Lexi Nicholas was strangled by the man she used to love. In the early hours of the morning she was grabbed by the throat, thrown across the room and her head smashed against the TV in the living room of her home.
Petrified, she watched as Robert Marsh snapped her iPhone in half, splintering the screen with the police still on the line, before going on to leave a path of destruction around him. With neighbours unable to hear her screams, she had no idea what would happen.
It was a situation she never thought she would find herself in.
Speaking at home in the south Wales valleys, Lexi appears to have a life many would envy. Along with a beautiful home and two young girls, she runs her own successful beauty therapy business.
But it’s hard to imagine the stress and trauma she had been through in the last five months after she was assaulted by her former partner on two different occasions and put through a trial after he denied it.
“When you say domestic violence, I just never thought I would be in that bracket,” Lexi, 37, explains.
“When you read people’s stories you think ‘Why do you put yourself in that situation?’ but I just genuinely didn’t see that coming.
“Robbie played football on a Saturday and he was known for being violent on the pitch but I just put that down to lads being lads in sport. I never thought he would turn up like this.”
Lexi and Robert’s relationship started like many others. Friends beforehand, the pair got together and started what would end up being a two-year relationship. For most of it, the mother-of-two had nothing to worry about. Robert, who worked away during the week, was never abusive and got on well with the family.
Together, the family were even meant to be spending the Christmas of a lifetime in the Caribbean. That was until everything went downhill, leaving Lexi with what she felt was no choice but to break up with him.
She said: “He quit working away in May and we really did try to make it work but Robbie’s attitude massively changed. We’d never argued much prior to that but the arguments became quite volatile. He started to shout at the girls. He always liked alcohol but he started to drink more, every day he would drink.”
On the night Lexi was first assaulted, October 27, 2019, she was at home alone. When Robert started to make a commotion outside her door, her first thought was that he was drunk and that she would take him back to his home before the neighbours woke up. But she never got the chance.
Sitting on her sofa in her first-floor living room, Lexi said: “He went out on a Friday night and he turned up here in the early hours of the morning. He had been out he had been consistently ringing me, texting me. I never thought he would lay a hand on me the way to the extent he did.
“I’d had a shove here or there and the verbal abuse had been quite bad at the end of last year but the moment I opened that door he assaulted me instantly. He lunged at me. He was just in an absolute blind rage.
“He knocked my head through the TV, punched holes in the doors. I’ve got new glass in my stairs because he kicked the spindles through, he completely trashed the bedroom.
“I had managed to ring the police, I was downstairs in the play room on the phone, and he kicked the playroom door completely down – and it’s a fire door. He grabbed the phone, the police were advising him to leave and that’s when he snapped my phone.”
Lexi, who also teaches beauty therapy, added: “He threw a bottle of what we know now is water all over me, punched me again, strangled me and that’s when the police arrived. He was dipping from hysterical to calm, to hysterical to calm. I wanted to get out of the house but he had taken my keys as well.
“In my head I was thinking ‘Do I jump out the window?’ but I thought I could break my neck because my house is upstairs. I haven’t got a back door key, that’s lost, so I knew I couldn’t get out there. In my head I was just trying to calm him so I could get out of the house.
“It was the anger, I could see it in his eyes and I was pleading and begging for him to stop but the more I was pleading the more he was hurting me.”
Robert was arrested by police. There, he pleaded guilty to assault by beating and criminal damage and was released on bail. To Lexi he appeared genuinely remorseful, and sorry for what he did.
Trying to make sense of what had happened, he told Lexi he was struggling to come to terms with their break-up.
Although he was free to walk the street, she never believed he would be capable of laying another finger on her. Until it happened all over again three days before Christmas.
Lexi said: “I didn’t think he would do it the first time, I certainly didn’t think he would do it a second time. I went into Cardiff with my friends, he went in on his works do and when we were coming home he asked if we could share a taxi because he had some stuff here – I think it was two screwdrivers and two jumpers – because he had work the next day.
“I told him when he got to my house to get his stuff and leave. It was early in the night, maybe half past eight.
“He came in absolutely fine and that’s when it kicked off. He lost it again. He was refusing to leave, it was like someone had flipped a switch.
