When problems struck on the farm Kevin Wigley had called home for his whole life, his relationship with his wife Kerry changed overnight.
Suddenly, after years of a happy and settled marriage, Kerry was subjected to months of mental, emotional and physical abuse at the hands of her husband.
The campaign of abuse culminated with Kevin trying to kill his wife by hitting her in the head with an axe, before taking his own life.
Kerry is now sharing her experiences as part of our domestic abuse awareness campaign – which this year has a particular focus on rural and agricultural communities which are often quite isolated.
“When you talk about domestic abuse, I thought it was that you meet somebody and they abuse you from day one, or certainly after the marriage, because that’s the concept that I was brought up with,” Kerry said. “I never saw myself as suffering domestic abuse because I’d had 20 years of good marriage but the last two years were when the abuse started.”
As well as living together, Kerry and Kevin were also running their farm together in Winster, a small village in the Derbyshire Dales, home to just a few hundred people.
Explaining the reasons for the change in Kevin’s behaviour, Kerry said: “It was definitely the rural, farming community and everything that comes with that. We’d had a couple of bad years. We’d had TB, a lot of lambs died in the April when it was really bad weather and then we went down with TB again.
“Kevin had a lot of worries and he ended up taking it out on me.
“I couldn’t believe that this person was capable of doing this to me because I truly believed that he loved me and that he’d never ever harm me in any way.”
Initially, Kerry began suffering verbal abuse as Kevin started to pick faults on a daily basis, often about things which had never been an issue before.
“If he came in and his tea wasn’t ready he’d have a go at me about it and tell me I was no good,” Kerry said. “That had never happened before, we’d always made tea together.”
Things soon escalated as Kevin began playing mind games before physically assaulting Kerry on a number of occasions.
“He was getting a bit hands on and a bit rough,” Kerry said. “He hid my passport, and emptied the joint bank account and hid the money somewhere because he believed that I was leaving him.
“He’d make me rethink what I’d done. Like if I’d put the washing machine on, sometimes he’d go and empty it and make me think I hadn’t put it on.
“He got it into his head that I was having an affair and I got questioned daily. I didn’t go anywhere – we worked the farm together, we had two young children – there was no time for us never mind anyone else.”
Like many victims, Kerry dealt with the abuse alone, trying to hide what was really happening from her children and loved ones.
“I didn’t feel that I had anywhere to go and I kept making excuses like we’ve gone down with TB, he’s under a lot of stress,” she said.
“And I was shocked, ashamed. How can you tell somebody that you’re being hurt? I certainly didn’t want my mum to know because then she’d be hurting because of it. It is hard to know where you can go and it’s hard to say this isn’t right. Nobody deserves it, I didn’t deserve it.”
She added: “There were occasions when I was slapped a bit. Any incident is wrong but none of them were really big ones where I’d be left with a black eye or where I’d have to explain to someone. He’d push me out of bed at night so I’d fall on the floor.
“He’d follow me everywhere – I didn’t actually know it at the time but if I’d gone to Matlock he actually went to Matlock to see if I’d gone where I’d said. It became where I couldn’t go anywhere without him. So going to pick up the kids from the local school was a two-minute drive away but I couldn’t do that without him wanting to come so that caused arguments because I was beginning to feel trapped.
“I knew that I had to get him help, I didn’t want to just walk off and leave. I wanted to help him – I’d spent the majority of my life with him.”
Then one day in July 2013, the abuse escalated to a level that left Kerry having to fight for her life.
“I never saw it coming. The day started off like any other day,” Kerry explained. “We’d taken the kids to school and then gone shopping to Matlock.”
Later that day, when Kerry told her husband she was going to pick the children up from school, he insisted on going with her, leading to an argument.
“He drove up to the school and then straight past the school into some fields we farmed in Wensley,” Kerry said. “He got out of the car, walked round to the boot and then he just hit me in the head with an axe.
“I think I must have sensed it coming because I did move enough or dodge enough that it didn’t kill me. From that moment something in me, the fight or flight instinct, kicked in. There was a struggle. I somehow managed to get the axe out of his hand and I threw it in the long grass. Kevin was twice my size, he was a big lad. A bit of a fight ensued and he tried to strangle me in the field. I just kept pulling at his jumper to pull his hand off. He kept saying ‘I’m not having you leaving me’ constantly while he was attacking me. I was saying I don’t know what you’re talking about, I’m not leaving you, I love you. All of a sudden his face changed. It was like the realisation had dawned on him. He just got up, said stay down there, got in the car and drove off. I stumbled out into the road and fell onto a car.
“But to me all of that is nothing. The worst thing is that I thought he was going back up to kill the children and I couldn’t get to him.”
While Kerry was taken to hospital for treatment, Kevin returned to the couple’s farm in Winster, where shortly afterwards he took his own life.
In the hours and days that followed, Kerry was left having to come to terms with what her husband had done to her, as well as having to explain to her children that their father had died.
Having kept the abuse hidden from her family, she also then had to explain to them everything she had been going through.
“All of a sudden when somebody starts doing that to you, there’s disbelief, oh well it’s a one off. I think you excuse their behaviour so much. And you carry the shame that you don’t want anybody to know, you don’t want anyone to know your marriage is failing and you certainly don’t want your children to know so you hide a lot.”
Living and working on a farm, and raising young children, meant Kerry had little time to socialise, leaving her feeling even more lonely.
“I made friends at school but then I met a boy and then you don’t really contact your friends from school so you only really have acquaintances but do you want your acquaintances knowing all your business?”
She added: “Kevin believed we were going to lose the farm. We weren’t but if he had talked to me, we could have talked things out instead of using violence or mental games.
“I don’t know why he did what he did. You try to come up with excuses for it but there is still no excuse to put your hands on anyone else.
“There’s a lot of emotions when you’re trying to process it. You rationalize it and you try to make excuses. But you’re doing all this while you’re being hurt. So you’ve got to talk about it, you’ve got to let somebody know.”
Throughout Kevin’s campaign of abuse, Kerry understandably felt very isolated, but she later discovered that she was not alone.
“I do believe that there are people even in the village that if I’d have gone to and said that they would have helped us,” she said.
“Through every rural small village, you feel that you’re locked in. The nearest towns here are Matlock and Bakewell and if you don’t drive, it’s a bus journey so you’re locked in this community.
“And as much as I love the little rural communities, you do get your gossips. But what I found out from when the big incident happened was that the village protected me so looking back now I do know that there were people in the village that would have helped me, but I didn’t know it at the time. And I was ashamed.”
Kerry has now gone on to remarry and is in a happy settled relationship. She hopes that by sharing her experiences she can help other people in the same situation.
Her main advice is simply to talk to someone.
“I think there’s this stigma that it’s a dirty little secret or it can become that if somebody isn’t willing to say I am being hurt and I need help to stop it happening,” she said.
“And then it becomes something that is a secret and how can you tell a secret to somebody. You think you can tell your husband your darkest secret, they’re the one you’re supposed to turn to when something isn’t right. So it is hard.
“I just think people need to talk more and be more open. And little rural communities I do think can do more for any form of abuse, not just domestic abuse.”
Domestic abuse can affect both women and men and can occur in same sex relationships. It can be physical, emotional, sexual, or financial.
It can be repeated, random or habitual, and is used to control a partner.
If you're a victim of domestic abuse, or know someone who is, there are a number of ways you can report your concerns: