He held a gun to my head ... One Exeter woman's secret battle
A CITY nurse has spoken about the terrifying night her then-boyfriend held his blank-firing gun to her head and pulled the trigger during a four-hour attack.
Peter Smith, 27, from Newton Poppleford, was sentenced at Exeter Crown Court after previously pleading guilty to possessing an imitation firearm with intent of causing fear or violence to Royal Devon & Exeter nurse Sarah Scholey.
Judge Francis Gilbert QC sentenced Smith to a nine-month prison sentence, suspended for two years.
In addition, he was ordered to attend the Building Better Relationships programme and was put on probation for 18 months.
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To encourage other people experiencing domestic abuse to seek help and advice and report incidences to police, Sarah, 26, has spoken to the Echo about her ordeal.
The court heard how during an evening together at his home, an argument developed after Smith looked at Sarah's Facebook page and became jealous.
He then became "extremely verbally abusive" to Sarah and started smashing things around the house, including throwing a broken cup at her head causing a wound.
Smith then locked Sarah in the house. It was in the bedroom that he picked up the replica pistol and pointed it and fired it at his girlfriend, then held the gun against her head and pulled the trigger, its recoil bruising her head and leaving her ears ringing.
The court heard how the pistol looked so much like the real thing even an expert wouldn't be able to tell the difference, and heard Sarah feared for her life.
She knew the weapon fired blanks, but the young nurse from Polsloe didn't know whether it was also capable of firing live rounds.
The court heard how Smith had drunk around a bottle and a half of wine before the incident and how he was "shadow boxing at Sarah's head intending on causing her fear" as well as shouting and pushing her.
"I was petrified, I just wanted to get out of there," she said after the sentencing.
"He was smashing up furniture and light bulbs and throwing empty wine bottles across the room.
"He was psychotic, there was no reasoning with him. I tried to leave but he wouldn't let me, he locked the back door and would push me out the way or tackle me if I tried to get out. A couple of times he flung me across the room yelling abuse at me."
Sarah said she ended up "cornered" in the bedroom which is when Smith got his gun out.
"He started opening and closing it and checking the blanks and then started pointing it at me and firing it at me, my ears were ringing it was so loud.
"Although I knew there were only blanks in it, I knew things could go wrong.
"It was like Russian roulette, I didn't know if it was going to go off. He was holding it about a foot away from my head and I was screaming at him to get it out of my face.
"Then he put the barrel against my head and shot it off and it jolted back. I had a bump on my head the next day.
"By that night, I'd fallen out of love with him, but I was scared to leave him. He begged me not to leave and I felt sorry for him."
Eventually Sarah said Smith fell asleep. She gathered her belongings, crept downstairs and managed to find the key on the floor, got on her motorbike and headed straight to Totnes Hospital, where she worked at the time.
"There were so many times where I felt guilty about calling the police," she said.
"It took me a long time to realise this wasn't my fault. It was because of what he had done, because he had behaved in a way that was wrong. I could feel myself welling up and told myself to get somewhere safe.
"Work was the only place I knew people would be awake.
"As soon as I got through the doors I broke down but I didn't want to call the police because I didn't want to deal with it or think about it. I wanted to leave him and that night behind me and forget about it.
"It didn't sink in what a big deal it was or how serious it was until I spoke to police."
The police investigation was lead by Detective Constable Steve Harrison at Honiton CID, who also supported Sarah throughout the court process. She said she always felt she was taken seriously by officers and felt protected as a result of reporting what had happened.
"Telling the police meant I was protected and he wasn't allowed to contact me," she said, urging other victims of domestic abuse to seek support from their friends and family.
"I'm so grateful," she said. "Without them, I couldn't have got through it and I'd probably be in the same situation now."
Sarah, who had been Smith's girlfriend for around a year and a half, admitted that she had seen the warning signs long before, but kept making excuses.
"He was quite controlling and very hot-headed," she said. "He would lose his temper over the smallest things, but would throw things around and smash things up rather than be violent towards me. He begged me not to break up with him.
"I saw the warning signs, but I loved him and we had good times together. And I suppose there was always that hope things would get better and change.
"He would either say he knew he had a problem, he wished he wasn't like it, he was trying to stop and he was really sorry – or he would twist it around on me and ask me why I was being so selfish and why I wasn't more supportive to him. That made me feel maybe it was my fault."
Sarah is urging other people who are experiencing abuse to seek help and advice.
"There are so many things I want to say to other people in a similar situation," she added. "Firstly, it's not your fault, you're not the one with the problem. It doesn't matter if you think you have provoked them, or said something to make them angry – nothing deserves an abusive reaction.
"It doesn't matter if he's not been physically violent, if he's trying to control you and scare you, that's abuse and that's not right."
Another reason Sarah said she stayed with Smith was because she felt sorry for him. "I knew he loved me and didn't want to be this way," she said.
Sarah said she wanted other women who may not have the courage to speak up, to know about what he was capable of.
"It was difficult," she added. "But it was worth it. It's a really scary situation but you're doing it to bring justice and prevent them from doing something, possibly worse, to someone else – so I didn't just see it as protecting myself but others too.
"Now that it's all over, I feel like I'm a stronger person, it feels like a huge relief. I feel like I've come a long way since I first went to the police.
"It was a really hard thing to do, but it was really worth it and I feel much better having come through the other side.
"At first I was angry at the sentence – but then I thought prison may have made him more angry and what he needs is help addressing his issues."
Smith was also ordered to pay £670 in costs to the court. An application for the destruction of the pistol was also made.