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Prison for man who subjected wife to ‘sustained and wicked campaign of abuse’

Robert Simmons outside Lerwick Sheriff Court on Wednesday. Photo: Shetland News

A MAN who subjected his wife to nearly three decades of “depraved and cruel” behaviour described as being at times “almost cult-like” has been sent to prison for over two and a half years.

Sheriff Philip Mann told Lerwick Sheriff Court on Wednesday that 62 year old Robert Simmons embarked on a “sustained and wicked campaign of abuse” against his wife.

The sheriff sentenced Simmons to a total of 32 months in custody, which was reduced from four years due to his early plea, and gave him an indefinite non-harassment order relating to his wife.

Defence agent Tommy Allan said Simmons acknowledged that he “did wrong” and “sees things differently now”.

Procurator fiscal Duncan Mackenzie previously told Lerwick Sheriff Court that the 11 charges admitted by Robert Simmons, of Garth, Sandness, amounted to “one of the worst cases of domestic abuse” he had ever dealt with.

At his last court appearance in September, Simmons admitted 11 charges which spanned between December 1988 and March this year.

The court previously heard that Simmons told police during an interview that ‘I don’t think women are inferior to men” but “when we got married, she took a vow of obedience to me”.

The victim found the courage to first speak up about Simmons’ behaviour in 2015 when she contacted the the local Women’s Aid branch.

The victim has declined to speak about her experiences, but Shetland Women’s Aid released a statement saying that sentencing is only “part of a survivor’s journey to recovery”.

Procurator fiscal Duncan Mackenzie previously told the court that the couple had been in a relationship for over 33 years – married for 30 – and had a number of children together, who had been home-schooled.

He said Simmons was a regular church attender and “professed to be a committed Christian” – but he misused religion as a mechanism of control, the fiscal said.

Mackenzie had told the court that the “coercive and controlling” Simmons was the “authority in the family” who set the rules, but he added that those rules frequently changed.

He said he regulated how the woman spent her day – often setting timetables of 15-minute periods – and would make her carry notebooks.

They would include her “mistake book”, to-do lists and a “making progress” book. Mackenzie said police seized hundreds of them from their home.

Over the years, the woman lost her “sense of self-worth”, the fiscal previously said, and Simmons’ “obsessive mistrust” of outside agencies contributed to preventing her from asking for help.

One of the offences saw Simmons repeatedly strike the woman on the head on Christmas Eve of 1988 as a punishment because she used raw eggs as she baked a cake.

On various occasions between 1 January 1990 and 31 December 1999 she was made to stand in an outbuilding as she was doused in cold water from a hose for an “extended period of time”.

In the third charge, the woman fled from the house to be pursued by Simmons, who forced her into the boot of an estate car.

In another incident, Simmons compressed his wife’s throat to the point where she was struggling to breathe.

The fifth charge saw the man repeatedly present a metal pole at her after grabbing her by the hair, while the sixth saw him seize her by the hair and throw her to the ground.

One offence saw the woman be made to lie down on the floor before Simmons placed his foot on her head, giving her two black eyes.

In the eighth charge the woman was pushed to the ground, causing nerve damage to her back, while another saw Simmons strike her in the head while in a car in May 2015 – leaving her with a bleeding nose and a black eye.

The tenth charge saw Simmons hit her in the back of the legs with a plastic pipe while she was washing dishes.

The 11th offence, which took place on various occasions between 1 January 2014 and 27 March 2017, saw the man place his mouth next to her ear and shout, swear and utter threats.

All but one of the charges took place at the couple’s home address.

Mackenzie said it was difficult to properly convey how hard it had been for the victim to report Simmons’ behaviour to the police.

He said she was a “highly intelligent woman” who was “completely deprived of self-confidence or self-worth”. She had previously left him on two occasions but came back.

Defence agent Tommy Allan told Lerwick Sheriff Court on Wednesday that in its “strictest sense, there can be no mitigation of the offences”.

