Many  joke that BBC Radio 4’s The Archers is a story of farming folk which bears no relevance to the lives that many of us now lead.

However the Archers have always tried to keep up to date with changes in the law. Witness the gay couple Adam and Ian the chef at Grey Gables celebrating a civil partnership as soon as the new law was introduced. (More of Adam and Ian later this week).

For the last few months a story that is increasingly troubling keen Archers’ fans is the story of the relationship between Rob and Helen Titchener. Helen, formerly an Archer, is a vulnerable young woman who has historically  suffered with serious anorexia. In the summer she married Rob Titchener a domineering individual.  After an incident where Helen became pregnant following sexual intercourse, with at  least, an element of force Helen became pregnant and since then Rob’s behaviour towards her has become increasingly bullying and controlling. However there is help in the shape of a new domestic violence law which came into force on 29 December 2015 which may assist Helen.

Section 76 Serious Crime Act 2015 (SCA2015) criminalises controlling or coercive behaviour within an intimate or family relationship. Any individual found guilty of the offence may receive up to a maximum of 5 years imprisonment, a fine or both. The Home Office has provided a statutory guidance framework in respect of the offence which provides a non-exhaustive list of the types of behaviour which will be associate with coercion or control. This includes behaviour such as isolating a person from their friends and family, monitoring a person via online communications tools or using spyware, repeatedly putting them down and financial control. For the controlling or coercive behaviour to constitute an offence the following must apply:-

  • The controlling or coercive behaviour must take place “repeatedly” or “continuously”.
  • The pattern of behaviour has to have a “serious effect” on the victim.
  • The behaviour must be such that the perpetrator knows or ought to know that it will have a serious effect.
  • The perpetrator and victim have to be personally connected when the incidents took place.

So is Rob guilty of any of the above?. The Home Office provides statutory guidance and says that the behaviours below (in italics) may count as abuse:-

  • Isolating a person from their friends and family - Yes Rob prevented Helen from enjoying Christmas with her family or even visiting them on Christmas day. He has prevented her from driving claiming that a recent prang and speeding conviction mean she is not fit to drive.
  • Monitoring a person – The jury is out on this one however it is surprising that Rob arrived home just as soon as his mother (whom Helen had not previously met) made a surprise visit to Helen.
  • Financial abuse – Yes a lump sum from her gran has been placed into a joint account from which Rob spends freely. Her salary is now paid into the joint account at Rob’s insistence.
  • Repeatedly putting her down? – Yes he accuses her of being forgetful, making mistakes, driving badly to name but a few examples!  

There is no question that Helen has suffered serious harm she has already restricted her intake of food. The controlling behaviour certainly takes place repeatedly and continuously. Rob is an intelligent man he was a manager of a large dairy farm. There is no question that he ought to know that his behaviour will have  a serious effect on Helen.

The law recognises for the first time that abuse is a complex and sustained pattern of behaviour intended to create fear. These powers will target perpetrators who subjects spouses, partners and other family members to severe psychological and emotional torment which stops short of violence for which remedies already exist.

Coercive behaviour is defined as a  continuing  act or pattern of acts which are used to harm, punish or frighten a victim.

Controlling behaviour covers a range of conduct designed to make a person subordinate or dependent.

Home Office guidance says that in order for the offence to apply the pattern of behaviour alleged must have a “serious effect” on the victim.

This means that they must have either feared violence would be used against them on at least two occasions or they have been caused serious alarm or distress which has a “substantial adverse effect” on their usual day to day activities.

Over the last few months Helen has been prevented from driving by Rob (allegedly for her own safety). She has also been isolated from her family by manipulating ensuring that she did not come into contact with her family over Christmas.

Fans of the Archers wonder how long it will be before Helen becomes aware of the new law (perhaps her friend Kirsty will enlighten her?). How long will it be before Helen reports the situation to the local bobby PC Burns?

Hopefully the storyline will help women who may be subject to similar abuse and who may not appreciate that such behaviours are criminal be aware of their rights.

Louisa Rolfe, National Police Lead on domestic violence said the new offence “will provide more opportunities to evidence other forms of domestic abuse, beyond physical violence”.

Undoubtedly this story will run and run.