Beth McDonald remembers watching a clock on the wall, counting down the hours until she felt she would be able to escape her rapist.
Punched, stamped on, strangled, threatened with a saw and subjected to a degrading sexual assault by her then partner in an ordeal that lasted almost 24 hours, once he finally fell asleep she calmly made her way down the stairs of their home, naked apart from her socks. Stopping to put her clothes back on, to cover herself, would have taken too much time.
While most of the doors had been locked, she found the conservatory entrance open, and ran. This was in August 2018. In December of that year, Vincent Grieve, now 33, was sentenced to eight years in jail at Preston Crown Court after pleading guilty to rape and assault occasioning actual bodily harm.
Warning – this article contains an image and descriptions of physical and sexual abuse which some may find disturbing
Beth, 32, is a musician, the frontwoman of rock band Beth Blade And The Beautiful Disasters, and says if it weren’t for her music she thinks she would have attempted suicide after her attack. Now, she is preparing for the release of her band’s third album, which features several songs about what she has been through.
However, just four years on from the attack, she is also preparing for Grieve’s release on licence. She is scared. An indefinite restraining order placed at the time, she says, is “just a piece of paper”; as a musician with a public profile, she knows her whereabouts when gigging will often be easy to find.
But she is proud of her album and says she wants to speak out to potentially help others who might be facing similar situations, trapped in abusive relationships. “If it can help one person, then it’s worth feeling scared every time you talk,” she says. “And as time goes on, it gets less and less.
“I want people to know they’re not alone. And that it’s okay to go through these terrible things and that they’ve got someone – they might not even have met me – but they’ve got somebody who understands and is in their corner. And it might just make them feel brave enough to not have to suffer anymore.”
Beth met Grieve as a teenager and they rekindled their relationship in February 2018, officially becoming a couple the following month.
She says he “love-bombed” her – which means showing extreme displays of attention, affection and flattery, often seen as a manipulative tactic in abusive or coercive relationships – and she made the decision to return to her hometown of Blackburn from Cardiff, where she had studied at university and set up her band, to move in with him.
The abuse started with him trying to dictate her working hours and the way she looked, telling her not to dye her hair when she wanted to, she says. Soon, she became cut off from some of her friends.
Grieve was first violent after driving her to a festival performance with her band and seeing her hug a promoter, she says. When she got in the car to talk to him, he drove off with her for about two hours, hitting her throughout, including with a bottle. But afterwards, she says he apologised and burst into tears.
‘I just kind of gave up on myself’
Beth covered her bruises with make-up and agreed to give him another chance. “I just kind of gave up on myself… my confidence was non-existent. I had no self-belief whatsoever and the only thing that kept me going at all was the band and the music, that was it. I had to do gigs because I had committed to them. I had to do the album because I’d paid for it. And in reality, it’s the thing that kept me alive. Because if that hadn’t been there, I am absolutely 100% certain that I would have tried to kill myself or eventually he would have killed me.”
She says she was ashamed and embarrassed to talk to her family and friends about what she was going through. “I have a wonderful relationship with my parents… they raised me in a loving, wonderful home. I didn’t want to admit to that I’d allowed myself to be put in that situation. I felt like an utter failure.”
Grieve became violent again, she says, after the band won a competition to support Kiss on their annual Kiss Kruise gig, a cruise from Miami to the Bahamas. As he could not go, he did not want her to either. She says he threw a glass at her in a pub, in front of others, but it missed; another man, whom she knew, hit Grieve in retaliation.
He attacked her a few days later, in the afternoon of the bank holiday in August 2018, as he was drinking rum at home, demanding to know the identity of the man who had hit him.
“He started punching me in the face, headbutting me and putting his hands on my throat and squeezing quite tightly, throwing me around, throwing me into doorways.” After a few hours, she says he grabbed an electric saw. “He said to me, ‘as soon as I get to the bottom of this bottle of rum, I’m going to smash it over your head and then I’m going to be using this’. I took that as he was going to use the saw to harm me, whether that was finger or toes or anything.”
‘I knew it was my only shot’
Beth tried to escape after this, but the door was locked and he caught her.
“He picked me up from behind with his arm around my neck and held me suspended, for a good, I’d say, 60 seconds. And I got to the point where I could feel my brain was going to shut down and I was going to lose consciousness. And I was just thinking: you need to stay awake, you need to stay awake.”
The attack went on throughout the night, with Grieve headbutting her, “stomping” on her and at one point biting her scalp, she says. Once he had finished the rum, she says he took her upstairs and made her take her clothes off, before hitting her with a belt.
It was then that he raped her, telling her he had never been intimate with someone with “an open head wound before”. Beth says she was “paralysed” with shock and fear. Eventually, by about 6 or 7am the following morning, he fell asleep.
“It was light outside. I had this internal monologue, this conversation with myself. ‘Beth, he’s a really heavy sleeper’ – and there was a clock on the wall – ‘give it until 9am and he’s snoring deeply, you can make a run for it’. I knew it was my only shot, so I didn’t put any clothes on; I just had my socks, that was all. I calmly walked into the hallway, calmly walked down the stairs. The key was missing from the front door, locked. The back door was locked. The windows in the kitchen were locked. But luckily he’d left the conservatory door open.”
