When Jo Lemaux started dating Nathan Bishop, he came across as the most charming person she had ever met - but it wasn’t long before the emotional abuse and controlling behaviour started. Now, following his conviction, she has bravely spoken out about her experience of domestic abuse.
“The sparks were just ridiculous, he was just everything.” When Jo Lemaux from Maidstone rekindled a teenage romance with Nathan Bishop in January last year, it didn’t take long for all those old feelings to return.
The 27-year-old mum-of-two, said: “I remembered how much I fell for him before and it just came back so quickly.
“I think he has quite a troubled past, so I saw the pain in him as well, and right from the early days he made me promise him that I would never leave.”
But what appeared to be the yearning of new love soon turned into something more sinister.
“Quite early on we became intimate again,” Jo explained. “He took a quite compromising picture of me and I asked him to delete it and he said that he had.
“But a few weeks later, as he was scrolling through his phone the picture came up. I said ‘you told me you deleted that’ and he sort of played it off as a joke.
“In hindsight that was a massive warning, but at the time, I thought that it was just him being a typical lad and bragging to his friends, and in a small way it made me feel like he cared enough about me to brag about me.
“After that things were just really good. He was probably one of the most amazing blokes I had ever met, and then it started.”
Soon Bishop, of Catlyn Close, East Malling, began to use the personal image he had on his phone as a bargaining chip, telling Jo that if she disobeyed him then he would share it online.
His jealousy and paranoia at the thought of her seeing other men also led to acts of control and abuse which Jo has bravely recounted in the hope her story will show other victims of domestic abuse there is a way out.
“A lot of the stuff he did he would play off as a joke, so he would be like ‘no, you’re not wearing that’ and as I was going out he’d take all of my nice underwear and hide it all, and he’d leave me with just comfortable things to go out in.
“He’d go ‘why do you need that if you’re not going out with me’ and I tried to explain that I just wanted to feel good about myself.”
Bishop, 28, also banned her from wearing make-up. Then his behaviour escalated with threats of violence and angry outbursts, regularly leading to calls to the police.
On one occasion Jo came home to find he had gained access to her home.
“He didn’t have a key, but as I tried to open the door he’d somehow broken in and my door was locked from the inside. As soon as I got through he shut the door behind me and pushed me against it.
“He said ‘if you try and go anywhere I’ll slit your throat, I’ll slash your tyres’. He just kept making threats like that.”
‘I told you, if you brought anyone back with you I was gonna kill them...’
Jo was so frightened she started to use a secret code when speaking to friends and family on her phone, to indicate if she was free to talk.
As well as telling her he would harm her family and the father of her children, Bishop warned Jo he would hurt anyone she brought back to the house - a threat which was all the more chilling as he would leave large kitchen knives around the home.
“He made me go into the garden with him. He had placed one kitchen knife one side of the door and one knife the other side.
“I asked what they were for and he said, ‘I told you, if you brought anyone back with you I was gonna kill them’, as he always thought I was going to bring a man back with me.”
That’s when she told him she couldn’t be with him any more. She reported the abuse to the police in July last year.
Despite the hurt he caused her, Jo still found herself going back to her tormentor even after the authorities became involved.
And the former Astor of Hever School pupil candidly admitted that - even though the relationship is now over and Bishop has been convicted of coercive or controlling behaviour - she still feels guilty for leaving him.
“I cared for him a lot. I had just completely fallen in love with him, and behind all of the abuse I saw a different side to him as well, there was that kind side, there was that caring side.
“I heard him crying in the bath one time. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that image of him, just a completely broken man. There was so much pain on his face.
“I just got into the bath fully-clothed and I just wrapped myself around him and he was just shaking where he was crying. His past must have been so hard for him.”
Bishop pleaded guilty at Maidstone Crown Court on November 26. He was sentenced to 20 months’ imprisonment and made the subject of a 10-year restraining order.
In a message to KentOnline Bishop said he did not break into his victim's house and had never heard about a claim he had left knives around the house and neither incident was brought up in court.
Kent Police said their investigation found Bishop moved into Miss Lemaux's home without her consent, shortly after their relationship started, and quickly took control of her finances leaving her in debt.
While the allegations were being investigated, the force said Bishop contacted the victim and made threats to kill her relatives.
Investigating officer, DC Ben Broad of Kent Police's Vulnerability Investigation Team said: "People like Bishop make victims' lives a misery. He has used fear and threats of violence to exert control over almost every aspect of her life.
"Even after the victim tried to end their relationship Bishop continued to harass and stalk her, repeatedly turning up uninvited at her home and sending persistent messages to her phone. I’m pleased the courts have passed a custodial sentence and I would like to thank the victim who has bravely assisted our investigation and helped ensure Bishop has been brought to justice.
"Domestic abuse is a priority for Kent Police and I would encourage anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation or relationship to report it to someone and get help. There is a range of support and information available, just phone us or ask a trusted friend or relative to do it.
"Nobody should feel they don’t have the option to walk away from domestic abuse."
Jo has now moved away from Maidstone to begin rebuilding her life. As well as studying for an Open University degree in criminology, she is working on a book called the Survivor Memoirs which allows people to share their experiences of trauma.
And she has a simple message for those enduring abuse, but feel ready to break free.
“The most important thing is to just trust in yourself. Hold your head up high, trust in yourself like no one else can.”