The nightmare began close to midnight on a fresh summer’s eve. After spending the evening with a neighbour, as I returned to my house in a remote Welsh village, a figure dressed in full camouflage gear leapt from the shadows and pointed a shotgun at my chest.
I knew who it was. I even recognised the semi-automatic weapon. I’d used it to shoot clay pigeons and I knew it had a highly responsive trigger.
Standing before me in the dark, wearing leather gloves, was my ex-boyfriend Gareth, a man who had waged a campaign of terror, stalking and harassment against me for four months after the end of a five-year coercive, controlling relationship, despite my begging for help from the police.
I’d thought I was finally rid of him — but for the next eight hours he would hold me hostage and repeatedly threaten to kill me and leave my four children motherless.
Rhianon Bragg (pictured) from Rhosgadfan, recalls the terror Gareth Wyn Jones caused as it’s revealed he could be released from jail as early as August 2022
Emotional and unpredictable, he veered from fury to self-pity to a kind of warped, delusional affection, but I had no doubt at the time he was capable of murdering me.
Sometimes, I look back at what happened to me then, in August 2019, in disbelief. How could I — a strong, independent, educated woman with a degree in zoology and a background in consultancy in London — have ended up fearing for my life at the hands of a man like this?
The answer is I had been so controlled and confused by him, I had lost all sense of what normal behaviour was.
But the truth is, too, I had been let down by the authorities. More than once, complaints to the police were never followed up and charges were dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
After years of abuse, it took his kidnapping of me at gunpoint for him finally to be put behind bars.
Now my fear is that soon he will be released and I will be in danger again. The prospect of his return to our little village of 2,000 people petrifies me.
Tiny Rhosgadfan on the edge of Snowdonia is the only place I’ve ever truly called home.
As a child, I had few roots — my father was a vicar and the family moved from parish to parish in England until I was sent to school at Marlborough College in Wiltshire and my parents settled at last in Wales, in the very farmhouse I live in now.
Every summer, I’d run wild on the mountains which look down over Anglesey and Caenarfon Bay.
As a grown woman, I left for university in Cardiff and then went on to London, where I worked as a recruitment consultant and met my husband, with whom I had my four children — two boys and two girls, now aged 17, 15, 12 and nine.
Rhianon met mechanic Gareth, when he came to fix a puncture she had while rushing to see her dad who’d had a stroke. Pictured: Happy at first, but little did Rhianon know then of Gareth’s disturbing dark side
Our split, in late 2013 coincided with the serious illness of my father. In fact, that’s how I met Gareth Wyn Jones.
On a mercy dash to see Dad, who’d had a stroke, I had a puncture a mile from the farm. Gareth was the seemingly kind, helpful mechanic who came to fix it.
While Dad was in hospital, Gareth became a frequent visitor to the farmhouse. My marriage was over and I decided to stay in Wales with the children, but at that stage I simply viewed him as a new friend.
When I look back, however, I realise he had spotted a new victim, and was beginning to insert himself insidiously into my life.
Dad died in May 2014, and in those dark days, I was hugely vulnerable, convinced no one would ever be interested in a 42-year-old single mum with four kids, and too naive to realise he was ingratiating himself in my life.
My relationship with Gareth turned into something more than friendship. Disturbingly, many people in the village knew of his dark side, but no one told me about it.
I later found out he’d been called ‘Gareth Liar’ at school, had allegedly been aggressive towards his two ex -wives and only stopped plaguing the last one once he’d got his hooks into me.
But I don’t blame anyone but him for what happened next — I think they were as scared of him as I am now.
At first he was charm personified and prone to extravagant displays of affection. He told me I was The One, despite us being from different backgrounds — at 50, he’d never lived anywhere but the village and worked as a mechanic for Gwynedd Council.
We shared a love of the outdoors. Now I realise how easily and readily he lied to me.
Towards the end of 2016, I started to see the true Gareth emerge. He became short-tempered and I learned to be submissive, desperate not to give a wrong answer that would set him off again.
In December, he suddenly dumped me out of the blue, and this became a pattern.
I would be subjected to a barrage of abuse, told how useless I was and that I didn’t deserve to be with anyone, and then the next day, he would smother me with affection.
It meant I felt grateful to have him back — while all the time, he was undermining me and wrecking my self-esteem.
Rhianon said Gareth began letting rip at her in public by the spring of 2019, after developing a pattern of dumping her out of the blue. Pictured: Gareth is caught on camera threatening her with a shotgun
His violence began to ramp up. On one occasion in October 2017, having dumped me again, he turned up at the house to get a stove he’d bought. Carrying a crow bar, he cut a menacing figure and put his hands around my throat.
Later, in May 2018, after seeing a band play at the club in the village, he put his hand over my mouth and told me not to scream as he accused me of seeing other men.
He tried to bundle me into his car, leaving bruises on my back. I was petrified but the following day he begged for forgiveness and swore he’d never hurt me.
I didn’t press charges — after years of being ground down you just want to be loved. I talked to some old friends who were aware of the difficulties, but I felt ashamed and embarrassed to tell the whole story about what was happening.
In the spring of 2019, there was a further escalation.
He began to let rip at me in public — like a barrier had come down.
A couple I’d met through him came to buy a caravan from my mother.
Gareth unexpectedly turned up and there was a row, culminating in him taking a sheet of Perspex meant to repair the caravan window and smashing it on top of my sons’ football goal in the garden so that it shattered everywhere.
It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. My friends were horrified. I’d been worn down by his abuse for so long, and now finally other people had witnessed it.
I realised from their reaction it wasn’t normal. It gave me the strength I needed never to go back to him.
Gareth, however, refused to accept it was over and began a campaign of stalking.
