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Plenty of red flags? - A case of its time

'The sex was pretty weird to be honest, Robert tested boundaries constantly and enjoyed aspects that I found uncomfortable, but after every occasion when overstepping the line had resulted in upset or injury I accepted his apology and visited him again.'

I met Robert on the dating site Plenty of Fish in 2014 after leaving a not-so-nice 12 year relationship with my second husband. I certainly wasn’t looking for anything serious and had only ever been on one previous date before my first one with him.

I had been married twice before and had ended my second one due to my husband being controlling and violent. My first single Christmas and New year had been a total disaster and I made the promise to myself on a journey taking my eldest son back to university on the 2nd January that I would 100% meet up with the next person who contacted me via the site.

On the return journey home, just as I was leaving the motorway, that message came through. It simply said ‘Hi’ and was from the profile of a young, very good looking and seemingly successful aerospace engineer who lived on Salford Quays, which was some 30 miles from my home but having made the promise to myself, I stuck to it.

We chatted for a few days, quite a lot, and found that we had things in common in spite of our 16 year age difference. Actually, it was only 14 at that time as Robert had lied on his profile. Due to the limits of age, discrepancies meant that he couldn’t contact anyone more than 15 years his senior. He liked older women, he was 24 at the time and I was 38.

We arranged that I would go to his flat on the Wednesday of the week following our first contact. I’d never driven to Salford Quays before despite having studied at university close by a few years before, and I got hopelessly lost trying to find his building, but after an hour or so he jumped into my car and gave me a huge kiss which I reciprocated, man was he fit!

I was staying over at his place and had informed him not to expect sex as I wasn’t that type of girl … I think we all say that but c’mon we were consenting grown ups and it had been a very long time, so it wasn’t long before we were both naked and getting down to it. Robert was absolutely rubbish on this first occasion, maybe nerves, maybe knackered after what I found out he had been up to with numerous other partners during the months following this first encounter.

In the morning he walked me back to my car, the first and only time that he ever did so, and we arranged that I would go over on the Saturday night. He cancelled that date on the morning of it, but it didn’t put me off seeing him again.

When I first met Robert he was wearing a tag for a serious crime that he had committed against his best friend at that time. He had glassed him and was incredibly lucky not to have been jailed. I never once noticed that he was wearing this tag in the three months that he was wearing it and I was visiting him, I cannot explain how but I simply didn’t.

The sex was pretty weird to be honest, Robert tested boundaries constantly and enjoyed aspects that I found uncomfortable but after every occasion when overstepping the line had resulted in upset or injury I accepted his apology and visited him again.

Just before Christmas 2015, I was given a bonus pay-cheque from my employers and decided to take Robert away to Portugal for the New Year. He spent the entire time either baked on weed or ignoring me completely. I knew that he was still using the dating apps in the UK, but using them there was something else, so I decided that I would end the relationship as soon as we got back home. I didn’t.

Our relationship continued and Robert's revoked driving licence was returned to him after a three year ban, shortly before the tenancy on his flat in Salford was coming up for renewal. He didn’t wish to renew the tenancy so I was concerned that it would be the end of us seeing one another. I offered for him to stay at my flat until something better came along. My eldest two had left home and my youngest visited on Wednesdays and alternate weekends. He had the spare room and I had my room, but we rarely slept apart.

Robert hadn’t been staying at my home for long when he disclosed that he wanted a baby and asked me to consider having my sterilisation reversed. I considered it for five seconds and told him no.

What I then suggested has been accepted by very few people who have been told it, but I suggested that he go and find someone who can give him the lifestyle that he was craving, that of a family, because I couldn’t. So he began going on dates and chatting to people on dating apps, and I did nothing to stop him. I didn’t want to - I wanted him to want me and our life together.

We booked a holiday to return to Portugal for that Christmas and I took on a job at a local pub to save up some extra money. Robert used this time to go on many dates, which on reflection were nothing more than meeting up with women for sex. Robert enjoyed the company of older women, but had begun to seek out those younger due to his desire to be a dad.

In early November, I was invited to a bonfire party. I asked Robert if he wanted to join me but he declined and after a few hours I decided to return home as the party wasn't for me. I arrived home and Robert told me that he was going out for a few hours, I knew that he was going on a date and on this occasion it really fucked me off for some reason and we rowed. I ended up throwing him out of the flat.