He added that he nor his client wished to “seek to attack” the victim’s character in any way.

But Allan pointed to how there was a 15 year gap in the offending, with the more severe charges taking place in the 1990s.

He denied that the victim was “imprisoned” at the family home and said the woman sometimes stayed the night elsewhere and had travelled off Shetland by herself.

The solicitor said while “violence is never justifiable in a relationship”, his client became “frustrated” with communicating with his wife and suggested that Simmons may have some issues with obsessive compulsive disorder.

He said that Simmons hoped that his “family would grow as independent and capable people” – and pointed out that one of his daughters was present in court.

Allan said that his client – who “never made any attempt to justify his behaviour on religious grounds” – expressed remorse during meetings ahead of sentencing.

“I do not blame her, I did wrong,” Allan quoted him as saying. “At no time did I think she deserved this. “I see things differently now.”

Social work reports said that there was no recommendation other than a custodial sentence, but Allan suggested that the “public interest” could be better served if Simmons “confronted his beliefs” and behaviour outside of prison.

Sheriff Philip Mann said if he took influence from what was said in the media about the case then Simmons would “probably be going to custody for life”.

But he said his role was not to adopt a “hang them high lynch mob attitude” and was instead a more “sensitive” one.

The sheriff said that the catalogue of offences “degraded and devastated the woman” who he should have “promised to love, cherish and obey” when he married her.

Sheriff Mann also referred to comment in the national media suggesting that the case should be heard in the High Court due to the five year prison term limit on sheriff courts and reiterated that the crown decided to place it before him.

Taking everything into account – including the public interest and sending out the message that “domestic abuse will not be tolerated” – the sheriff said there was no alternative to custody and added on the indefinite non-harassment order prohibiting Simmons from contacting his wife.

In statement released after the sentence, Police Scotland’s detective inspector Andy Logan of the public protection unit commented: “Robert Simmons is a controlling individual who submitted his victim to sustained abuse and suffering over the course of decades.

“The suffering he inflicted is deplorable and I would like to pay tribute to the strength of character shown by his victim in coming forward and ultimately helping to bring Simmons to justice.

“Although it does not change anything that happened, I hope that the people affected by Simmons deplorable behaviour can take some comfort from the verdict and continue to move forward with their lives.

“This was a complex investigation involving local officers and specialist support from the public protection unit. I hope that the conviction of Robert Simmons demonstrates that Police Scotland will robustly and sensitively investigate domestic abuse crimes, no matter the passage of time. It is certainly no barrier to justice.”

Anne Marie Hicks, national procurator fiscal for domestic abuse, added: “Robert Simmons’ violent and controlling course of conduct, which endured over a period of decades, has caused his victim untold distress.

“I would like to commend the victim for having the courage to come forward and for her bravery in helping bring Simmons to justice. Violent and abusive behaviour, such as Simmons’ is never acceptable and we strongly encourage anyone who has been a victim of any such offences, no matter when they occurred, to report this to the police.”

Shetland Women’s Aid, meanwhile, said in a statement that it aims to “empower women and children to regain control of their lives”.

“Domestic abuse takes the form of coercive control and can be emotional, physical, sexual or financial. It can affect anyone in any walk of life,” it said.

“Sentencing of a perpetrator can only be seen as part of a survivor’s journey to recovery. We offer the same support to service users whether or not they choose to report to the police.

“This support is dependent on what a person needs and can range from a single phone call for advice through to long term counselling. We also offer a specialist children and young people’s service for children and young people experiencing domestic abuse in their home or for young people experiencing domestic abuse or other gender-based violence within their own intimate relationship.

“We aim to empower women and children to regain control of their lives and feel safe, and to determine their own futures. We would encourage anyone affected by domestic abuse or other gender-based violence, current or historical, to contact the service to discuss the options with our highly trained and experienced staff in a non-judgmental environment.

“Contact Shetland Women’s Aid on 01595 692070 or email office@shetlandwa.org.”

Read Sheriff Philip Mann’s full sentencing speech here.