He’d watch me from the road or lie in wait for me at the farmhouse. When I finally summoned the courage to call the police, he was arrested for harassment and menacing behaviour.
In fact, over a three-week period, he was arrested twice more, but devastatingly the CPS decided no further action should be taken, and his campaign continued.
Rhianon (pictured) said Gareth who was also being threatening towards her children, pointed a gun at her in mid-August
Because the police kept telling me I needed evidence or witnesses, I decided to get CCTV installed. It wasn’t just me — Gareth was also using threatening and menacing behaviour towards my children.
I reported this to the police but it was never followed up.
I felt so isolated up there in the farm, terrified about what he might do next.
But I refused to move. I felt very strongly that he wouldn’t force me out of my home where I lived with my mum.
And then came that terrible evening in mid-August, when he sprang out of the darkness and pointed his gun at me, a gun I’d occasionally used to shoot clay pigeons with him. That night was the most frightening of my life. I knew I had to comply with whatever he wanted me to do or I wouldn’t survive.
At times, it felt like I was in a film. When my phone rang, he made me answer it but hissed at me: ‘Don’t do anything stupid.’
It was the neighbour asking if I’d got home safely — I lied and told him I was fine.
It felt as though I was just doing whatever I could to keep myself alive minute by minute.
After that, he forced me into the barn next to the house in a field.
He made me sit on a bale, and pointed the gun at me. All night, he ranted, asking if I ever loved him, telling me what a hard life he’d had and how much he’d suffered. He was threatening to kill both of us.
Later, he turned his ire on the neighbour at whose house I’d spent the evening, threatening to go and kill him too, convinced it was more than a friendship, which it never was.
In an effort to calm him down in ways that had been ingrained in me over the previous five years, at one point I hugged him and felt the cartridge belt slung around his chest. He kept telling me to go so he could kill himself, but I didn’t try to escape because I sensed he didn’t want me to and I could be shot in the back if I tried to leave.
Eventually, he decided we would drive to his house in the village, resting the gun between us in my car. At his house, he became delusional: ‘We can be together again, and we’ll make it work this time,’ he said.
For the first time I really realised how utterly divorced from reality he was. How could he put me through all that trauma and fear and still think everything would be normal again?
As his rage subsided, I managed to persuade him to let me go to a pre-arranged appointment at the doctor’s surgery at 8.15am.
I’d been smoking so much from the stress over the previous few months that I was feeling short of breath, and some part of him accepted that I needed to see a medical professional.
‘Oh you must go,’ he said to me. He even jokily kissed my cheek as I left his house. It was scarily surreal after what had happened.
He followed me to the surgery —but finally, alone in the GP’s room, I could tell someone what was happening. The police were called, the surgery was locked down and Gareth was arrested as he waited for me in the car park.
The immediate danger was over, but now I faced a battle for justice. After giving my statement, there were a tense few days while I waited to see if he would be charged.
Gareth vehemently denied ever having the shotgun, but the CCTV footage proved he was lying.
If I’d not had the camera installed, I do wonder whether he’d have got away with it again. What I’ve discovered is the odds are stacked against the victims of domestic abuse, and that the CPS are unwilling to take cases to trial without irrefutable evidence. A victim’s word is not enough,
Gareth has since been jailed for a total of 20 years on five different charges including making threats to kill and false imprisonment.
But with concurrent sentencing and a 25 per cent reduction owing to his guilty plea, he is serving four and a half in prison and five on licence.
Recently, I learned that he had been transferred back to prison from the medium-secure psychiatric unit where he was being held. That means he could be considered for parole as early as August 2022.
It’s the most horrendous news to have received. He could be free to return to tiny Rhosgadfan where the chances of me or my children bumping into him are high.
Around every corner awaits another battle. I was granted a restraining order in February 2020 which lasts for 10 years and states Gareth can’t come within 800m of my house on his release.
That works in a city like London, with shops on every corner and plenty of people about, but is meaningless in a small Welsh village like ours where farmhouses are spread out.
I was not consulted and crucially, that distance lets him be in the centre of the village and places he was offending previously.
It’s possible he could even be allowed to come back to live in Rhosgadfan because this is where he claims his support system is.
But his parents are dead, he no longer has a house here, and while he has one sister living in Rhosgadfan, another lives five miles away. Why couldn’t he go there?
The most I can hope for is that the licence conditions which will be discussed nearer to parole, will be strengthened so he can’t come back to the village, but I’m terrified they won’t be.
I feel the behaviour he’s demonstrated is sociopathic and he’s highly likely to reoffend, but the system disregards the victim’s safety and protects the perpetrator.
When the judge sentenced him, he agreed Gareth was a ‘manipulative liar and violent bully’ whom he considered to be dangerous.
While he has been getting top-notch mental health treatment, I’ve had to wait months on end to be able to see a therapist and am only now having sessions with a trainee clinical psychologist, to prepare me before I start trauma sessions with a qualified psychologist.
In one sense, I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve got old friends from school who are criminal barristers, doctors and therapists and I’ve rung them for advice.
But what if you have no support network at all, and you feel like the police aren’t on your side? I can’t imagine trying to negotiate the criminal justice system without their insight which gave me the confidence to challenge people.
Despite the support I’ve had, part of me wishes the case had never come to court. At my lowest point, I even find myself thinking if he hadn’t gone to prison, he might have eventually left me alone, but now he thinks I’ve humiliated him, he will be after revenge. But I know it was the right thing to happen.
I can’t imagine how I’ll feel when he is freed, when he could watch me and my children go about our daily business. It is a nightmare that will never go away.
But I refuse to move — this is my home, my heartland.
As told to Lebby Eyres (Rhianon Bragg has not been paid for her story)