“He demanded food, he was rooting through the cupboards. Then he assaulted me again. He strangled me until I passed out on the bottom of the stairs. I had run down to the bottom of the stairs to open the front door to scream basically. I think in my head I thought if the front door was open he would think neighbours would hear and see, and leave.
“I think he was trying to get me back up the stairs as he grabbed my arm and was twisting it over my head and trying to pull me up. My arms were black. All my back was really bruised.”
By the time she managed to contact police on this occasion she describes how it was like a “flip had switched again” and Robbie had left the house on his own accord.
She said: “He walked outside and I could hear him say ‘Police please I need help’.”
Christmas of 2019 is not one Lexi wants to remember. As other families busied themselves with their final preparations on Christmas Eve, Robert appeared in Merthyr Magistrates Court where he pleaded not guilty to one count of actual bodily harm.
Instead of spending the big day as a family of four in the Caribbean, it meant the mum was faced with the idea she would be soon giving evidence against her former partner in a court of law.
Lexi said: “Christmas was the best I could make it for my girls but it was pretty atrocious really. We were hiding everywhere. My kids were terrified and I had to get panic alarms.
“I was too scared to go into my local Tesco in case I bumped into his family or friends. Only now in the last two weeks have my girls gone back into their own bed.”
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At the start of February 2020, Robert was found guilty of ABH. When he was sentenced on February 19, he was given a two-year community order and made to pay £590.
As part of that, he must attend 20 sessions of a rehabilitation activity requirement programme and has been made subject to a restraining order until 2022. But for Lexi, a non-custodial sentence is not enough to give her peace of mind.
She said: “My life has been completely turned upside down, my kids’ lives have been turned upside down and he’s on the streets, no tag, nothing, and he can go carry on his life just as it was before December.
“He might have got a criminal record but does that even mean anything these days? I put my house straight on the market. Everything has been affected.
“I’m taking my children away from their friends, from their local school. It’s had a huge impact. We don’t go to a lot of places any more. I have never ever felt like this, I’ve had to go on anti-anxiety tablets, I’ve had time of work. I’m letting clients down.
“My kids don’t go out to play outside on the street anymore. They used to come home and play out on their bikes but they are too scared to go out on the street just in case Robbie or anyone turns up. It’s massively hard.”
Lexi’s motivation for bravely speaking out about her own experience is fuelled by one thing: her determination to raise awareness of Clare’s Law.
Named in memory of 36-year-old Clare Wood, who was murdered by her boyfriend in 2009, it gives people the power to check whether a partner, family member or even next-door neighbour has any previous convictions for violence.
It’s something Lexi herself was not aware of until this winter, and something she believes is not spoken about enough.
Live Fear Free helpline – 24 hour support
Confidential support and information for anyone experiencing sexual violence, domestic abuse or violence against women in Wales, and for family, friends, colleagues and others calling on their behalf. Phone support available in Welsh, English and any other languages.
Freephone T: 0808 8010800
Type Talk: 1800108088010800
Text support 24/7: 078600 77 333
Live chat 24hrs: www.livefearfree.gov.wales
Bawso 24hr helpline
Providing specialist services for BME communities.
T: 0800 731 8147 W: bawso.org.uk
NSPCC FGM helpline
Call the FGM helpline if you’re worried a child is at risk of, or has had, FGM.
T: 0800 028 3550 E: email@example.com
Forced Marriage Unit helpline
Advice and support to victims of forced marriage.
T: 020 7008 0151
Modern slavery helpline
To report a suspicion, get help or seek advice or information.
T: 0800 0121 700 W: modernslaveryhelpline.org
For anyone concerned about their violence and/or abuse towards a partner or ex-partner
T: 0808 802 4040 E: firstname.lastname@example.org W: respectphoneline.org.uk
She said: “When I went through this was the first time I heard those two words. Why isn’t it on dating sites? They have loads of other adverts on there.
“Unfortunately you have to be a victim of domestic violence to know about Clare’s Law, you have to suffer at the hands of a man, or vice versa, to know about it. It should be in schools, there should be posters everywhere, it should be on social media but it’s not. I want women to come forward, to know it’s okay.”