He returned home a few hours later, came upstairs to my room and told me that the girl he had visited looked nothing like her photos and that she had been really weird about him having two Plenty of Fish profiles (one where we lived and one back in Salford). I asked him if they had sex and he said they did but after they had finished she had said to him:

‘You’d best not be like that rest and just have come here for sex’.

He then said that she had told him that he had better message in 20 minutes when he got home because she didn’t believe that he lived locally. He threw his phone on the bed, laughing, and I have to admit that I laughed too. I didn’t want him in my bed that night so he slept, begrudgingly, in the spare room.

I was in a foul mood when I woke up the following day and Robert tried his very best to lighten the mood by telling me he was sorry, that he loved me and offering to make dinner that night. I soon came around, as I always did when it came to him, and was a lot happier by the time it came to him going to the shop for the items he needed to make dinner. His phone rang, as it had a number of times that morning and we had a brief discussion about it probably being his date from the previous night stalking him (as he had blocked her number).

Robert went to the supermarket and when he returned his mood had completely changed, and he looked pretty ill. His phone was still ringing and he went into his room a few times where I could hear him talking, but couldn’t hear what he was saying. Very little conversation was had during the night and before we went to sleep he gave me an enormous hug and reassured me about how much he loved me.

The following day was a Monday and I had arranged to meet my eldest daughter for a couple of drinks after work. I sent Robert a few texts during the day but had no reply, which really wasn’t like him but I wasn’t unduly worried. My daughter came back to the flat with me and saw two scribbled notes in the letterbox asking me to contact a Detective Sergeant as soon as I could.

My immediate thoughts were that he had died in a car crash going to work that morning. I called the number and the officer answered immediately. Within a few minutes he had informed me that Robert had been in police custody all day being interviewed about an allegation of rape. I asked them to come to my home to discuss it further as I had some things to show them, and as his clothes were at my flat I assumed that they would want them for forensics or something. They never took them.

The two female officers arrived 30 minutes later. One was a short, overweight, frumpy sort and the other a very striking-looking, tall, slim blonde. They gave a brief synopsis of the reasons why Robert had been questioned and advised me not to contact him. I told them to piss off and that until I had spoken to him I would refrain from judging. I had also drunk the best part of a bottle of wine by the time they left. Notes were made about what we discussed mostly about my disclosure about our ‘open relationship’ and how Robert could be ‘misunderstood’, but was certainly not harmful in any way.

They had taken the two phones that he owned into custody, so he went and bought one as soon as he was bailed and called me. I agreed to him coming to see me at the flat the following evening and we discussed, at length, what had happened and the possible reasons why this allegation would have been made against him?

He stayed over that night but we did not have sex. None of it made sense and I was absolutely terrified about social services turning up and his being found under my roof. Days and weeks went by with no contact, so I agreed to go on the holiday that we had booked having convinced myself that if it was such a big deal that he would be in prison and social services would have surely visited by now?

We had a pretty decent holiday in all fairness, but that all ended as soon as we approached passport control on our return to the UK. I don’t know how I knew that the three officers standing waiting were there to speak to Robert, but I did. I parted from his side and went to a booth closest to the exit, passed through it and then heard an officer say:

'Robert, can we have a word?’

My blood ran cold, he had reassured me that he was allowed to travel so what was this all about? I started towards the exit just wanting to escape and have nothing more to do with this complete show-up. A tap on my shoulder.

‘Miss, have you been travelling with Robert? Can we have a word please?'

I was ushered into a small office and two officers looked down at me like I was three feet tall, and went on to inform me that Robert was being arrested and that I should make my own way home. I asked if it was in relation to an allegation made before Christmas, and with looks of pity one of them nodded whilst the other simply advised me to go home.

We had travelled in Robert's car, I’d never driven it before so I asked for a lift back to my home town. That was met with a no. I told them I didn’t think that I had insurance to drive his car, I was told to take it slow and it would be okay. I drove home and began packing up the clothes that were in my home, ready to ask Robert to leave me alone as what had just happened was too much.

