Listen: The moment a terrified domestic violence victim flees abuser in County Durham

WARNING: This article includes a recording and description of a domestic abuse incident.

  • Durham Constabulary's recording of the incident

Police have released the 999 recording of a domestic violence victim fleeing her abusive partner.

Abuse directed at Sarah, who does not want to share her surname, was caught on audio after the perpetrator blocked her car and smashed his way into it.

During the recording he tells her, "I will have you", "I told you I didn't want you to go" and "I will destroy your life".

Sarah had left her home with their baby daughter after an attack but her partner had pursued her in his car while she called the police.

She stayed on the phone to call handler Alex Borthwick of Durham Constabulary who was able to help her through the ordeal, which she called the most frightening experience of her life.

"In my head I was hoping it was just a bad dream but making that 999 call made it real," she later told officers. "It was horrific; time stood still and those 20 minutes felt like hours.

"It was chaotic from start to finish that night and it was only because of Alex and his empathy, compassion and humanness that I made it through."

The terrifying moment Sarah's abuser suspected she was on the phone. Credit: Durham Constabulary

During the recording, Sarah tells police that her partner was going to kill her. He used his van to stop her car before breaking into the vehicle.

She added: "He could see my phone screen and was shouting at me to see if I was on the phone but in the panic, my banking app appeared while I the call was ongoing and thankfully Alex remained silent so he didn't give me away.

"It was that split second decision by Alex that was a turning point for me – I was scared he would have killed me if he'd realised I was on the phone to the police."

Sarah managed to drive off as officers advanced, with Alex questioning her more to pinpoint her location.

Alex instructed Sarah to flash her lights so officers could identify her car and minutes later she was with a police constable.

Sarah said: "It was just sheer relief seeing that officer. I remember winding down the window and handing her the phone then just putting my hands on the steering wheel and breaking down, thinking thank God.

"There is no way to describe that relief."

The man is heard threatening and abusing Sarah during the recording. Credit: Durham Constabulary

Sarah's partner was arrested at the scene and charged with threats to kill, coercive and controlling behaviour, assault and dangerous driving.

He denied all the offences apart from child neglect and was going to put Sarah through a two-week trial until he heard the call recording and changed his plea, police say.

He was later sentenced to a suspended two-year prison term, fined and subjected to a lifetime restraining order for both Sarah and their child.

Now on the road to recovery and receiving support from the charity Harbour, Sarah visited police headquarters this week to thank Alex in person.

Sarah added: "My life completely changed in the space of an hour that night but everyone I came into contact with throughout the whole process has been amazing and that's why I wanted to say thank you.

"I remember thinking, I just need to be believed and I had that with Alex – I heard his voice in my head for months and finally saying thank you in person is very emotional."

The moment police arrived, and Alex was told Sarah was safe. Credit: Durham Constabulary

Alex, who has been a call handler for nearly five years and is now a mentor, said he had listened to similar calls in his training but nothing could have prepared him for this.

He said: "Instinct just kicked in and I knew I had to trust my training and just do everything I could to get officers to her and keep her on the phone for as long as possible.

"We don't often get to find out what happens to victims when they hang up and this was a case that has stayed with me so it's great to know we could safeguard Sarah and help her get her life back."

Force Control Room Manager, Melanie Davidson, added: "This was a very distressing incident for Sarah where Alex has used his training and experience to support her throughout the call.

"This shows the positive impact a call can have on both the victim and the case as a whole. Had it not been for the call recording and Alex’s quick thinking the situation for Sarah would undoubtedly been much more traumatic."