A senior NHS nurse who found peace by going fishing after her abusive ex attacked her family on the very day he was due in court to face charges of violence against her has won a place in the Women’s England Carp Team.
When Arran Smith, 31, was jailed for five years and 10 months at Stafford Crown Court in December 2021, after admitting charges including two counts of actual bodily harm and two charges of breach of a non-molestation order, Aimee Eaton, 35, had been reduced to a shadow of her former self.
To help with her emotional rehabilitation after years of abuse by Smith, Aimee, who lives in the Black Country in the West Midlands with her son, Charlie, three, focussed on her childhood hobby of fishing – something she had loved to do with her dad as a little girl.
And in January, the brave mum discovered she had been selected for the Women’s England Carp Team, saying: “It was an incredibly proud moment, just such a confidence boost to get the validation.
“When you realise your own strength and resilience, it’s so empowering.
“To participate in my favourite sport at an international level is an achievement I’m very proud of.”
Together with the support of her friends and family, fishing has played a significant role in restoring Aimee’s confidence and wellbeing since her nightmare relationship with Smith ended.
She said: “What a lot of people don’t understand is abuse isn’t always obvious. It creeps in over time.
“It’s minor issues that grow and before you realise it you’re in a relationship an abuser – you’re trapped.”
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She added: “Angling gave me a new sense of control over my own life. It’s helped me so much with my mental recovery.”
Like many abusive partners, Smith first won Aimee’s trust – so much so that she thought she had found her soul mate when they met on a dating app in 2015.
She said: “I thought I’d met somebody who had all the same values as me, who wanted to settle down and build a family.”
She added: “He was so charming and made me feel special. He just ticked all the boxes and everything was going smoothly.
“He worked in maritime armed security protecting ships carrying valuable cargo, while I worked for the NHS and we settled into life together.”
Sadly, over time, the harmony began to crumble.
Aimee said: “There wasn’t a blatant red flag, it was a very slow spiral.
“With hindsight and awareness, I now see things that I should have noticed earlier, but when you’re in it, you want to think the best of the person you’re spending your life with.
“At first, he was a bit disrespectful with my property – damaging things in the house – and things progressed from there.”
She added: “The first real incident happened while we were moving house in October 2017, when he started an argument at our storage unit.
“He damaged some of my stuff and spat in my face. I was so embarrassed. We were staying with my parents at the time and I remember driving him back to their house and feeling worthless.
“I didn’t want anybody to know what had happened to me and I just felt like I deserved it.”
1.6 million women are currently in abusive relationships in England & Wales.
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Aimee broke off the relationship as a result of the incident, but the couple were reunited in February 2018.
She said: “We weren’t together, but were still in touch and he was so apologetic about what had happened.
“Over time he wore me down and I wanted to believe him when he said it wouldn’t happen again.”
She added: “In the February we got back together and my family were really worried. They didn’t know everything, but they could tell something wasn’t right and Arran had been quite rude to them at times.
“I wanted Arran to prove everyone wrong.”
Then, in November 2018, Aimee discovered she was pregnant.
She said: “I’ve always wanted to be a mum, so I was over the moon to find out I was expecting a baby.
“I hoped that the new arrival would help Arran to change his ways. It could be a fresh start for us, but things didn’t work out like that.
“He just wasn’t supportive in the slightest and there was no consideration for what I was going through.”
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She added: “That nurturing and supportive environment that you imagine as a mother carrying a child just didn’t exist.
“I distinctly remember holding my heavily pregnant belly while sitting on the stairs one day, explaining out loud to my baby that life was going to be tough for us, but I was going to love them so much.”
In June 2019, Aimee gave birth to a healthy baby boy, Charlie.
She said: “Things really escalated after Charlie was born. Within a week, Arran started issuing put downs about my body and refused to help out with the baby.
“Within a month of giving birth, I went on a fitness bootcamp because I was made to feel disgusting.
“I was very low but put on a brave face in front of other people. When the pandemic hit though, there was no escape.”
After the first lockdown in March 2020, Aimee says Arran’s abusive behaviour became physical.
She said: “From April to August 2020 there were multiple incidents, where he smashed my TV or punched holes in the walls. Then he got angry one day and hit me on the back of my legs with a spirit level that caused a bruise.
“A friend noticed the bruise and raised concern, but I was at a point where I didn’t think I could leave him. I was scared the abuse would just get worse if I tried to leave.”
