GREAT LIVING NEWPORTONIANS' - RACHEL WILLIAMS
Rachel Williams has endured extra-ordinary pain and tragedy in her life and has survived to become an eloquent national spokesperson for those affected by domestic violence. By sharing her story she has sought to give prominence to the issue of domestic abuse and to support the many still affected by it.
In August 2011 she was working as a hairdresser in her salon in Malpas and escaped with her life after Darren Williams burst into Newport’s Carol Ann’s Hair Stylist with a double-barrelled shotgun and blasted her legs. He then fled, a six-hour manhunt then followed before Mr Williams was found dead at the nearby Brynglas Woods. He had hung himself. Ms Williams' 16-year-old son Jack tragically hanged himself in the same spot six weeks after his father’s actions.
The shootings came weeks after police arrested Mr Williams for assaulting and threatening his estranged wife.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said Gwent Police did not want Mr Williams to be bailed after he was arrested. But he was granted bail and the IPCC concluded that his shotgun rampage might have been prevented if there had been better communication between officers.
A separate multi-agency report found that little was done by the authorities to support the couple's son Jack in the weeks following the shooting until the boy himself was found hanged.
Rachel said she was left with no choice but to walk away from their marriage to Darren after years of abuse. In an interview in 'You' magazine she described her relationship 'For most of her 18-year marriage she was locked into ‘survival mode’, living day to day, always focused on extending her husband’s good moods and getting through his bad ones. This meant obeying a barrage of rules that governed every inch of her life, from the length of her hair (it had to be short) to the length of her skirts (they had to be long). It included how she could work (as a hairdresser, but she wasn’t allowed to have male clients), while at home it meant keeping the house to impossible standards (her husband once hid crumbs of Weetabix under the kitchen bin, then punished her for failing to clean them away).
She said the family later discovered that Darren, a nightclub bouncer, had numerous affairs while the couple were together and had fathered another child. "I had supported him for 18 years," she added. "I tried to help him, but it was becoming more impossible, due to the combination of anabolic steroids and anti-depressants he was taking. For my own sanity and welfare I could not live with him anymore. I believe he was having some sort of a breakdown. In However, this does not excuse him for the mental and physical abuse I suffered from him for all those years."
In her You interview she says "He was 16, struggling to make sense of it and relations with his mum had broken down while she was in hospital. ‘His text messages changed from, “I’m praying for your legs” to, “It’s all your fault”,’ says Rachel. ‘Jack was the tragedy and that’s why I’m so passionate about campaigning. If I had understood domestic abuse when I’d first met Darren, I’d have left before he got his clutches into me, before I became his “possession”.’
Rachel's survival of the shooting was described in the serious case review report as "an extraordinary story of determination, fighting off a partner who was more than twice her size and build".
Rachel Williams is now a leading advocate in the campaign against domestic violence. She was at the forefront of pushing the domestic abuse bill through Parliament, and on 13th September 2019, hosted the first ever survivor-led domestic abuse conference in South Wales: Stand Up to Domestic Abuse. She married her new love Mike in 2014 and has gradually found some closure on the many difficulties she has experienced.. In her excellent book 'the Devil at Home' she says 'I would be lying if I said I didn't carry any emotional scars from what I've been through...when your mind has been conditioned as mine was for 18 years, it can be quite hard to know what's normal, but I'm finally in a healthy relationship that's built love on love, trust and mutual respect.'