Once outside, she ran, bleeding. Early on a bank holiday Monday, there weren’t many people about. “A gentleman saw me and the look of horror on his face. I tried to talk to him, but he was in such shock that I just carried on going. I ran for about another two or three minutes until there was a shop on the main road. And I saw there was somebody stood at the cash machine, two women and… at that point, my legs started going.”
The women helped Beth, covering her and calling the police and a taxi to get her to hospital. She says she suffered a depressed skull fracture, as well as wounds and bruising from the belt and being hit. “My eyes were completely black and the inside of my mouth, where he’d put his fingers inside, was ripped.”
‘I’ve chosen to live my life’
She saw Grieve again at his sentencing, facing him in court to tell the judge how the attack had affected her. Now, she is preparing for his release.
“I believe he’s a danger,” she says. “What he did, and it comes down to the legal terms, but he tried to kill me. To me, that’s attempted murder. And the prison sentence does not fit the crime at all. It’s going to affect me for the rest of my life. When he’s out of prison, I have to worry about him, revenge, attacking me in some way… but I’ve chosen to live my life in spite of that.”
After the attack, Beth suffered horrific nightmares and panic attacks and went on to have therapy, which she says helped, as did writing poetry and verses about her experience.
“I needed some kind of outlet to be able to channel all that pain through. At the time, I felt like there wasn’t really anybody I could talk to. My parents, I didn’t want to give them the horrible details. Friends were wonderfully supportive of me and my bandmates were incredible, but I just didn’t want them to have to deal with the graphicness of it.
“[Music] is the only thing that made me feel remotely like myself. I felt like everything else, my self-confidence, my identity, everything had been stripped away from me, piece by piece.”
Beth showed one song, Sacrifice, to the band’s guitarist, and he encouraged her to record it. It recalls the final hours of her attack, as she waited for her escape: “I watch the clock tick, ticking down/ The blood has dried/ No tears are in my eyes/ I’ve saved my last breath, for this moment, I can’t make a sound/ Or I’ll face my torment.”
“I didn’t want people to think I was weak and I didn’t want to feel embarrassment and shame again,” she says, admitting she was at first wary of making the words public. “Then I stopped and I was like, ‘I don’t have anything to be embarrassed or ashamed of’.
“It was a moment for me that if these songs can help people, then yes, I should absolutely do it… I’m not going to allow what he did to me to define me. In fact, I’m going to be as bold about it and as brave about it as I can possibly be. It’s important that people know that it can happen to anybody.”
Domestic abuse statistics
The number of domestic abuse related crimes recorded by police in England and Wales rose 6% in the year ending March 2021, to 845,734, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
This follows increases seen in previous years, which may reflect improved recording by police as well as increased reporting by victims.
Demand on domestic abuse helplines increased in the year ending March 2021, with a 22% rise in people supported by the National Domestic Abuse Helpline in England – according to the ONS this is “not necessarily indicative of an increase in the number of victims, but perhaps an increase in the severity of abuse being experienced, and a lack of available coping mechanisms”.
According to the Femicide Census Report, released in February 2022 based on UK data from 2020, of the 110 women who were killed by men in that year, 57 – more than half, 52% – were killed by current or former partners.
With Grieve’s release imminent, on licence until August 2026, Beth says she is going to have to change the way she gigs, but is determined to keep going. “When I get to a venue, I’m going to have to give them a picture of him and say, if you see this person, you can’t let them in. He could find me at any point, regardless of whether there’s a restraining order in place or an exclusion zone. It’s not protection.
“For the rest of my life, I’m going to have to worry that he’s going to find me, that he’s going to hurt me. But I’m choosing not to change my name. I’m choosing to continue with my band because I shouldn’t have to do that. And I’m not going to do it because if I did that, he would be winning.”
Beth says she would like to help launch a music therapy programme for victims of domestic abuse in the future. “I honestly think without music, I would have tried to commit suicide. I had those feelings, and the only thing that stopped me from doing that was the love for my family and the fact that I have music.”
But she says the government should make more support available to victims of domestic abuse, especially when an offender is released. She also thinks sentences should be greater.
“Women die every week at the hands of their partner or their ex-partner. [A restraining order] doesn’t stop somebody from coming and finding you, it really doesn’t. It’s a shame that many people have to change their names and move to stop that from happening.
“I am scared but I am being defiant. I’ve got a wonderful support network around me. I’ve got my bandmates, my family, my current partner, all these people who will want to protect me and will work to put these things in place. But the thing that annoys me more than anything is that really, I shouldn’t have to.
“He beat me half to death and strangled me. And that’s only worth a few years of prison time. Essentially, [the victim] is getting a life sentence, whereas the person who’s committed the crime is doing a couple of years in prison.
“It literally takes 30 seconds for somebody to kill you if they want to kill you. And that’s what worries me, is – is there a way that it can really be prevented?”
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “This was a despicable crime and our sympathies remain with Beth McDonald.
“Sentencing is a matter for independent judges but offenders released on licence face strict licence conditions including exclusion zones and monitoring tags, and new laws will see the most serious offenders spend longer behind bars.
“We are also supporting rape victims more than ever before – boosting funding for victim services to £440m over the next three years and recruiting more sexual violence advisers so no one is left to suffer alone.”
Beth Blade And The Beautiful Disasters’ third album, Mythos, Confession, Tragedies And Love, is out now