TV weather forecaster Ruth Dodsworth fears jail release of abusive ex-husband
'I feel like a sitting duck': TV weather forecaster Ruth Dodsworth thought her nightmare was over when her abusive husband was finally jailed... But a year later he's due out – and she's more fearful than ever
By Jenny Johnston for the Daily Mail
Ruth Dodsworth was standing in her back garden this week, thinking home improvements.
Don't we all do that at the first hint of spring sunshine? By her side, offering expert advice, was a woman whose remit went a bit further than daffodil placement, or fence-painting, though.
'We have quite old windows, so we chatted about that, and whether I should think about getting them replaced,' the TV weather forecaster says.
'Would blinds be better than curtains? Obviously, the security alarm issue was a big one, but it was all the little things that I hadn't thought about that pulled me up. She pointed out the rockery and all the big stones in it. Could they be used as weapons?
'The same with the spades, and trowels. Should they just be left against the wall? This is my reality now, having to think like this.'
Last April, Ruth Dodsworth's ex Jonathan Wignall, then 54, was sentenced to three years in prison for a campaign of abuse against her
Jonathan (right, with Ruth), a former nightclub owner, pleaded guilty at Cardiff Crown Court to coercive behaviour and stalking. The court heard Jonathan was an obsessive partner who would set an alarm to check Ruth's nightly forecasts and call her dozens of times a day demanding to know where she was and who she was with
The woman offering a fresh eye was a police home-security adviser, on hand to help Ruth — a familiar face on ITV in Wales — get her house ready for something infinitely more sinister: the release of her abusive former husband from prison.
Last April, Ruth's ex Jonathan Wignall, then 54, was sentenced to three years in prison for a campaign of abuse against her.
Jonathan, a former nightclub owner, pleaded guilty at Cardiff Crown Court to coercive behaviour and stalking.
The case was particularly shocking because of Ruth's high-profile job and eternally sunny professional demeanour.
Yet behind all the bright smiles on camera was a woman who went to work every day convinced that her brute of a husband would one day kill her.
The court heard Jonathan was an obsessive partner who would set an alarm to check Ruth's nightly forecasts and call her dozens of times a day demanding to know where she was and who she was with.Share
He would turn up to outside broadcast locations when she was working, or insist that she ate her lunch in the car with him, rather than at a studio canteen.
At home, he would demand access to her phone so he could check her messages and delete contacts he didn't like, insist on watching her use the toilet and shower in case she was using her phone in the bathroom against his wishes, and accompany her to medical appointments.
This is a man who would even torment his wife while she was sleeping, using her finger to open her mobile phone apps. Even when he was on remand waiting for a court date, the court heard, he placed a tracking device under the steering wheel of her car.
Judge Daniel Williams told Jonathan he was an 'unrepentant possessive bully' who posed 'high risk' to his ex-wife.
He imposed a jail sentence and an indefinite restraining order, designed to keep Jonathan away from Ruth and their teenage children, who witnessed much of the abuse and who eventually ensured that the police got involved.
So why is Ruth — who was left emotionally broken and financially devastated by her experiences — now at home in Cardiff measuring for blinds 'which can let us look out without people looking in'?
Ruth said of her abusive ex: 'I've been told that in prison, he has not shown any remorse. This is a man who has lost his home, his wife, his children, his job, his reputation. He has nothing left to lose now, which makes him more dangerous, I think. I hope I am wrong, but I feel like a sitting duck'
The answer is devastating. She has been told by the authorities to prepare for Jonathan's release and will be informed of the date. Technically, it could come, she says, 'in as little as a few weeks'. She is clearly terrified.
'If anything, I'm more afraid of him now than I was when I first made that phone call to the police, because I understand more about the patterns of coercive behaviour,' she says.
'During this whole thing, he has never shown any sign that he accepted his behaviour was wrong. When he was arrested, he said: "How can it be abuse? She is my wife."
'I've been told that in prison, he has not shown any remorse. This is a man who has lost his home, his wife, his children, his job, his reputation. He has nothing left to lose now, which makes him more dangerous, I think. I hope I am wrong, but I feel like a sitting duck.'
That she has since remarried only heightens her terror.
'I'm worried not only about myself and my children, but about my new husband. And my parents.
'He knows where they live, too. The ripple effects here are just horrific. It is not just my life that is potentially in danger.
'People might say, "Well, just move, if you are that afraid" but I am living in a rented house. He left me destitute, up to my neck in his debts. I've had to deal with debt collectors.
'And even if he didn't know where I lived — which he does — he knows where I work. He knows where I park my car. I am addressing that, but there is only so much you can do.'
Some will be incredulous that a man like her ex-husband could be out of prison so quickly, but this is another harsh reality faced not just by Ruth, but by many victims of this type of abuse.
