‘I knew my ex was controlling but I never expected he’d hold me hostage with a gun’

Tonight ITV weather presenter Ruth Dodsworth shares her harrowing experience of domestic abuse in a powerful documentary.

The broadcaster and her children were subject to years of coercive control at the hands of her ex-husband who, last year, was sentenced to three years in prison for his crimes.

As Ruth details her abuse marriage in Controlled By My Partner? The Hidden Abuse, we meet a mum-of-four who suffered through a very similar story.

Mum-of-four Rhianon Bragg, 48, recalls how, during one terrifying night in a remote Welsh village, she believed she would be murdered by her controlling ex-boyfriend, mechanic Gareth Wyn Jones…

“As I returned to my house on a summer evening, a camouflaged figure leapt out, pointing a shotgun at my chest. Terrified, I knew immediately who it was: my ex, Gareth. He had waged a campaign of terror against me for four months following the end of a five-year coercive, controlling relationship.

For the next eight hours, he held me hostage, threatening to kill me – one minute furious, the next full of self-pity. I knew he was fully capable of murdering me. It was a far cry from the early stages of our relationship, when Gareth showered me in affection.

Rhianon Bragg’s abusive ex held the mum of four at gunpoint in a terrifying attack one night

We’d first met in 2013, after my car had a puncture while I was driving to see my ill father in Rhosgadfan in North Wales. Gareth, a mechanic from the village, came to fix it.

At the time, my marriage was on its last legs, and I left East Anglia where I was living with my husband. Together with my four children, two girls and two boys – now aged 17, 15, 13 and nine – we moved to my parents’ house to be close to Dad, [who was] in hospital in Bangor. The farmhouse, which is about 800 meters from the outskirts of the village, is the only place I really call home.

After my father died in May 2014, Gareth visited more. I was convinced I’d never have another relationship and that no one would be interested in a single mum, but he insidiously worked his way into my life when I was at my most vulnerable. Gradually, friendship turned into a relationship.

Like many coercive relationships, Gareth initially love-bombed me with displays of affection. No one told me he’d been called Gareth Liar at school or that he’d allegedly be aggressive towards his two ex-wives.

Rhianon Bragg endured horrific violence at the hand of her ex
Rhianon Bragg endured horrific violence at the hand of her ex

Towards the end of 2016, his darker side emerged. I learned not to say things that could set him off. In December he dumped me, and this became a pattern. I’d get a barrage of verbal abuse, then the next day he’d smother me with affection. He was undermining my confidence, making me feel he was the only one to want me. I’d feel grateful to have him back.

Soon the rages turned violent. In October 2017, having dumped me again, he turned up at the house and, menacingly, had a crowbar with him. He even put his hands around my throat, only letting go when I screamed.

Later, in May 2018, he followed me home one night and tried to bundle me into his car, leaving bruises. I didn’t press charges – after years of being ground down, you just want to be loved.

Gareth and Rhinon
At first Gareth showered Rhinon with affection

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By spring of 2019, we were more off than on. He began to let rip at me in public. One day some friends came to buy a caravan from my mum, who lives with me. Gareth arrived and there was a row, culminating in him smashing a sheet of Perspex. My friends were horrified. I’d been worn down by his abuse and now, finally, others had to witness it. I realised from their reaction it wasn’t normal. It gave me the strength I needed to never go back.

But then the stalking started. He’d bang on windows at the house, refusing to accept it was over. When I finally called the police, he was arrested for harassment and menacing behaviour. During the next three weeks, he was arrested twice more, but devastatingly the CPS decided no further action should be taken. I felt alone and afraid. The police told me I needed evidence, so I got CCTV installed.

Gareth was using threatening behavior towards my children, which the police didn’t follow up either. I felt so isolated but refused to move. Why should he force me out?

One night in August, while my children were at their dad’s, I went to use a neighbor’s WiFi as mine was bad. Gareth turned up to harass me as I arrived. By the time I left, just before midnight, I thought he’d gone.

It was crucial CCTV evidence which lead to Gareth's arrest
It was crucial CCTV evidence which lead to Gareth’s arrest

It turned out he’d been lying in wait for me. As I got out of the car, he shoved a gun into my chest. When my phone rang, he made me answer, but hissed, “Don’t do anything stupid.” It was the neighbor, asking if I’d got home safely, so I lied and told him I was fine. I was doing whatever I could to keep myself alive.

Gareth forced me into the barn at gunpoint. He ranted on and on, asking if I ever loved him and threatening to kill both of us or himself. Later, he threatened to kill the neighbor.

He told me several times to leave, but I thought if I did, he’d shoot me in the back. Eventually, as dawn broke, he took me to his house, with the gun between us in the car. He was saying, “We can be together again. We’ll make it work.” I realised he was delusional.

How could he threaten to kill me and think everything would be normal? I had an appointment at the GP at 8.15am, and miraculously, I persuaded him to let me go. There, the trauma overwhelmed me and I broke down. The police came and Gareth was arrested as he waited for me in the car park.

Rhinon bravely speaks of her story to encourage women being abused
Rhinon bravely speaks of her story to encourage women being abused

Now I realise just how invaluable that CCTV camera was. Gareth denied having the shotgun, but the footage proved he was lying. Without it, he could have got away with it. The odds are stacked against the victims of domestic abuse, and the CPS are unwilling to go to trial without irrefutable evidence.

A victim’s word is not deemed good enough. Gareth has since been jailed for a total of 20 years on five different charges, including making threats to kill and false imprisonment. But with concurrent sentencing and a 25% reduction due to his guilty plea, he’s serving four and a half years in prison and five on licence.

Initially, he was held in a medium-secure psychiatric unit, but now he’s back in prison and could be considered for parole as early as August 2022. He could be free to return to Rhosgadfan. It’s horrendous.

Rhinon believes her ex will reoffend
Rhinon believes her ex will reoffend

Without consulting me, a restraining order was put in place in February 2020 for 10 years, which states Gareth can’t come within 800 meters of my house on his release. That is meaningless in our village. He could even be allowed to live in Rhosgadfan, because this is where he claims his support system is. But why does that trump my right to be protected?

I feel the behavior he’s demonstrated is sociopathic – at times psychopathic – and he’s likely to reoffend. My only hope is his parole conditions are strengthened – and I can be part of the discussion – before his release.

He told me before that I’d humiliated him by having him arrested, so I’m terrified he’ll seek revenge. I know him going to prison was the right thing to happen, but now I need the law to look after my safety. Otherwise I can’t imagine how I’ll feel when he’s freed, when he could watch me and my children go about our daily business. It feels like a nightmare that will never go away.”

Rhinon was not paid for this article

If you need support, visit Refuge.org.uk or call Refuge’s Freephone 24 hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247

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