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Why did no-one take action to save Tina? Victim told of daily hell, but only escaped abuse in death.

Byline: Richard Guttridge

FOR 17 years Tina Billingham endured a living hell as she suffered at the hands of abusive partner Ronald Cooke. But she had not suffered in silence.

The 54-year-old grandmother had told health workers and professionals about the horrific ordeal she went through on a daily basis, and even that she believed her partner could kill her. But no-one acted to save her.

Ultimately, she only escaped his control when he killed her.

Miss Billingham was stabbed through the heart with a sword stick as they travelled in his van in Rowley Regis. He had attacked her countless times before but this time he finally went far enough to kill her.

As she was dying, heartless Cooke dumped her at a nearby health centre where staff tried but failed to save her life.

The killer was jailed for life for the killing in 2017 but a shocking report has now revealed serious failings of health workers and housing officials.

The couple met in 1999. From that time Miss Billingham started to become more removed from her family, to the point where she was practically a prisoner in her home. She gave up her job as a cleaner over fears Cooke posed a risk to her colleagues and resorted to contacting her sons in secret by having them send text messages to the landline.

Unpredictable But the campaign of abuse was not only clear behind closed doors. Ronald Cooke was a known domestic abuser.

A domestic homicide review, set up to investigate what involvement various agencies had with the couple murder, said Cooke "had an established history of violent and unpredictable behaviour to woman he had been in relationships with".

Before meeting Miss Billingham, police records showed he had "terrorised, harassed and assaulted" an ex, who he attempted to run down with his van after mounting the pavement. He also punched another partner in the head and kicked her as she was on the floor.

Cooke was said to have a fascination with knives and owned several samurai swords and ceremonial knives. Chillingly, he also kept a pickaxe handle with his partner's name on it which he "laughed about and used to intimidate her".

The victim attended A&E on three occasions with injuries which the review panel said should have set alarm bells ringing that she could be in an abusive relationship. They included damaged ribs and an injury to her cheekbone. Although on one visit she denied she was assaulted, experts said her case should have been followed more closely.

The independent report, released by the Safer Sandwell Partnership, also revealed that in 2010 Cooke was given a two-year community order after being convicted of actual bodily harm for throwing boiling water over a woman he was having an affair with. The order included an Integrated Domestic Abuse Programme and he was judged to be a "high risk of harm" to the woman.

Even though she was not the victim of this particular attack, a Women's Safety Worker was assigned to work with Miss Billingham.

The community order was revoked early in 2012 as Cooke was deemed to have made "good progress". Inexplicably, Cooke was allowed joint tenancy at their home in Granville Road, Old Hill, just a week later after Sandwell Council's housing department was told the supervision order had been revoked.

Then, in March 2013, came the most glaring example of communication failure between agencies when Miss Billingham told a nurse at her GP surgery in graphic detail of the abuse she was suffering.

The report said: "(Miss Billingham) made a significant disclosure to a nurse at her GP surgery graphically describing the length and severity of the abuse she had experienced at the hands of (Cooke). Records state she described him as paranoid and abusing her physically and mentally. (Miss Billingham) expressed her fear to the nurse of his capacity to kill her but was adamant she would not report him to the police."

She attended the surgery twice during the following fortnight and her abuse was not raised with her.

Risk The report continued: "The GP was aware of her history, noting on a hospital referral made for her that she was a 'victim of domestic abuse'."

Another opportunity to escape her nightmare came in 2015, when she arrived at a housing office looking for a list of hostels. She was identified as a "high-priority risk".

She then rang the housing department the next day "in a distressed state, describing her partner as controlling", and was placed in a hostel. However, she was advised that if she gave up her joint tenancy Cooke would lose his rights too. She then felt she "had no choice" but to inform her partner and later returned home. By February 2017 she was dead after nearly two decades of abuse.
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Publication:Express and Star (Wolverhampton, England)
Date:Jun 12, 2019
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