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Belfast victim of domestic abuse pleads with others to seek help after rise in incidents during lockdown


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Claire Hargrove with former partner Daniel Boal

Claire Hargrove with former partner Daniel Boal

A battered and bruised Claire is pictured with her daughter Faith.

A battered and bruised Claire is pictured with her daughter Faith.

Detective Superintendent Anthony McNally.

Detective Superintendent Anthony McNally.

Claire Hargrove with former partner Daniel Boal

A woman who suffered a fractured cheekbone when her partner stamped on her head has begged people in abusive relationships to seek help.

Claire Hargrove, from north Belfast, was left with the print from Daniel Boal's trainers on her face when he attacked her in their home as their children slept.

The brute grabbed a kitchen knife, but 30-year-old Claire managed to escape to a neighbour's house.

Boal was arrested at the scene and jailed for four-and-a-half years.

Claire decided to speak out after police revealed they were handling an increasing number of domestic violence cases during lockdown. Officers received more than 2,500 reports of such incidents in April alone.

"I had counselling with Women's Aid, which made me realise how Daniel's Jekyll-and-Hyde behaviour had been a form of abuse," she said.

"I'm telling my story to warn other women. If you notice warning signs, get out. I wish I'd left before he had a chance to attack me."

Claire said Boal was "attentive and kind" when they first met, taking her on date nights and helping with her son Harvey, now eight. When she became pregnant, they were delighted.

"Daniel's face lit up when I told him. He said we were going to be a family. He treated me like a princess, getting up before me to make bacon and eggs for breakfast, helping with the housework and doing the school runs with Harvey. I told my friends I thought I'd found the perfect man," she explained.

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A battered and bruised Claire is pictured with her daughter Faith.

A battered and bruised Claire is pictured with her daughter Faith.

A battered and bruised Claire is pictured with her daughter Faith.

Claire gave birth to their son Jaxon, now four, followed by a daughter Faith, now three, but during her second pregnancy, Boal became increasingly overprotective and jealous.

"He was starting to control what I wore and who I hung about with. I found myself drifting away from friends Daniel didn't like. Telling myself I needed to stay with the father of my children, I walked on eggshells to keep the peace," she said.

"He was like Jekyll and Hyde. I never knew what mood he'd be in. One minute he'd be cooing over my growing bump, the next minute he'd fly into a rage and punch a hole in the wall."

Matters came to a head in May 2016 after Boal went to a house party. When he arrived home just after midnight, Claire knew something was wrong.

After they got into an argument in the kitchen, she asked him to keep his voice down because the children were asleep, but instead Boal lashed out with a savage attack.

"He started smashing dishes at my feet, then he grabbed a fistful of my hair. He knocked me to the floor and began kicking and punching me," Claire said.

"I curled myself into a ball. All I could think of was trying to stay quiet so as not to wake the kids.

"The boys were upstairs in their beds, but Faith was asleep on the sofa just a few feet away.

"I begged him to stop as he stamped on my face. I heard a crack in my cheek, followed by a searing pain, then the blows stopped. For a second I was flooded with relief, thinking it was over, but then I heard him draw a carving knife from the block."

Claire hauled herself to her feet and ran, making it across the road to a neighbour who had heard the commotion and had already dialled 999.

After Boal was led away in handcuffs, Claire was taken to the Ulster Hospital, where X-rays showed she had a fractured cheekbone and needed an operation to fit a metal plate and screws.

Her abusive partner pleaded guilty to four charges, including grievous bodily harm with intent, criminal damage, common assault and possessing a blade, when he appeared at Belfast Crown Court in October 2017.

Claire has now moved on with her life and has a new fiance, but she has a warning for other women in her position.

"I thought that I'd found my Prince Charming, but it was all a lie. The warning signs were there and I should have got away sooner," she said.

Over the past 12 months the PSNI has seen an average of 570 domestic abuse calls every week, but that figure rose significantly last month.

Detective Superintendent Anthony McNally, from the PSNI's public protection branch, told Sunday Life: "During these unprecedented times of the Covid-19 pandemic, people are spending more time at home, which can create potentially stressful situations.

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Detective Superintendent Anthony McNally.

Detective Superintendent Anthony McNally.

Detective Superintendent Anthony McNally.

"As a police service, we want victims of domestic abuse to know we are still here to help you, despite the pandemic. You are not alone and we have not forgotten you.

"Despite the pandemic, victims continue to suffer at the hands of their abusers and, in the four weeks from April 1 to April 28, we have received 2,580 domestic abuse calls.

"From April 22 to April 28, there were 655 calls. From April 15 to April 21, there were 617 calls.

"This compares to 585 domestic abuse calls during the week of April 1 to April 7, while during the week of April 8 to April 14 there were 723 domestic abuse calls made to us."

DS McNally said he wanted to reassure the public that help was still available during the pandemic.

"While these figures tell us that victims are finding the courage to pick up the phone and call us, we must never forget that behind each of these calls is a victim who is experiencing a harrowing ordeal at the hands of perpetrators," he added.

"I want to reassure victims of domestic abuse that we are here for you and we will support you in every way and on every step of your journey.

"So please, speak out so you can help to stop it happening.

"Anyone who is suffering from domestic abuse can contact police on the non-emergency 101 number or 999 in an emergency.

"We also have the Silent Solutions Service, which enables a 999 caller who is too scared to make a noise, or speak, to press 55 when prompted.

"The 24-hour Domestic and Sexual Abuse Helpline is also available to anyone who has concerns about domestic or sexual abuse, now or in the past, on 0808 802 1414."

slnews@sundaylife.co.uk

Belfast Telegraph