Cambridge PhD student tried to ruin fiance who dumped her for cheating
A CAMBRIDGE PhD student threatened to ruin her ex- fiance by spreading rumours that he had assaulted her, a court heard. Zoologist Sophia Cooke falsely claimed that palaeontology lecturer Matthew Baron had attacked her in a bid to detract attention from the fact she had cheated on him.
The pair had become engaged after meeting at the prestigious university. But Mr Baron – also a doctorate student – broke it off after Miss Cooke, 26, admitted she had been unfaithful to him while away on a field trip to the Galapagos Islands, a court heard.
Miss Cooke claimed that her enraged fiance, also 26, then launched a frenzied attack that left her with a split lip, a swollen nose and bruises, and that she had feared she was ‘going to die’.
However, Mr Baron claimed that she was a ‘fantasist’ who had made up the assault allegations in a desperate bid to avoid telling her parents that her infidelity had scuppered their future marriage.
He told a court that she had told him: ‘If you tell anyone that I have cheated I will ruin you.
‘I will tell everyone you have been a violent monster.’
He added that her claims had threatened his reputation and future as an academic, saying: ‘ People look at me like I’m sub-human.’
But following a one- day-trial, magistrates rejected Miss Cooke’s claims – ruling that her account had been ‘ inconsistent’ and ‘not credible’.
Clearing Mr Baron of assault, they handed him a 12-month conditional discharge for the offence of criminal damage after he admitted smashing Miss Cooke’s car radio in anger.
He was ordered to pay £300 court costs, £300 in compensation, and a £20 victim surcharge. Huntingdon magistrates’ court heard how last December Miss Cooke – who studied for her undergraduate degree at Reading University – went on a six-week science trip organised by Cambridge to the Galapagos, where she slept with another man.
After returning to England, it was alleged that in February she eventually confessed her infidelity to Mr Baron – to whom she had been engaged since May last year – while the pair were birdwatching at the Fen Drayton Lakes nature reserve in Cambridgeshire.
According to her account, he then launched into a violent
‘If you tell anyone I will ruin you’
attack, spitting at her and punching her. She claimed she was left with a split lip, a swollen nose, a sore back and bruises to her arms and groin – and that in her desperation to escape alive she had climbed a tree and even considered swimming across a lake.
Miss Cooke, who grew up in a £1.2million house in Clifton, Bristol, told the court: ‘I remember thinking I was going to die.
‘He punched me on the side of the nose. I fell onto my bottom.
‘I put my hands up expecting to find blood and was surprised there was none. I could taste his spit in my mouth.’
She continued: ‘I remember thinking I have driven this man to violence. I have ruined his life and have cheated on him. All I wanted was for him to forgive me.
‘It took me months to realise that this was not my fault.’
When Mr Baron’s defence barrister Emma Hayfield asked her if the assault claim was really just a way of ‘getting back at Matt because he wanted to call off the wedding’, Miss Cooke replied: ‘I am not here for revenge. What he did was wrong – I do not want him to do it to anyone else.’
Mr Baron, from Hartlepool, told the court that Miss Cooke – with whom he had previously shared rooms at Christ’s College – had only reported the alleged assault to police in a desperate bid to stop her parents finding out about her
‘Turn everyone against me’
Galapagos fling. ‘It would save her telling her family that the wedding was off because she was having an affair,’ he said.
Fighting back tears, he said the claims threatened his academic future, adding: ‘People look at me like I’m sub-human.
‘My position at Cambridge is almost untenable. She had me banned from my college bar. Nine times out of ten when a girl says a guy beat her up, it happened – but in this case that is just not what happened.
‘She’s actively tried to make it not possible for me to complete my PhD. She has run with this, and tried to turn everyone else against me. My friends and my family are the only thing that’s got me through. This prolonged assault was entirely fictitious.
‘I have never been violent in my life, to anyone. I don’t care if she had slept with the entire island, I would never have hit her.’
In reality, he said, when she confessed her adultery he had ‘cried. I was heartbroken. I had really trusted her and loved her and I had just had this bombshell’.
He added: ‘She said, “If you tell anyone that I have cheated I will ruin you. I will tell everyone you have been a violent monster.”’ Mr Baron’s college tutor Dr Helena Browne told the court he was an ‘exemplary member of college’ who as captain of the college football team had striven to ‘raise gender awareness and equal opportunities for female students.
The court cleared Mr Baron from inflicting a two-hour assault on his former fiancee, with chairman of the bench Simona Rockall saying that Miss Cooke’s account had been inconsistent and not credible. Yesterday neither party commented.
A month before the case, Miss Cooke had written on social media: ‘If only brains healed as quick as bruises’. Among one of many photographs posted online is a selfie of herself and friends captioned: ‘Biology women do occasionally appear not covered in mud & bird poo’.
Claims: Sophia Cooke accused former fiance Matthew Baron, inset left, of assaulting her