texting you at this time of night?’ he’d snap. ‘We’re supposed to be having time together.’
‘It’s the girls, they want to go out on Friday.’ I replied.
‘Well tell them you’re not going,’ he snapped. ‘I want to see you this weekend.’
My handsome hunk was starting to turn into a green-eyed monster, but I shrugged it off, telling myself it was probably just a phase.
Then one day, we had a petty row and Dean suddenly punched me hard in the face. I was in complete shock, and Dean apologised over and over, blaming his difficult childhood for his sudden violent outburst.
‘I swear it will never happen again,’ he promised, tears welling up in his eyes. And I believed him.
It would be the worst decision I ever made.
After that, the floodgates opened. Every time Dean became angry he’d lash out with vicious punches and kicks, calling me a fat, ugly, worthless slag.
Once, he threw me down onto the floor and stomped hard on my arm because I dared to change the channel on the television.
Another time, I misplaced my bag in McDonalds and Dean dragged me out of the restaurant by my hair, screaming in my face.
‘You’re an idiot,’ he stormed. ‘You’re a fat, ugly, thick idiot.’
Whenever his mood darkened, I would be his target. But after the storm had passed, Dean always swore it wouldn’t happen again. He made me believe I was lucky to have him.
‘Who would want you?’ he used to laugh. ‘You’re hideous.’
Then, in January 2012, I fell pregnant. Dean was over the moon – he had always dreamed of being a dad.
‘It’s going to be amazing,’ he said, grinning. ‘We’ll be a proper family now – you’re going to be mine.’
I hoped a baby would give us a fresh start, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.
When I was eight months pregnant, Dean found a reason to be angry at me again. My mistake this time was moving his hair brush while I tidied up.
He was really funny about his belongings – especially his hair brush which he always kept in the same place. He saw red.
‘You’re a stupid b***h.’ he snarled, before grabbing me by the throat and smashing my head repeatedly against a nearby cupboard.
Each blow made my eyes water and blood started to pour from my head. He finished his brutal attack by punching me hard in the face again, bursting my lip.
One of the neighbours must have called the police, because they arrived a few minutes later, but I was far too scared to press charges.
The officers left, reluctantly, before Dean gave me a final, chilling warning.
‘If you ever leave me, I’ll finish the job,’ he ranted. ‘I’ll kill you. I’ll throw acid in your face – nobody will ever want you again.’
And I believe him. I felt trapped in a never-ending nightmare.
Our son, Ben*, now two, was born in October 2012 but it still didn’t change anything between me and Dean.
He doted on the kids but was quick to become angry with me over the slightest of things. I just did my best to look after the children while trying to stay out of Dean’s way – but it wasn’t easy.
Dean became more paranoid than ever – and would question me intensely every day. Despite me hardly ever going out, Dean somehow became convinced I was cheating on him.
Even when I had just popped to the corner shop, he would quiz me on who I saw when I was there. He was even worse when he had a drink inside him.
Then, on December 18 2013, he woke up in a particularly black mood after the kids ran into our bedroom early.
He was hungover from the night before, and the first thing he did is shout at me for letting them into the bedroom when he was trying to sleep.
I got Rosie ready for school while he stomped around the house, grumbling to himself, and then I grabbed a quick shower, leaving the bathroom door open in case the kids needed me.
The next thing I knew, Dean was stood in the bathroom looking at my body in disgust.
‘Put your disgusting naked body away will you? You’re making me feel sick.’ he spat.
Hurriedly, I got out of the shower and pulled a towel around me.
‘Why are you always so horrible to me…’ I started but before I’d got half the sentence out, his fist came smashing into my face again.
Then he dragged me into the kitchen and smashed my head repeatedly against the boiler. I winced as I heard my skull smash against the metal and prayed the children couldn’t hear what he was doing to me.
He punched me a final time, splattering blood from my face all over his jumper. After he’d finished his savage attack, he just looked at me – his eyes were black. He didn’t even look sorry this time.
‘I’m going out,’ he announced, and left.
I took Rosie to school, and Dean went to the pub before I returned to the flat with a friend of ours, Katie.
I hoped that if Katie was at the flat, Dean would back off and calm down. We sat down with a bottle of wine, but as the evening went on, I felt more and more uneasy.
I put the children to bed as early as possible before Dean arrived home. My heart sank when I saw the state he was in – he was drunk, and slurring his words.
I’d hoped that he’d have calmed down over the course of the day but his mood had only worsened.
‘I’m going to kill you,’ he snarled, before lunging at me and trying to strangle me on the sofa. I was terrified, but somehow managed to struggle free.
For a moment, I thought Dean might back off – but he hadn’t finished. When Katie went to use the bathroom, he followed me to the kitchen.
In desperation, I grabbed a kitchen knife and brandished it in front of me, protectively.
‘Leave me alone!’ I shouted, pointing the knife at him.
But it didn’t frighten Dean off – instead, he lunged at me and tried to hit me again. I braced myself for the brutal blow – only it never happened.
Instead, Dean suddenly stopped and staggered to the living room, where he collapsed.
It was only when I ran over to him that I noticed a small knife wound in Dean’s chest.
I’d stabbed him.
Katie saw him on the floor and immediately called for an ambulance, as I knelt over him, sobbing and praying he would survive.
He was airlifted to hospital for open heart surgery, but died a few hours later.
I was utterly stunned and the following days were a horrible blur. I was charged with murder and manslaughter, and spent an agonising two months in prison.
Being away from the children over Christmas was agony – but what was even harder to deal with was the fact that Dean was gone. Despite everything, I still loved him.
A two-week trial into his death was held in October this year. I breathed a sigh of relief as jurors at the Old Bailey took less than three hours to find me not guilty of either charge, after I explained I’d only grabbed the knife in self-defence.
I’d been terrified I’d be locked up, away from my children. Now, I’m focussing on being the best mum I can be to them.
That day, I really believed Dean was going to kill me, but I never wanted him dead. It was a tragedy that should never have happened.
Now, I want to encourage other victims of domestic violence to speak out – before it’s too late.