Former Sunderland councillor and school governor unmasked as violent control freak and jailed

Usman Ali, councillor who has been jailed for controlling or coercive behaviour
-Credit: (Image: Northumbria Police)

A respected ex-councillor and school governor has been unmasked as a violent control freak and jailed.

To the outside world, Usman Ali was one of life's good guys, helping his local community and employing people in his five businesses and he also appeared to be in a happy marriage with a woman he had met online. But behind the façade of domestic bliss and expensive gifts, including a Bentley Continental and a BMW X5, which he gave her, within months of being together he was subjecting her to controlling and coercive behaviour which was violent at times, over a seven-year period.

A court heard Ali, who retired as a Sunderland City Council councillor in April after the offending came to light, told the woman he had links to gangsters and said no one would believe her if she reported him, given the respected position he held in Sunderland. But now the truth is out as Ali, 40, was locked up for two years and seven months at Newcastle Crown Court after pleading guilty to controlling or coercive behaviour between August 2016 and October 2023.

Ali met the woman, who'd had a strict upbringing by a Jehovah's Witness family, on Tinder in 2016 and a relationship developed. Within a short period, he got her to quit her job and work for him, promising to pay her £45,000 a year, which he did not do, saying he didn't need to pay her as she had started living with him.

The woman was working for him, including doing constituency work, administrative work for his other businesses, including corner shops and doing domestic chores. He had her working up to 70 hours a week "effectively without payment", saying she was living in a nice house and he was paying for things.

On one occasion he became angry with her after a party and slapped her legs called her "thick" and uneducated and said she looked like a dog. Andrew Espley, prosecuting, said she was "frightened he would kill her" and he dragged her from a taxi by her arm and hair. She ran away but he chased her and dragged her back.

She was screaming in the street and neighbours came out and he was aggressive towards them. The woman was heard to express fear he would murder her if she went inside the house and he was seen pinning her against the door with force and saying she had embarrassed him.

He apologised the next day, blaming alcohol, and promising it would never happen again. She went back to live with him but his bad behaviour continued.

He started to lock her in the house when he went to work and insisted she texted him when she left the house. He would scream at her, sometimes so loud his voice would squeak, if she went somewhere other than where she told him she was going.

Mr Espley said: "There was an Islamic wedding ceremony in April 2017. That was not legally binding. An imam came to their house and got them to tell people she was Algerian."

They went to Barbados on honeymoon and on the evening before it, he got angry in a hotel and threw a room service tray and pulled her hair.

The court heard Ali would shout commands at her to do things like run him a bath, make coffee and he demanded his tea be ready at certain times. Mr Espley said: "He said he was a Muslim husband and demanded to be treated with respect."

At the end of 2016, Ali got a Post Office franchise but had no staff so the woman started working there for him. Due to problems with the Horizon system, there were times when they appeared short of funds and she was too terrified to tell him about it.

Even when she was working there, he demanded she got him in time to make his dinner and called her foul-mouthed names if she was late and derided her education. He would sometimes have her up until 3am counting the takings from his other businesses, including corner shops, the court heard.

Following a visit to a restaurant in Newcastle, he was abusive to staff and was asked to leave. He then went on to grab the woman by the neck with both hands. She thought he was going to kill her.

In total he assaulted her more than ten times and damaged her belongings at least 20 times.

The court heard Ali also controlled the way the woman looked and she was not allowed to have her hair tied up, even when doing domestic chores. Mr Espley said: "He insisted she wore short skirts and high heels.

"He said she had to wear make-up for bed because he didn't want to wake up to her without her wearing make-up. He said she had to keep her hair dark so people thought she was Algerian."

In 2021 she became pregnant by him via IVF. When she later started having contractions, he screamed that she was a "selfish ****" for waking him up. She was then sick in the car and he complained about that.

He left hospital after around an hour and went out celebrating, drinking champagne, returning to the hospital drunk. On the day they returned home after she gave birth, he got her to iron his trousers then two days after she got home, he made her do work for his businesses.

Mr Espley said Ali would "pose with (the child) during online council business, pretending to look after them."

He threatened to abduct their son and take him to Pakistan and said he would make up false allegations about her.

She was allowed out more after giving birth but she had to specify where she was going. He started talking about having a second wife so he could go out drinking with them while she looked after the child.

The court heard he often threatened to harm or kill himself.

And Mr Espley said: "He threatened to use his position as a local councillor to have their son taken off her. He said he and his father were connected to gangsters in Sunderland.

"He said no one would believe her if she reported the abuse because he was in a position of power and respected."

In a victim impact statement, the woman said the relationship left her anxious and suffering panic attacks and episodes of self-harm, which she had not done previously. She said she fears Ali being released, he having been remanded in custody for nine months.

She added: "I feel like I've lost seven years in the prime of my life in this relationship. I've lost my career - I had a successful career in a corporate role.

"I'm continuing to be impacted by Usman's behaviour. I recently found out almost everything I thought I knew was a lie, including his job, education and friends and events that never happened. I feel like I've been living with a conman, which leaves me extremely confused."

Mr Espley said: "The conduct was intended to humiliate and degrade the victim. He took steps to prevent her reporting the offences by saying he and his father were connected to gangsters and she would not be believed because he was respected as a local councillor."

As well as the prison sentence, Ali, of Hopton Drive, Ryhope, Sunderland, was given an indefinite restraining order.

Recorder Alistair MacDonald KC said the controlling behaviour went on for more than seven years and a pre-sentence report said Ali poses a high risk of harm to the victim and future partners.

He added: "If I had to describe the relationship I would characterise it as a fundamentally abusive one with a veneer of normality and respectability, rather than the other way around."

Glenn Gatland, defending, said Ali was of previous "exemplary character", employed 20 people in his five businesses and was a school governor as well as a local councillor.

He added: "She had the benefit of living in a very nice house in one of the best parts of Sunderland. He bought her a BMW X5 and paid thousands of pounds for the IVF treatment." He added that he had also given her a Bentley Continental.

Mr Gatland said Ali was working up to 17 hours a day and developed a drink problems as a result to relieve the pressure. He told the court: "When he had been drinking he accepts he could act in a controlling, coercive way. He would act out of character when he had a drink. He is fully apologetic and remorseful for what's happened. This was a series of incidents that punctuated an otherwise happy relationship."

Sunderland City Council's website says Ali was elected onto the council in May 2021 and retired in April this year.