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'Save abuse victims before it's too late', says sister of murdered Tina Billingham

By Richard Guttridge | Cradley Heath | Crime | Published:

The sister of a woman who was killed by her partner after suffering years of abuse has urged other victims and their families to act before it's too late.

Mandy, the sister of Tona Billingham, spoken out as part of a domestic abuse campaign

Tina Billingham was stabbed through the heart with a sword stick by her violent partner Ronald Cooke.

It was the culmination of a 17-year relationship during which Cooke had made her life a living hell.

There had been many attacks over that time but this one, as they drove to collect Ms Billingham's elderly uncle in Rowley Regis in February 2017, finally killed her.

The 54-year-old mother-of-two was dumped at a GP surgery but couldn't be saved.

Her sister Mandy had watched on helplessly as the mother-of-two reverted into herself and distanced herself from her loved ones.

WATCH more on the campaign:

Cooke, who was jailed for life, with a minimum of 24 years, for the killing, had gradually cut off Miss Billingham's family and friends to the point where she was completely isolated and afraid to leave her abusive partner and the home they shared in Granville Road, Old Hill.

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Mandy, 59, from Colley Gate, Halesowen, decided to speak out as part of International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, also known ad White Ribbon Day, to try and help other women suffering as her sister did.

Mandy said: "Over the years obviously various threats had been made about ‘if you go, I’ll find you’.

"She was always concerned about the sons. He knew where some of the family were living.

"And if she left, she’d be leaving a house full of memories, the dog, the fish, all her personal belongings, she’d have no money, she couldn’t see past that front door.

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“It was like her wings were clipped, ‘where would I see my grandchildren?’, would he carry out the threats that he had made so many times on a daily basis?

“So, she literally did have to live a double life, the one all happy-go-lucky, smiling – but then the other one where she was just destitute, she was trapped.

“He controlled everything, she just literally had no sort of say in what she did.”

Ronald Cooke

Mandy knows as much as anyone just how difficult it can be to rescue a loved one from an abusive and controlling relationship but urged families and friends to do everything in their power to avoid them suffering the same fate as Ms Billingham.

She said her sister would often brush off her concerns and Mandy insisted it was important loved ones remain strong and that they act if they have genuine concerns.

Mandy said: "I would actually say go with your gut instinct, whatever your feelings are, whatever you’ve seen, whatever concerns you’ve got – then act upon them.

But be very cautious and when a victim says, ‘oh you know, fine, everything’s ok’, try and explain to them about support networks, let them know that if they didn’t want to talk to you because perhaps they’re embarrassed, then talk to a GP because it’s private.

And to victims, she added: "If you feel you're not ready to leave, just know what services are there, start to make that plan. You deserve quality of life.

"You shouldn't have to walk on eggshells, you shouldn't have to be scared when somebody puts the key in the front door what's going to happen next. That isn't a life."

Black Country Women's Aid is one of a number of support services available for domestic abuse victims.

Chief executive Sara Ward said it is important victims know there is help available.

"Domestic abuse affects the lives of ordinary people in ordinary places and we know victims are struggling every day to cope living with domestic abuse, and we know it has an affect on children as well," she said.

"We need to hear that this happens in people's lives and we need to hear that it is real.

"I want victims to look at the relationship they have got and question whether they are being controlled or harmed by the person they love and to know that there is help and support out there for them."

If you’re experiencing domestic abuse or know someone who is, call Black Country Women's Aid on 0121 552 6448. In an emergency, always call 999.

Visit www.sandwell.gov.uk/domesticabuse or www.sandwell.gov.uk/tinasstory for more information on support services.

Richard Guttridge

By Richard Guttridge
Investigations Editor - @RichG_star

Investigations Editor for the Express & Star.

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