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Things came to a head in August 2020, when Smith started an argument in their back garden and threw a “heavy object” in her direction, according to Aimee, although it did not hit her.
Aimee says he also threw a metal tape measure at her in the garden which hit her leg.
With his behaviour eating away at her confidence, as someone who had suffered with depression in the past, she started to think that her relationship problems were because of her.
But she “came to her senses” when her supportive friends and family convinced her that he was at fault and that she needed help.
She said: “I googled ‘domestic violence’ and a list of potential signs from Women’s Aid popped up. I ticked every single box.”
Finally, in August 2020, Aimee found the courage to go to the police.
She made a statement and, during her interview, police arrived at her home to arrest Smith.
She said: “The police were brilliant and helped me to change my locks, but the next day they rang to say he had been released on bail and my stomach was suddenly in knots.”
Aimee describes the next 14 months as “a living nightmare.”
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She said: “The harassment and stalking that my family and I were put through was unbelievable. I reported everything and I just prayed it would all be over once our court date arrived.
“Finally, in October 2021, I arrived at Walsall Magistrates’ Court, where Arran was charged with three counts of domestic-related assault, which he denied, and I was so nervous. I knew I’d have to give a victim statement in front of him.
“After a break that day, Arran had gone missing but everyone assumed he was just late back from lunch.”
She added: “I was in the toilets trying to calm myself down before going into the courtroom to give my statement when I had an incoming call from my dad.”
Aimee was horrified to discover that Smith had left the court during the trial and had attacked her mum and sister – the assaults for which he was jailed.
She said: “My dad said that Arran had turned up and found my sister in her car. He smashed her driver side window, grabbed her ponytail and repeatedly punched her in the head to the point where she almost lost consciousness.”
She added: “But she hit the accelerator and zoomed off down the road before ringing my mum to warn her.
“My mum phoned the police as Arran broke his way into the house through the back window. My mum was screaming on the phone, ‘He’s going to kill me.’
“He kicked her to the floor and stamped on her head. She managed to drag herself next door where she hid while waiting for police.”
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She added: “I was sickened to my core finding this out.”
Despite everything, Aimee had to deliver her victim statement while police re-arrested Smith and paramedics tended to her mum and sister.
Smith pleaded guilty at Stafford Crown Court on December 16, 2021, to actual bodily harm, criminal damage, breaching a non-molestation order, breach of a restraining order on conviction, taking a vehicle without the owner’s consent and using a motor vehicle on a road without insurance and was jailed for five years and 10 months.
Aimee said: “While I do think he should have got more time, knowing that he is behind bars is giving me a lot of peace of mind and has given me the space to rebuild my life.
“It has been a long process of healing for both me and my family.”
Fishing has been a huge help as Aimee rebuilds her self-esteem.
She said: “I started fishing at six years old. It was something my dad and I would do together.
“After meeting Arran, fishing had been my only safe space.
“Once I was free from the relationship, it helped me to rebuild.”
She added: “Just sitting there fishing, being mindful in a task in beautiful surroundings, at one with nature with animals and water is something that I’ve really benefitted from.
“It’s something that makes me feel safe and, because of the community I share the hobby with, I don’t feel lonely or isolated anymore.”
Now in training for the England team, she is often joined on her fishing trips by her son Charlie.
She said: “The team is very supportive of the fact that I’m a single parent and I do often struggle with childcare, so Charlie is a regular at private training sessions and he has been made to feel very welcome.
“I’ve been teaching him to fish and he has his own rod which he practices with. It’s something we’re able to bond over, just like my dad did with me when I was little.”
By speaking out, Aimee hopes to encourage other victims of domestic violence to come forward and to consider angling as a therapeutic hobby as they heal.
She said: “If someone had said to me while I was going through it, ‘You’re in a relationship with a perpetrator of domestic abuse’ I wouldn’t have believed them.
“It’s so hard to recognise when you’re in it and the main reason I want to share my story is to raise awareness.
“I think often women are very scared to speak out, which I understand, but the more we talk about it the more we make our abusers accountable for their actions.”
She added: “As a survivor, doing something purely for yourself can be so cathartic and, for me, fishing has been an integral and consistent comfort that has helped me to rebuild my life.”
Aimee is supporting the Angling Trust’s ‘We Fish As One’ community inclusivity campaign that promotes the life changing benefits of fishing. To find out more and give fishing a try this summer, visit anglingtrust.net/getfishing/