When Sheree Spencer, the mother of three little girls and a senior manager at the Ministry of Justice, was facing sentence for ‘the worst case of controlling and coercive behaviour’ the judge in question had ever seen, her abused husband Richard could only ‘focus on a spot on a piece of furniture and stare at it to get through it’.
‘I felt absolutely nothing the few times I glanced across at Sheree,’ says Richard. ‘I didn’t feel anger. I didn’t feel scared. I didn’t have any emotion,’ he says, in this harrowing interview.
‘But I was hyper-conscious of how my family was reacting when the judge described the horrific things she’d done.
‘To hear the judge use the same language Sheree used — the f-word and the c-word — the things she called me like ‘bitch’ and knowing my family were hearing those things was . . .’ He struggles to find the words. There aren’t any.
‘When I think about those memories, I don’t feel associated to them. It’s like they happened to someone else. I know it was me but, in my mind, I can’t understand how I could have allowed that to happen.’
When Sheree Spencer, the mother of three little girls and a senior manager at the Ministry of Justice, was facing sentence for ‘the worst case of controlling and coercive behaviour’ the judge in question had ever seen, her abused husband Richard (pictured) could only ‘focus on a spot on a piece of furniture and stare at it to get through it’
It’s hard to comprehend how anyone could have tolerated two decades of such living hell, during which he was subjected to daily beatings and verbal attacks that left him cowering on the floor in the foetal position
This is the first time Richard has relived his 20-year ordeal at the hands of his wife.
It’s hard to comprehend how anyone could have tolerated two decades of such living hell, during which he was subjected to daily beatings and verbal attacks that left him cowering on the floor in the foetal position.
Few could have imagined to look at Sheree, a senior project manager for HM Prison and Probation Service who boasted to friends of meetings with former prime minister Boris Johnson, that this bewitchingly pretty blonde was capable of such despicable abuse.
Last week, she was sentenced to four years in prison at Hull Crown Court after pleading guilty to coercive and controlling behaviour and three counts of assault occasioning actual bodily harm.
Her campaign of violence and intimidation is almost too shocking to catalogue. She spat in his face. Hit him with whatever she had to hand — a bottle, a mobile phone, a TV remote control.
I wore make-up to hide bruises. Abuse became the norm
On one occasion, she defecated on the floor, then forced him to clear it up. On another, she beat him with a wine bottle so hard it permanently disfigured his ear.
Richard, 46, has shared with me some of the videos of abuse which were captured on a security camera in the children’s playroom. Sheree’s uncontrolled fury is the most terrifying I have ever witnessed.
She threatens him with a knife, drags him to the floor, kicks him, punches him. ‘Get the f***ing chicken on! Get to the f***ing shop,’ she screams. ‘You will learn.’ He cowers. Pleads with her to stop.
When officers from Humberside police interviewed Richard at the family’s seven-bedroom home in a leafy village near York following Sheree’s arrest in June 2021, the investigating officer was so disturbed by what she heard she had to leave the room.
‘She was crying,’ Richard recalls. He weeps himself now.
‘When the things that have happened to me upset someone else I feel guilty,’ he explains. ‘I just feel that no normal person would have let that happen.’
Richard is actually a thoroughly decent, intelligent man with the sort of logical brain that gained him a degree in computing at Leeds Metropolitan University and a position at BT in network design that soon saw him addressing global conferences as an expert in his field.
Yet at home he was made to feel worthless. As difficult as he finds talking about it now, he is determined to speak out to ‘help as many other people in a similar situation as I can,’ he says.
Richard and Sheree on holiday in Brazil in 2003, when they had known each other three years
Richard and Sheree married in Phi-Phi, Thailand, shortly before Christmas 2009
The couple during their wedding in Phi-Phi, Thailand, in December 2009
‘I want as many people to read about my thoughts and feelings and think, ‘That sounds like me or that sounds like my partner’ because this was so incremental.’
Looking back to the start of their relationship, it is a miracle Richard can recall any fondness at all.
‘For the first couple of years it was 95 per cent nice times and 5 per cent not nice times,’ he says. ‘It evolved. By the time she was punching me so I was having to wear make-up to hide the bruises, the abuse had become the norm.
‘I felt I deserved to be punished. I lost my independence and willpower and just accepted that was how my life was going to be. In the end, she controlled everything from which room I could sleep in to which toilet I could use. I was no longer me.’
When Richard met Sheree at a nightclub in 2000, he was a confident, fun-loving 23-year-old who went to the gym, loved music and travel, had a wide circle of friends and liked nothing more than to spend time with his family.
His mum had died when he was nine, but he was close to his dad, younger sister and extended family, including a stepmother he now calls ‘Mum’.
Sheree, then 22 and hugely attractive, was, he says, ‘this fun, effervescent, really confident person who everyone liked. She’d do really kind things, buy thoughtful gifts.’ He remembers an early romantic break in Venice before the violence began.
‘I remember going to a Vivaldi concert in a church or cathedral and a meal at a nice restaurant afterwards. Walking back to the hotel by the canals was quite atmospheric — unlike memories of most of the other cities we went to, which are tainted by evenings when she’d become abusive.’
