Times caption: Alex Skeel on This Morning last year (KEN MCKAY/REX/SHUTTERSTOCK)
A piece by Mark Smith in today’s Times, emphases ours:
One hand clamped regretfully on his forehead, the 22-year-old man slouched in a football shirt on a sofa in Bedfordshire is telling me about his violent relationship with his ex-girlfriend Jordan Worth, a petite brunette who had been involved in caring and voluntary work for unwanted animals and raised funds for children in Africa.
“I think it came down to the complete obsessive nature of control,” Alex Skeel reflects. It’s 18 months after a neighbour’s 999 call ended a nine-month pattern that he now understands is characteristic of violence in the home: fantasy, cruelty, regret and repetition. “A lot of it was out of jealousy,” he says.
Skeel wasn’t the perpetrator in this notorious domestic violence case. This personable young Leeds United fan was Worth’s victim, and for the final nine months of their five-year relationship he was effectively imprisoned by her, enduring a protracted daily litany of beating, scalding and stabbing. He developed hydrocephalus, the accumulation of fluid on the brain, from Worth’s continual assaults (“There were so many occasions where I would be asleep and she’d smack me on the head and I’d go and look in the mirror [. . . ] and I’d just be bleeding”). She severed the tendons in his right hand with a bread knife and doused him with boiling water straight from the kitchen kettle.
Denied access to medical treatment, Skeel took to self-treating second and third-degree burns using clingfilm. “I think it got to the point where I was waiting to die,” he tells me matter-of-factly. “I just thought, ‘Well, one of these issues will end up killing me,’ and it was just survival mode.”
Deprived of food and existing in what he calls a “massive fog-cloud of confusion”, Skeel lost about 4st and his aspirations became as pitifully slight as his frame. “Every day I was living in the hope that the next day I would have one less hammer attack on my head.”
When medics finally intervened, they estimated that Skeel could have endured ten more days of Worth’s treatment at most. “It definitely would have ended up with me being murdered,” he says.
Their relationship is the subject of a BBC documentary titled Abused by My Girlfriend that Skeel hopes will help the male victims of a substantially underreported crime. According to figures published by Man Kind Initiative, men make up a third* of all victims of domestic abuse in the UK, but are three times less likely than female victims to speak out. “For people to realise it’s no different is quite important,” Skeel says. “A victim is a victim.”
Alex Skeel with his ex-girlfriend Jordan Worth (REX/SHUTTERSTOCK)
The documentary contains previously unseen footage of Worth, a gymnast who has a 2:1 from the University of Hertfordshire and planned to qualify as a teacher, being questioned by police. In one exchange she blithely describes her preferred method for assaulting Skeel while on the road. “Whenever we have an argument in the car, I’ll grab my hairbrush so it’s on the side and I’ll sort of hit him wherever I can,” she explains to the police officers, miming an assault with dainty understatement. With her glossy hair, baby-doll voice and air of calm indulgence, Worth displays the self-possession of a nursery teacher or a beauty vlogger. It’s disconcerting viewing.
Over the past 18 months Skeel has undergone operations on his brain, head and hands, but physical torture was by no means the worst aspect of his ordeal, he tells me. “When a hammer cuts you, you bleed for a couple of hours and then it creates a scab and then a scar. Since I got out, the wounds have healed well enough to not be completely obvious. When someone bullies you, that stays with you for a very, very long time. It hasn’t left me yet.”
Skeel and Worth met in the audience of a college drama production when they were 16. Skeel describes Worth’s behaviour at the outset as “very caring, confident and loving — she just showed a real interest in me”; Skeel’s friends found her to be “delightful”. After a while, though, Worth started being critical of Skeel’s appearance. She seemed mystified by his family’s habit of eating round a table, and disappeared during a trip to London to see The Lion King musical in her honour. “Maybe she didn’t like how close our family were and she wanted to take me away from that,” Skeel says.
At Skeel’s 18th birthday party matters came to a head when Worth picked on a younger reveller — the daughter of Skeel’s mother’s best friend — causing such a scene that Skeel broke up with her.
