I had only popped out to pick up a takeaway for our tea. And then something truly horrifying happened…
By Michelle Pavey, 30, from Radstock
Curled up on the sofa in my pyjamas, I smiled as I heard the key turn in the lock. ‘Hiya love, I’m home,’ came Gareth’s voice from the front door.
I got up to greet him and said: ‘Do you fancy a takeaway for tea? My treat.’
Gareth and I had been together six years, and he’d just got home from his job as a scaffolder. It was tiring, heavy work and I thought he deserved something nice for tea.
‘Ooh yes, that would be nice,’ he smiled back. ‘How about KFC? Can I have a Zinger Burger?’
It was only 4pm, but that cold, November night in 2008, I’d already got into my PJs and snuggled up indoors.
I pulled on some trackie bottoms and a jacket over my pyjamas, then shoved some money and my phone in my pocket.
‘I can’t be bothered to put any make-up on,’ I said, quickly scanning my reflection in the mirror. ‘It’s only a 10 minute walk to the chicken shop.’
I opened the front door and called out to Gareth as I stepped outside. ‘See you soon, I won’t be long.’
I’d only been walking for five minutes when a silver Mondeo, full of men, slowed down alongside me and started shouting at me in a language I didn’t understand.
I didn’t have a clue what they were saying but then one phrase came very clear through the cacophony of voices.
‘£10 for all of us?’ he yelled in English. ‘£10 for sex?’
I was stunned. They wanted sex. Sick.
It wasn’t even dark yet and I’d only popped out to pick up some chicken and chips for me and Gareth. I felt the anger swell inside me.
I shouted back: ‘What are you talking about? Go away! Leave me alone.’
But the car of five foreign men didn’t drive off. Instead, they continued to crawl alongside me, shouting and jeering at me.
It wasn’t late and it was a relatively busy area but suddenly I felt very alone. Scared, I put my head down and quickened my pace, trying to ignore them.
But then the car veered into the kerb, stopping alongside me. My blood ran cold as I heard the car doors swing open and before I knew it, three of the men had jumped out of the back seat and dragged me inside.
‘Please, no!’ I cried out as they forced me into the footwell. ‘What’s going on? I haven’t done anything!’
But my pleas were in vain. Quickly, the engine roared into life and the car sped off into the evening.
The men were jabbering in their language and I was terrified as my mind raced.
They’re going to kill me. I’m going to die. What will Gareth do without me? How will he cope?
Tears streamed down my cheeks as I sobbed, scared and confused. I’d been just five minutes from my house. I’d only nipped out for a KFC… why me?
It felt like I was crouched in that footwell forever, but it was probably only 10 minutes before we screeched to a halt.
Convinced I was about to be killed, I tried to stay in the car. I thought I’d be safe there. But my cruel captors had other plans for me.
I felt their hands grabbing at my legs as they tried to drag me out. Petrified, I yelled: ‘No! Get off me! Please, no!’
But they were too strong, and there were too many of them. I didn’t stand a chance. It was dark now and as they dragged me out of the car by my ankles I felt grass beneath my hands.
They’d driven me to a park. They were going to kill me. The scene was like something from a horror movie.
‘Stop! I haven’t done anything. Leave me alone!’ I cried as the gang tore at my clothes, pulling off my jacket and ripping off my trousers and pyjama bottoms.
My jacket had my mobile phone in the pocket. It was my only lifeline. And now it had been torn away from me.
I was kicked on the floor as two of the men grabbed hold of my arms, pinning me to the ground. Pain tore through me as the first man climbed on top of me and brutally raped me.
I shouted and screamed as I was violently attacked and although it was only teatime and there would have been dog walkers in the area, nobody heard my screams.
I was alone, and at their mercy.
The gang were like a pack of wolves, egging each other on in their language as the second man unzipped his trousers and forced himself on me.
By the time the third attacker clambered on top of me, there was no fight left in me. I was empty.
Instead, I focussed on the lights I could see by a church in the horizon. I just stared at that in a desperate bid to shut out the horror of what was happening as the next man raped me, and the next.
Finally, when the fifth man was done, they sped off leaving me alone, nearly naked and shivering in the cold night air.
Adrenaline had been coursing through my veins but now, as I lay motionless, I realised how cold it was.
But I couldn’t move. I was badly bruised and sore and emotionally, I just couldn’t think. I couldn’t get my head around what had just happened.
For half an hour, I lay on the cold grass before I pulled myself up. The monsters had taken my phone, jacket and trousers – but they’d left my pyjama bottoms, so gingerly, I pulled them back on.
Somehow, I staggered to my feet and made my way back home. I could barely put one foot in front of the other but as soon as I saw my house I knew I had to get to Gareth.
I just wanted to be with him, in the safety of his arms. From somewhere deep inside, I mustered an energy and strength I didn’t know I had.
Before I knew it I was running, running to get home.
‘Gareth!’ I yelled, hammering on the door. I didn’t have my keys or my phone. ‘Gareth!’
He opened the door and I collapsed in his arms. ‘What’s happened? Michelle, what’s wrong?’
I felt a sickening knot tighten in my stomach. How could I tell him? How could I tell my lovely Gareth the horror that had just happened?
‘I’ve been beaten up,’ I whispered.
He sat me down. ‘Come on Michelle, you can tell me. What is it?’
I took a deep breath and blurted everything out. I watched the colour drain from Gareth’s face as the sickening reality hit him.
‘How dare they?’ he seethed, filled with anger. He was furious but so comforting. And then came the guilt.
‘It’s my fault,’ he whispered. ‘I should have gone to get the takeaway. I shouldn’t have let you go. I should have been there to protect you.’
But of course it wasn’t his fault. It was 4pm and I was making a 10 minute walk from my own home for some food.
Gareth had assumed I’d met a friend and got distracted, perhaps popped in for a coffee. But when he’d been ringing my mobile again and again with no response, he’d grown worried.
‘And then, when I heard the banging on the door, I knew it was you. I knew then it was bad,’ he said.
Gareth called the police that night and I was taken to a rape suite for tests. The sick gang hadn’t used condoms and their DNA was all over me.
The officers were lovely and so supportive but as I lay there, undergoing invasive swabs and having my fingernails cut, I felt I was being violated all over again.
In the early hours I was sent home and I sunk into a hot bath. But no matter how hard I scrubbed, I couldn’t wash myself clean.
I felt their grasping hands all over me and for months and months afterwards, despite countless baths and showers, I felt dirty.
A couple of weeks later, an officer from the CID called. ‘We’ve caught one of your attackers. We believe the others have fled the country.’
The case took ages to get to court but when my attacker couldn’t delay things any longer, I was forced to face him in January 2010 in Bristol Crown Court.
I wasn’t going to let him scare me anymore but when it came to it, he didn’t show a shred of remorse.
He was laughing and even making jokes in court. I was furious. I couldn’t even have Gareth there with me as he was giving evidence and there was my attacker, laughing in the dock.
But after I tearfully relived my horrific ordeal, the Afghan asylum seeker was jailed for eight years and recently, he was deported.
What happened that night has left me with a life sentence. Even now, I find it hard to be intimate with Gareth. I still can’t believe a trip to the takeaway ended in such terror.
But I came through it. Gareth has been my rock and I want to show other women that there is light at the end of the tunnel and you can get justice. I’m not a victim – I’m a survivor.