She controlled everything. I was no longer me
Sheree, who was from Sunderland, didn’t have ‘the best childhood,’ he says. ‘She’d moved around a lot and witnessed abuse herself.
‘She would go into detail about when her mum and dad got drunk. I wanted to help her. She was the first person I’d fallen in love with.’
The violence began a few months into their relationship when she was staying at his flat in Ipswich. The arguments would start ‘always when she’d be drinking,’ he says.
‘They could be about anything — normally something I’d done or not done. In the early stages it was pushing me, breaking things and slapping me. The next day she’d be extremely apologetic and say she wouldn’t let it happen again.
‘She’d write little notes saying she loved me. I’d apologise too because, although I wouldn’t have been the one shouting, I’d feel I played a role in the argument.
‘Sheree would explain her behaviour by saying, ‘If you hadn’t done that, then I wouldn’t have done this.’ You’d think, ‘OK, I can see why she’s saying that.’
Why he didn’t end their relationship when they were merely dating is something he still can’t explain.
‘I’ve got quite a lot of blank periods in my mind,’ he says. ‘I felt like I was in love with her probably for years and I thought she was with me, but looking back now I don’t think I’d call it love any more.’
He even excused her having an affair with a friend of his in January 2007 because, he says, ‘it was my fault for working long hours and neglecting her. I had an internet business I worked on in the evening because I wanted us to be financially secure.
‘She said I had also been disloyal by putting my family before her because I’d gone alone to a party at my auntie’s, that she didn’t want to go to, on the night the affair began. She said I deserved it — how could I have thought she was right?’
He looks truly bewildered. For a man who has lost all bearings on the narrative of his own life, he is now trying to fit together the jigsaw of his past from emails he has kept.
Following her affair, Richard’s relationship with his family, whom Sheree insisted ‘judged’ her, became increasingly distant. He saw friends less and less.
‘I have found lots of emails from Sheree telling me how much she loves me and that I am her soulmate,’ he says. ‘So I think the period after the affair and deciding to make a go of things must have been a nice, calm time leading up to our marriage.’
Richard says now he still believed he loved Sheree on their wedding day in December 2009.
So much so, he agreed to slip away to Thailand, on the pretext of a holiday, to marry her at a luxury, beachfront hotel in the Phi Phi Islands without a single friend or family member present.
‘It wasn’t the best of days,’ he says. ‘Sheree got drunk and angry with the people who came to do her hair and told them to get out.
‘I made an excuse in my mind that she was being like that because of the pressure of the day. I even said to her, ‘Everyone has butterflies’.
‘Believe it or not, I felt marriage was a natural progression. When we came back, I wanted to think of it as a fresh start.
Richard has bravely shared graphic photos that he took detailing his injuries, including a wine glass wound to his arm from Christmas 2019 and a bust lip the following June
‘But we never really got back on track.’ Indeed, the violence escalated, particularly when, year after year, they tried unsuccessfully to start a family.
‘She’d say to me, ‘When I have a baby, I’ll be happy. I won’t mind you working all those hours.’ We actually had a phrase for it ‘baby dance’ and sometimes I had to ‘dance’ twice a day.
‘If I wasn’t physically able, she’d say things like, ‘All you’ve got to do is perform. You’re not a man.’
‘As she got more desperate she got really angry. She’d talk about my size to insult me. I resorted then to getting Viagra-type drugs online. There weren’t any pleasurable feelings.’
I’d try to placate her, then she’d punch me again
After three fruitless years, they decided upon IVF. When the third cycle failed in February 2014, Sheree’s violent explosions increased.
So much so that in April Richard was admitted to A&E requiring stitches after Sheree smashed a wine glass on his head.
Yet again, he made excuses, feeling that she lashed out through disappointment. ‘I thought a baby was going to answer our problems,’ he says.
Their eldest child was eventually conceived in 2015 during their sixth cycle of IVF. Her birth was, says Richard, ‘amazing.’
He fell in love with his daughter the moment he held her. However, his joy was short-lived. When they came back home, things deteriorated. Nor did a move to a larger property — a seven-bedroom house near York — ease the strain.
‘She started really attacking me a year after we moved when our daughter was about 14 months,’ he says.
‘It would go on over a period of hours. She’d attack me and then sit back down. I’d try to placate her, then she’d get back up and start hitting and punching me again. Eventually she’d go to sleep on the playroom floor because she’d been drinking.
An elbow injury Sheree inflicted on Richard with a wine bottle in 2020
‘When she got angry, one of the ways she used to hurt me was smashing my laptop on the floor. Once she picked one up and put it straight in the washing-up water. I probably got through five or six laptops, so I used to hide them.
‘That was about the time when she began to threaten me about our daughter. She said she was going to smash her face in the mirror and cut it, then call the police and say I’d done it so I wouldn’t be able to see her.
‘So I started gathering the recordings from the camera in the playroom and take photographs of my injuries because I thought I needed to protect myself.
‘Still in my mind, I wanted us to be together. I really loved the family unit. We had one embryo left. Sheree didn’t want our daughter to be an only child. I rationalised in my mind, ‘If we have another baby we’ll get through this.’ It’s crazy, isn’t it?’
