I couldn’t wait for a fresh start away from an abusive relationship, but my ex was determined not to let me go that easily…
By Donna Hudson, 43, Bourne in Lincolnshire
‘Fancy bumping into you again,’ the twinkly-eyed stranger grinned at me.
‘Well, it’s the same bus I always get,’ I teased.
I was on my way into work, and for the past couple of weeks this bloke had always been waiting at the bus stop when I turned up.
It turned out he worked in town too, and we got chatting.
His name was Peter, and he told me he was lodging just around the corner.
I’d not long split from my first husband, so I wasn’t really on the look-out for a man. Especially not a man like Peter – he was 17 years older than me, and hardly my type.
But he was really charming, and very persistent with his compliments.
Then, one evening he asked me for a favour. There was some kind of problem with the place he was staying, and he needed somewhere to kip.
‘I know it’s a massive ask, but I don’t suppose I could sleep at yours?’ he asked, turning on the charm.
I wasn’t really sure what to say.
‘Erm, I suppose so,’ I faltered.
It’s not exactly a classic love story, but that’s how we started seeing each other.
Within two months I’d fallen pregnant and Peter and I were an item. Then, in 1996, I had our son.
‘How about we call him Peter too?’ Peter suggested.
I thought it was a lovely idea. The name had been passed down through generations of his family.
‘It suits him perfectly,’ I said, cradling our newborn.
I’d hoped becoming parents would be the making of us. But instead, we drifted apart. Peter wanted to control every aspect of our son’s upbringing,
I felt like I couldn’t do anything right, and Peter’s temper started to scare me.
‘You’re utterly useless,’ he raged at me, unhappy that I hadn’t managed to settle Peter Jr for his afternoon nap.
Up to my elbows in dirty nappies and laundry, I didn’t have the time or the energy to put the spark back into our relationship.
Eventually, by 2009 I’d reached breaking point. I couldn’t face the rest of my life trapped in such a loveless, fraught relationship.
One evening, with Peter Jr tucked up in bed, I plucked up the courage to tell Peter how I was feeling.
‘It’s over between us, you must feel the same?’ I tentatively asked.
‘You can’t leave me,’ he replied.
‘There’s no-one else, it’s not like that,’ I tried to explain. ‘Neither of us are happy though.’
That night we had a furious row. Eventually it seemed to sink in that I was serious about ending things.
‘But I’ve got nowhere else to go Donna,’ he pleaded.
That was one point I couldn’t argue with. Peter didn’t have any friends or family to take him in.
And Peter’s health wasn’t great, so he couldn’t work. He’d never be able to afford a place of his own, let alone take care of himself.
I couldn’t throw my son’s father out on the street. So, in the end I agreed he could stay.
‘This doesn’t mean we’re still together though,’ I warned.
I’d expected to feel an amazing sense of freedom. But instead I was just as trapped as before. We even carried on sharing a bed.
My job as a private care nurse was my only escape. I loved going off to work while Peter Jr was at school, leaving my life with Peter behind me.
I grew particularly close to one of the other nurses, Chris.
‘Got time for a cuppa and a biscuit, Donna?’ Chris said, catching me as I was heading off on a break.
‘Oh, go on then,’ I replied, smiling for what felt like the first time in months. Over the next few months I poured my heart out to Chris over endless cups of tea.
It made a change to be around a man who made me feel like a valued person. I told him all about my difficult situation at home, and he seemed to understand.
‘I just wish I could change things for you,’ Chris sighed. His tenderness hit home, and we started to have stronger feelings for each other.
By May 2012 I decided I had to tell Peter about my budding romance with Chris. Knowing his temper, there would be hell to pay if he found out himself.
‘It’s early days, but I’ve started seeing someone,’ I explained.
It was like a switch had been flipped, and Peter’s face darkened.
‘I’m not having this, who is it?’ Peter spat.
‘Someone from work, you don’t know him,’ I said.
‘I’ll kill him. If I can’t have you, no-one else can,’ he raged, lurching towards me.
I backed out of the room, scared.
‘It’s nothing, I promise,’ I stuttered, desperate to calm Peter down.
He knew I didn’t want to be with him – but that’s when I realised he didn’t want anyone else to have me either.
