Monday 22 January 2018

Man threatened to 'punch the baby out' of heavily pregnant girlfriend during attack

Gary Woods (25)
Gary Woods (25)

Paul Higgins

A man who beat and threatened to "punch the baby out" of his heavily pregnant girlfriend has been jailed for 15 months.

At Antrim Crown Court, sitting in Newtownards, Judge Brian Sherard said the attacks carried out by Gary Woods (25) were like "something out of a horror film".

Woods, from Clairhill Park in Coleraine, had earlier pleaded guilty to charges of assault and false imprisonment of his former partner last year.

The father-of-five who has previous convictions for violence against other former partners, had at one time been charged with trying to destroy the unborn baby but that count was not proceeded with by the prosecution.

During an earlier hearing, prosecuting lawyer George Chesney told the court how the charges related to two separate incidents.

In the first, Woods had followed his pregnant partner, a classroom assistant at a primary school, into a bathroom after an argument and grabbed her "around the neck," digging his fingers in to temporarily stop her from being able to breathe.

Four months later the couple attended an interview with Social Services, but when they got home Woods started a row, claiming that she "didn't stand up for him during the meeting by denying there was violence in the relationship".

On that evening he held her against her will and attacked her a number of times.

Mr Chesney recounted how Woods "hit her in the face, put his hands around her neck, kicked her in the lower back and punched her in the stomach".

The lawyer added: "She was taken to hospital and obviously there was great concern about the unborn child, but thankfully there was no harm to the baby."

Woods was arrested later that day but denied the assaults, claiming instead that his victim was the controller in the relationship and she was aggressive at home.

Defence lawyer Francis Rafferty submitted that Woods' offences had to date been dealt with in the magistrates courts and that he had not caused serious injury to anyone so was not dangerous.

The lawyer said Woods, a father of five children, had grown up in a household where violence was "the norm" which, while not an excuse, did explain his offending.

Yesterday in court Judge Sherard revealed that during the second, more serious attack Woods had threatened to "punch the baby out" of his partner before strangling her again, biting her nose and repeatedly striking her.

The offence of false imprisonment, when Woods' victim was either physically restrained or "cowed by fear" from leaving, was the most serious aspect of his crimes, said the judge, adding that the victim had been "extremely vulnerable" at the time.

Since then she has been suffering attacks of hyper vigilance, sleep disturbance, anxiety and reduced confidence, the court heard.

Judge Sherard told Woods that with his previous convictions, lack of employment and education, "the impression that you leave is of an immature person who responds to challenges with petulance and violence, even against those who you supposedly love. It's a struggle to find anything of a positive note at all.

Although a probation officer assessed Woods as posing a serious danger to the public, the judge said he did not agree with that assessment but did, however, think it likely Woods would reoffend.

In jailing Woods, who smiled and laughed as he left the dock in handcuffs, Judge Sherard declared that time and again, the courts had made clear that "domestic violence cannot and will not be tolerated and will be met with condign punishment" because it mostly happens in an environment where the victim had a right to feel safe and at the hands of someone who is supposed to care for them.

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