What he didn’t know at the time was that Worth was pregnant with their first child, Thomas Jay, which would bring her back into the Skeel family home months later. The very existence of children in the case — a daughter, Iris, was just four weeks old at the time of Worth’s arrest — is disclosed for the first time with the documentary. “It’s the most complicating factor,” Skeel tells me. “I’ve been on the telly before and I didn’t want to reveal anything [about them], but this is a proper film — you’ve got to include them to make complete sense of everything.”
After the birth of their son, the couple moved to the quiet village of Stewartby in Bedfordshire, where Worth’s controlling behaviour escalated. “You could never do anything right,” Skeel says. “If you offer to cook it’s, like, ‘No, you’re terrible at cooking,’ and if you don’t offer to cook it’s, ‘Oh, why do you never offer to cook?’ ”
Worth took advantage of Skeel not being able to drive, hijacked his social media accounts and concealed their whereabouts from friends and family. “Quite literally my world was that house. I went out to the university with her a lot, but I had to constantly report to her what I was doing. I didn’t have any internet, there was no telly and I didn’t have a phone or my own money. My wallet was taken, I had no identification, the heating was never on, we had barely any food. It’s a really difficult and a horrible way to live, but you learn how to cope with it in a weird sort of way.”
On one occasion Worth told Skeel that his beloved grandfather had died, watched him grieve, then revealed it had been a hoax. On another, she forced him to swallow an entire packet of sleeping tablets. She made him sleep on the floor.
Skeel believed that if he walked out, she would manipulate her way to full custody of the children and turn her wrath on them. “I stayed because I know what family courts are like. If I were to leave, how would I know I’d ever get to see them again?”
In this context, his ordeal seems positively heroic, I say. “A lot of people say they’d take a bullet for their children. It was quite literally like that. As long as I could see that it would only be me getting hurt I just . . . stuck with it. Staying was the best decision I ever made, in a way. Everyone’s fine now.”
I ask if he plans to tell his children about what has happened. “I’m not going to tell them when they’re 8 because they won’t get it and it could really upset them,” he says, “but they probably will have questions when they get to 15 or 16, and that’s when I’ll have to deal with it.” The case, he notes, was “a piece of history”.
Worth has the dubious honour of being the first woman in the UK to be charged with coercive and controlling behaviour in an intimate relationship, an offence that was added to the statute books in 2015. “It’s mad to think that you couldn’t get in trouble for it at all [before].” Skeel says.
Worth is serving a seven-and-a-half-year sentence for her crimes, which include wounding with intent and causing grievous bodily harm with intent. In June the solicitor-general, Robert Buckland, QC, MP, personally appealed Worth’s sentence, claiming it was “unduly lenient”. His appeal was not upheld; in any case Skeel seems satisfied that justice has been served.
He was on a family holiday when he first felt the relief of knowing Worth was behind bars. “We stopped off at McDonald’s and I realised it’s the first time in five years I don’t have to look over my shoulder, that I don’t have a single doubt or worry. This weird cloud over me, it was just . . . gone.”
Skeel has resumed his work as a football coach and his players wear the charity Man Kind’s contact details on the backs of their shirts — they will be playing a charity match in June against Celeb FC, a team of reality TV stars and ex-pros. “In an ideal world there would be no gendered charities. You don’t have a separate Heart Foundation just because you’re a man. Domestic abuse affects everyone the same way, but society hasn’t caught up.” For instance, access to designated men’s refuges and safe houses is “a postcode lottery”, he says. “They exist in Devon, Greater Manchester and Yorkshire, but there isn’t a single facility in the southeast.”
Skeel regularly gives talks on the warning signs of domestic abuse and recalls how a man recently approached him at a conference to tell him about his mother. “In 1940 his mum went to the police station and said that her husband had been beating her up — they turned her away. I think that a lot of people’s opinions are stuck in 1940 when it comes to male victims.”
When they were together, Worth forced Skeel to have “a dreadful tattoo” on his arm, commemorating their relationship. Last year he covered it up with a roaring tiger.
*4.3 per cent of men and 7.5 per cent of women stated that they experienced domestic abuse in 2016-17 (an estimated 713,000 male and 1.2 million female victims).
Abused by My Girlfriend is available on BBC Three via BBC iPlayer on Monday February 18 and will be broadcast on BBC One on Tuesday February 19 at 10.45pm
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