Retired academic 'gaslighted' by wife who destroyed his books and hit him with stick

·2-min read
Dennis Downing said the assault 'marked the culmination of coercive behaviour which has gone on for years' - BNPS
Dennis Downing said the assault 'marked the culmination of coercive behaviour which has gone on for years' - BNPS

The wife of a retired professor “gaslighted” him by throwing away his books and forcing him to live in one room, a court has heard. 

Valerie Dowding was said to have acted as an “ongoing bully” towards husband Dennis, the former head of Bournemouth University law department.

She began tormenting the academic after their relationship started deteriorating around 10 years ago, Bournemouth Crown Court was told.

She deliberately destroyed many of his books “out of spite” and forced him to live in his own room in their marital home. 

Dowding, 76, was eventually arrested after she slapped and hit her husband on the head with a walking stick after he let their dog out of the house they shared in Milton Abbas, Dorset.

Mr Dowding, 80, suffered a wound to his head and was forced to seek treatment in hospital in December 2019.

His wife was convicted of assault following a trial, but acquitted of a charge of engaging in controlling or coercive behaviours.

Judge Robert Pawson handed down a 12-month prison sentence, suspended for a year, and imposed a five-year restraining order to stop her contacting Mr Dowding. 

Passing sentence, he said: "I have no doubt your husband was at his wit's end following ongoing bullying from you.

"The evidence of the throwing away of books is one example, things you knew meant an enormous amount to him, a bookish man, the former head of Bournemouth University law department.

"It was clear that you threw away more books than you are prepared to accept, they were taken and disposed of out of spite. 

"He was forced to live in his room.”

He said of her acquittal on the second charge: "[The jury] were unsure of your guilt in law within the controlling and coercive behaviour guidelines."

The judge said the only reason the “very sad breakdown” of the marriage came to light was due to the assault, which Mr Dowden had mentioned to a counsellor he was seeing. 

The counsellor encouraged him to report the incident to the police. 

Following the sentencing, Mr Dowding said: "This assault marked the culmination of coercive behaviour which has gone on for years.”

The retired professor said the couple’s daughter had also been “profoundly affected” by the behaviour of Dowding.

He added: "The offence of coercive control is relatively new and there is a growing realisation that the victim may in fact sometimes be the man.

"Control over the victim is of course most easily achieved by using brute force against a physically weaker victim, but destruction of personal property and versions of 'gaslighting' can achieve the same end by mentally destabilising the victim.

"They begin to doubt their own interpretation of the relationship and come to regard themselves as the cause of their own misfortune.”

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