A few hours later he called and explained that he had been released and was free to go. It had been a misunderstanding and could I pick him up? Of course, I went to collect him and had no reason to not believe him when he told me a few days later that the charges against him had been dropped. I wasn’t shocked or surprised, why would I be?

We continued on, but I didn’t allow him to stay at my home when my youngest daughter was staying over; well not often, but it did happen on occasions. Our relationship, if anything, thrived for the next six months and I fell very much in love with this new Robert, this guy who put me first and seemed to adore me. That was all I had ever wanted and now it looked like I had it all.

In October of 2016, a very good friend of mine advised me that I should google Robert's name. She said nothing more than a police friend of hers had concerns for my safety and thought that I should be aware of something. I googled it immediately and threw up. The case hadn’t been closed, it was very much still live and the newspaper article informed me that two days before my birthday, back in April, Robert had appeared before the magistrates and had his case committed to trial. No date had been posted for when, and I knew that confronting him directly would only allow the potential for further lies to be told, so I waited until we visited his best friend at the weekend.

I took the first opportunity to question Lance whilst Robert was paying for fuel at the garage and he immediately confessed that the trial had been booked to commence on 19th December, eight weeks away. Filled with rage, I hit out at Robert as soon as he returned to the car and continued the assault until he pulled over a short distance from the petrol station. As always the apologies were forthcoming and he declared that he was looking forward to clearing his name as the allegations were completely untrue, and reminding me about our conversations about the person who had accused him and what she had said that night to him. To have lied to me for so long was absolutely unforgivable, but losing him was unimaginable at that time so I decided to simply push it to the back of my mind.

A few weeks later when he was visiting he passed me a document. It was his defence papers and listed the indictments against him. I found out, only then, that there were two complaints from two different women who lived in different towns, and that they had made separate allegations against him just four days apart. I found out, only then, that he had been arrested on our return from Portugal that year in relation to the first incident, which was the sexual assault of a young mother whilst she had her baby in her arms.

He immediately admitted that he had assaulted her, but wholly refuted the further allegations that he had masturbated in front of the child. I asked him why he hadn’t told me the truth and he replied that he didn’t want to lose me. I crumbled and agreed to assist him during his trial and implored him to explain to the police what he had told me.

Robert was acutely aware that he had assaulted the first victim and was hugely remorseful about the harm which this had, no doubt, caused her. Having received voicemails from the police on the day of his manhunt whilst at my flat, Robert had begun researching assistance with this by way of using google to find a solicitor suitable to defend him. This search history formed an integral part of the prosecution in his trial.

He never did. I was never called to assist with his defence due to it being assumed that we had ended our relationship, and the notes taken on the evening by the officers who attended my home never having been used to notify social services of my intention to see Robert.

If we are to accept that Robert was rightfully found guilty and jailed for the indictments on which he was accused, then for ten months I allowed a monster to remain in the company of not just myself, but that of my young daughter and other family members. This unforgivable misconduct has formed the backbone of my fight to defend the falsely accused, and latterly support any loved one who finds themselves the completely innocent bystander when their loved one is accused of sexual offending. I have nothing but complete empathy and absolute compassion for anyone who becomes the victims of any offence, none more so than those who suffer such horrific attacks such as rape and sexual molestation. But this isn't about them.

I often think back to the time around when the allegations were made and question if I was somehow complicit in the events which led to Robert being jailed. Had I not thrown him out of the flat on that evening, then a situation would never had arose which led to a young woman accusing him of raping her. This wouldn’t, however, have had any bearing on the allegation made by another young woman four days prior. I feel enormous regret and remorse for every single person who was affected by what happened. I couldn’t have loved him any more than I did. I couldn’t have supported him any more than I did. And, I certainly couldn’t have given him any more opportunities to achieve the goal which he had set out for himself than I did.

I’m sure that you, the reader, will be yelling out right now about how blinkered, naïve and utterly stupid I was to allow what happened to do so, and trust me, no one is yelling louder than me. This is about red flags. I have shared my story in the hope that everyone can see these way before anyone gets irreparably hurt.

Emma Wells

Please let us know if you think that there is a mistake in this article, explaining what you think is wrong and why. We will correct any errors as soon as possible.

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