Coercive and controlling man subjected wife to decades of ‘cult-like’ abuse

A man who subjected his wife to “one of the very worst cases of domestic abuse” procurator fiscal Duncan MacKenzie had ever seen, has been told to expect a stint in jail.

Robert Simmons, 62, of Sandness, admitted 11 charges spanning from 1988 until March of this year when he appeared at Lerwick Sheriff Court on Wednesday.

The court heard that the “regular church attendee” created an “almost cult-like” atmosphere in the family home, using religion as a justification for his “coercive and controlling” behaviour.

“She took a vow of obedience to me” reads one chilling statement, referring to his wife, that Simmons made in police interviews , read out in court.

Providing the sheriff with a lengthy narrative Mr MacKenzie told the court that Simmons had been in a relationship with his wife for 33 years, married for 30 of those.

During that time the couple had six children, all home-schooled. This meant that Simmons’ wife was “deprived of any interaction with others one would have experienced with a school environment”.

Viewing himself as the authority in the household Simmons very much “set the rules” and was also responsible for doling out punishment when those rules were broken.

But the rules were “changed frequently so that it became impossible for the complainer to get it right”, Mr MacKenzie said.

Simmons dictated his wife’s behaviour to the extent that he would draw up timetables which divided her day into 15-minute slots. If she failed to follow any of the tasks set out in these the result would be more punishment.

His wife was also forced to carry notebooks, including a “mistake book”, where she was forced to maintain a record of all the times she failed to please Simmons.

In another book she kept a “record of observations the accused would make about random aspects of life”. Police seized hundreds of these notebooks from their home, the fiscal said.

The cumulative effect of his campaign of abuse “completely eroded the complainer’s sense of self-worth”, Mr MacKenzie said.

After enduring two decades of domineering and abusive behaviour Simmons’ wife found the courage to reach out to Women’s Aid in 2015.

Mr MacKenzie read out the harrowing details of the 11 charges against Simmons, revealing systemic abuse over a prolonged period of time.

The first charge against Simmons comes from Christmas Eve 1988 when he repeatedly struck his wife on the head. During the 1990s one method of punishment involved having his wife stand in an outbuilding while he hosed her with cold water.

In 1991 he forced her into the boot of a car after she fled the house. The following year he compressed her throat to a point where breathing became restricted.

Another incident saw Simmons compel his wife to lie on the floor. He then placed his weight on her head by standing on it, giving her two black eyes.

In 1998 Simmons pushed his wife to the floor with a force that caused nerve damage which still causes discomfort to this day.

Another charge related to Simmons assaulting his wife in a car in May 2015, leaving her with a black eye and bloody nose. Later that year he hit her across the back of the legs with a plastic pipe.

The final charge against Simmons relates to various incidents of placing his mouth against his wife’s ear while shouting, swearing and uttering threats. “The complainer finds this terrifying”, Mr MacKezie said.

The procurator fiscal then went on to detail some of the statements Simmons had made to police after he was detained. On one occasion he confessed to doing “hands-on stuff”.

“She knows I’m serious when I do that”, he told the officers.

Mr MacKenzie said that it was “difficult if not nigh on impossible” to comprehend the impact the “accused’s behaviour has had on the complainer”.

He added: “The complainer is a fully-qualified and highly intelligent woman effectively robbed of all sense of self-worth.”

“He was someone to whom she deferred completely”, Mr MacKenzie later said, as he successfully argued for an indefinite non-harassment order.

Sheriff Philip Mann deferred sentencing for background report, a legal requirement in cases where someone could be given their first custodial sentence.

But he also warned Simmons to expect a jail sentence, saying that he could not envisage a defence or background report which would convince him to find a community-based disposal.

“It’s difficult to contemplate how I would reasonably look at alternatives to a custodial sentence”, Sheriff Mann told Simmons.

Simmons will receive legal representation next month when he appears for sentencing.


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