So, for six months I dated Chris in secret.
It wasn’t fun sneaking around. As a single, adult woman I felt ashamed at having to hide my new relationship.
I was sure Chris would soon get fed up and call it a day. Meanwhile Peter was still suspicious. He made me call him whenever I went out.
I had to let him know when I’d arrived somewhere and when I left, so he could check in on what I was up to.
It was ridiculous. But if I didn’t play by his rules I dreaded to think what kind of mood he’d be in when I arrived home.
He’d already made me swear I only saw Chris once or twice a month, just for an hour at a time.
Dealing with Peter’s temper tantrums was exhausting. His cruel insults didn’t hurt anymore – I felt numb.
And, I felt a pang in my heart when I saw other happy couples.
Why can’t Chris and I be like that too?
That’s when I realised I needed my life back. I sat Peter down and explained that it was time for him to move out.
He came up with all the usual excuses, but I stood my ground.
It was agreed that in just a few weeks he’d be gone. Finally there was light at the end of the tunnel – a fresh start.
Peter’s moving day came in November 2012, and I got out of bed with a spring in my step. I felt great knowing that this would be the last time I’d wake up with Peter in my home.
I’d celebrated my 40th birthday the day before, so the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. A new chapter of my life was beginning.
Peter Jr headed out off to school, and after I cleared up the breakfast dishes it was time to pop the kettle on.
Peter was in the shed, he’d muttered something about having to fix the gears on his bike before he left.
I’d just filled the kettle when Peter came into the kitchen.
‘Please don’t go off with Chris, think of our family,’ he pleaded.
I sighed. I thought he understood. After all, we’d been separated for three years.
‘I am thinking of Peter Jr, we can’t go on like this,’ I said, trying to keep my patience.
Peter stormed back out to the shed. He’ll be gone soon, I told myself.
But as I turned back around to pop the teabag into my mug, Peter was back looming behind me.
‘Do you still love me?’ he demanded.
I didn’t have time to speak before he raised his fist, and plunged a sharpened screwdriver into my neck.
‘No, please,’ I cried.
‘This is all your fault,’ he yelled, lurching towards me again.
I tried to dodge Peter’s blows, but as I scrambled through to the living room he chased me. There he continued his frenzied attack, jabbing angrily at my back, arms and breasts.
Then he tried to stab me in the vagina.
‘You’re not going to need that any more,’ he snarled, as I blocked his aim with my forearm.
Peter couldn’t stand the thought of me being happy with someone else… and with horror I realised he’d rather see me dead.
Somehow, I managed to dial 999. ‘Police, police!’ I screamed to the operator. Then I wrenched open the front door and raced down the road to my friend’s house.
I collapsed on her doorstep in a pool of blood, like a scene from a horror film.
An ambulance rushed me to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, where I spent four days recovering from a punctured lung.
Meanwhile, the police charged Peter with attempted murder. Apparently he’d gone back to the shed to sharpen the screwdriver to a deadly point, before coming back to attack me.
I knew I’d had a lucky escape, but it was only when officers revealed Peter’s previous domestic abuse charges that I realised just how lucky.
Unknown to me he’d attacked women before – our relationship had been doomed from the start.
‘I could have died,’ I cried, sobbing in Chris’ arms.
He’d been by my side since the attack, promising he’d never leave.
Chris felt awful that he hadn’t been there to protect me but it wasn’t his fault. It was all Peter’s doing.
In July 2013 Peter Dunnell, 60, was jailed for 17-and-a-half years at Peterborough Crown Court. He was found guilty of attempted murder after a trial.
Finally I was free to move on, and later that year I married Chris.
We deliberately tied a knot on a Wednesday – the same day I was attacked. I wanted to make new, happy memories, instead of letting Peter destroy what me and Chris had.
He made years of my life a misery, but his vicious attack won’t steal my future.
After the court case Donna wanted to use her experiences to help others trapped in violent relationships, so she came to us to sell her story. We set her up with a double page spread in That’s Life magazine, reaching thousands of women with her message that it’s never too late to escape. We were really proud to help her to tell her domestic violence story. If you’ve got a similar story idea, contact us using the form on the right for a confidential chat about your options.