Above, Ruth married an old friend last July. The Daily Mail has agreed not to fully identify her new husband, Rob. Suffice to say, she has finally found happiness with him. 'He was an old friend. He was actually the one who made me call the police. He said, "If you don't call them, I will". He has been my rock. I think he saved me'
'We always knew he would only have to serve about half of his sentence, which takes us to October, but what I hadn't realised was that he could actually be out in as little as a few weeks, because he is eligible to apply for home release, which would mean a home curfew and tagging.'
There's a restraining order of course, but, as Ruth points out, 'it's just a piece of paper'.
'If someone is bent on revenge, destruction, whatever, is that going to stop them?'
I interviewed Ruth, 47, last year, immediately after her ex had gone to prison, when she was still in the middle of what she describes as 'the volcano, the tsunami, whatever you want to call it'.
'A lot of my colleagues had no idea. I had to go back to work a few days later, with everyone knowing I had been living this utter lie. I'd gone to great lengths to make sure I'd kept the truth hidden, because I thought — wrongly — that it was shameful.'
She desperately needed her job, too. Only after her husband's arrest did she discover that the lovely family home she thought they owned was rented.
Her car wasn't hers at all. Jonathan had taken loans in her name, and she was 'up to her eyeballs in debt, although even at the time I knew I was lucky to be alive.'
It was her children who finally ensured the police intervened. On October 17, 2019, they called Ruth at work and told her not to come home. They said their father was 'out of his mind drunk' and warned that if she came home, he'd kill her.
She stayed with a friend, and Jonathan called her 150 times, incandescent with rage. By morning, she felt she had no choice but to call the police.
Ruth still insists that she never set out to have her ex-husband 'locked up', but the criminal justice system then took over — laudably so, to a degree.
She wept, then, as she told the full story of her decade of utter hell at the hands of a man she had married in 2002 and had loved unconditionally.
Jonathan came from a wealthy, well-known family, with connections in the nightclub and entertainment scene in Swansea. She was a glamorous journalist, destined for a TV career. She'd considered their life charmed.
The cracks in the marriage had appeared slowly, long after their children Grace, who is now 18, and Jack, 16, arrived. While her career blossomed, however, his hit the buffers.
Just over a decade ago, she became the major breadwinner when his business fell foul of the recession. He started to become, as she says, 'jealous, possessive'.
Today, she is more lucid when describing the pattern of abuse than she was a year ago. She has also been working with the police and domestic abuse charities so 'understands more than I ever thought I would need to' about the insidious nature of coercive control.
She has myriad stories of barricading herself in the bathroom — once, with her terrified children, as Jonathan (often drunk) raged outside. In 2016, she suffered several fractured ribs when her husband attacked her.
In the final few years of the marriage, she had lost contact with friends, been alienated even from her parents.
'I can see how that this is part of the pattern, part of the isolating you from everyone who might be able to help. You feel so terribly alone and small.'
There is much that is positive about Ruth's recovery since. Going public wasn't her choice, but with hindsight 'it was the best thing that could have happened'.
Thousands of other victims of domestic abuse have been in touch. She is cooperating with a documentary team for a TV programme based on her experiences.
She'd baulk at the description herself, but in many ways she is the perfect poster-girl for this sort of abuse, particularly about how you can come out the other side. She even smiles broadly these days.
'Someone at work said to me it is lovely that my smile is now real.'
But the fact that she has agonised about whether to even do this interview reminds you of the threat she still feels under. We have agreed not to fully identify her new husband, Rob. Suffice to say, she has finally found happiness with him.
'He was an old friend. He was actually the one who made me call the police. He said, "If you don't call them, I will". He has been my rock. I think he saved me.'
They got married last July, in touching circumstances: 'A couple — complete strangers — read about my story and sent me a cheque for £100.
'I was completely floored. I agonised about whether to even cash it, but then decided that I was going to do something meaningful with it. So with that £100 we booked the church.
'I bought a second-hand dress for £45 and we had a tiny ceremony with just family and a few close friends. My son was best man, and my daughter walked me down the aisle with my dad.
'It was the best day ever. I still don't know who that couple are, but I would like to thank them. They have no idea what their kindness meant to me.'
Her children, she says, have emerged as the heroes of this awful situation. 'My daughter is going to university to study law. She wants to help other people who are going through this.'
Jonathan is still their father, though, which makes it desperately sad. 'Yes, and if they do decide they ever want contact with him, I will support them. It would have to be done through the courts, obviously, because there is a restraining order in place, but I would not stand in their way, although I do feel conflicted about it.'
I ask how she feels about the criminal justice system. She concedes that the system 'is not fit for purpose'. 'I think everyone who works in this field — police, courts — knows this.
'A new chapter is just beginning for me. His sentence may be over; mine is not, because I will always be looking over my shoulder.'
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