Their middle daughter was conceived during the first cycle of IVF. Within four months of her birth, Sheree was pregnant again with a child they’d conceived naturally.
She’d lie on the sofa drinking bottles of wine
‘Sheree had always wanted three children and, once she was born, that’s when, what I now know they call, ‘the discard phase’ began,’ says Richard, who has read goodness knows how many articles about narcissistic behaviour.
‘She wanted the house, wanted the kids and wanted me to pay maintenance. She’d whisper in my ear, ‘You’ll never win. Watch this.’
She’d open the bedroom window and shout, ‘Richard stop it. You’re hurting me. Don’t hit me.’ Then, she’d shut the window and say, ‘I told you you’ll never beat me. I’m much cleverer than you.’
The violence and drinking escalated. For days on end, Sheree would lie on the sofa drinking as much as three bottles of wine a day. At 3am, she would slap Richard awake and make him drive to the garage to get more.
More photos Richard has shared of the injuries his wife inflicted on him in attacks during 2020
‘At night, when I was alone in bed, either in pain after being beaten with a bottle or completely demoralised, I’d imagine a switch on the wall and that it could end all the pain and the feeling of hopelessness.
‘I’d visualise getting out of bed, pressing the switch and the darkness turning into pure light. Nothing else would exist — just the bright warm light and I would be absorbed into it.
‘I felt guilty I’d become estranged from my family and thought it might be easier for them if I wasn’t here.
‘Then I thought about the sadness they would feel if I was gone and how it would affect my children, so I knew I’d never get out of bed and press that switch no matter how bad things got.’
Today, Richard’s home is a warm, calm place with photographs of the girls and their paintings from school on the walls.
Goodness knows how their young lives would be if Tony, an old dear friend of Richard’s who worked as a military policeman, hadn’t intervened one night and alerted the authorities.
Sheree was on the sofa and in a state of semi-undress when officers arrived at the house later that night to arrest her. Their eldest daughter, woken by the noise, wandered downstairs and saw the police
Tony, who Richard hadn’t seen for several years, had gone to the family’s home following a drunken phone call from Sheree who’d called to say that she was being abused.
When he arrived, Richard finally confessed the truth, sharing with Tony his disturbing video footage and images of his injuries.
‘Tony said, ‘I’ve got to do what I think is best for you as a friend and for the kids. Even if you hate me now, I hope in the future you’ll think it’s for the right reason.’ I said, ‘You do what you have to do.’
Sheree was on the sofa and in a state of semi-undress when officers arrived at the house later that night to arrest her. Their eldest daughter, woken by the noise, wandered downstairs and saw the police.
‘I took her to the spare room and sat with her while Sheree got some clothes. My daughter was stood at the window and could see her mum being put in the police van.’ Tears choke him now, as he thinks of his children’s suffering.
‘When the police came back that night to take a statement, I made excuses for Sheree. They were so empathetic. All the fears I’d had about not being believed disappeared, but I’d spent half of my lifetime trying to rationalise her behaviour. It was natural for me to defend her — even to the police.’
The following day, two officers and a social worker arrived to inform Richard that Sheree was being charged.
The scales finally dropped from Richard’s eyes when he was told of her reaction to a video the police showed her when she threatened Richard with a knife.
‘They told me they’d played her a video, first without sound, of her telling me she was going to burst my car tyres because I’d looked at her in a certain way. She’d gone outside, cut the tyre and came back holding the knife which she held against my neck.
‘She watched it and said, ‘OK, so what’s happened is I’ve got a knife because I’ve been telling him I want a divorce and that he may as well kill me if he won’t give me one. I’m trying to hand him the knife because I can’t take it any more.’
‘They then played the video with the sound and asked her, ‘Have you got anything to say?’ She just shrugged and said, ‘There’s not much I can say, is there?’
‘I thought when she saw the video she wouldn’t believe she was capable of that and would get very upset. But the police said she never showed any emotion. I knew then her whole life was a tapestry of lies.’
In total, Richard handed police 36 videos, nine audio recordings and 43 photographs of the abuse. Sheree was charged and issued with a restraining order.
Richard says his family have been nothing but supportive, but it will take many years to recover
‘I felt like an elephant had got off my neck,’ says Richard. ‘I could breathe. I rang my dad. He came straight over with my youngest sister and stepmum.
‘They were crying and hugging me. They’d only seen my oldest two daughters a couple of times and never met my youngest, so it was partly a reunion and partly traumatic.’
His family have been nothing but supportive since. ‘I don’t know if they feel they should have known. We haven’t talked about it. We might one day but how was anyone to know? It hurts me that this has affected so many people.’
Richard accepts it will take many years, if ever, for his mental scars to heal. For now, he wants only to give his lovely daughters the calmest, most stable two years he can before their mother is released from prison.
‘I’ve been struggling because everyone has been so kind it’s overwhelming,’ he admits.
‘There was no kindness with Sheree. I can still hear the girls crying and want to show them life shouldn’t be like that. They’re flourishing in a safe, secure home. It’s what they deserve.’
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