MY FIANCEE CHEATED... THEN LEFT ME RUINED
In his own harrowing words, the Cambridge lecturer cleared of attacking unfaithful girlfriend tells of the shattering ordeal that left him ‘shunned like a leper’
THE medieval courtyards and mullioned windows of 15th Century Christ’s College, in the heart of Cambridge, create an atmosphere of learned calm and quiet beauty. It was within these walls that the poet John Milton ruminated under a mulberry tree while a scholar, and it was here that the undergraduate Charles Darwin began his prodigious career as a naturalist.
More recently, it was where PhD student and lecturer Matthew Baron spent three dedicated years researching marine palaeontology – dinosaurs of the sea, to you or me – making breakthroughs in the study of their evolution and marking, he hoped, the beginning of a brilliant academic career.
It was here, too, that romance blossomed between Matthew, 26, and a pretty fellow postgraduate zoology student called Sophia Cooke, also 26, to whom he became engaged.
Today, however that relationship lies in tatters, and so, for a while at least, did Matthew’s carefully won reputation as one of the brightest rising stars in his field at the prestigious university.
Even today, Matthew is no longer even permitted to enter the gates of Christ’s College – and his entire future hangs in the balance.
For Matthew found himself accused of the most shameful of crimes: violently attacking his former fiancee Sophia after she confessed to an affair while she had been on a field trip to the Galapagos Islands.
Sophia claimed she had been punched in the face and arms, and that Matthew had also smashed her iPhone and car radio in a fit of rage.
They were explosive allegations and for Matthew they were personally disastrous. Banned from his college, he was sent home, his reputation in tatters.
To say it turned his world into something resembling a nightmare is no understatement.
But last week, he was cleared of assaulting Sophia after magistrates found her version of events to be ‘inconsistent and not credible’, although the terrible – and, he says, ‘fabricated’ – claims against him could yet still wreak havoc on his future.
SPEAKING today in a bid to clear his name, softly-spoken Matt describes the ordeal he says he has suffered at the hands of the woman he once loved. ‘I spent eight months in my own personal hell, feeling sick to the stomach that I could have been convicted, but thankfully the court saw my side of the story,’ he says.
At a trial before Huntingdon magistrates last week, Matt told the court that his ex-fiancee was a fantasist who had set out to destroy him because he could not forgive her infidelity.
He told magistrates that when he told her she must move out of their flat, she had threatened to ruin him. ‘She had me banned from my college, she had me banned from the college bar, she bragged that she [would] accuse me of being violent. It has been the hardest time of my life.’
Speaking last night, he said: ‘I was shunned like a leper. Women students shouted obscenities at me in the streets and one male friend, whose wedding I attended, emailed to say that I was a vile scumbag who should rot in jail.
‘I found myself banned from my college and sent home to Derbyshire in disgrace.
‘Then, after I managed to convince the college to let me finish my PhD work, I was treated like a pariah.
‘I know there will still be those who think there is no smoke without fire. So I’m speaking out because I have nothing to hide, and I want my side of the story to be known.’
There was no sign of what was to happen when they first met in October 2015.
Indeed, he says he was instantly attracted to Sophia’s energy and vivacity. Never one to stand in the background, she showed him how to have fun.
‘I adored her confidence, though some people thought her brash. She was the kind of girl who enjoyed parties and could end up dancing on the table. She had a little bit of a wild side.’
The petite blonde, who attended the £15,000-a-year Badminton School in Bristol, was part of a cohort of new postgraduate students who Matthew helped to welcome during a meet and greet by the college’s Graduate Society. Her interest in Matt was clear from the start – and why not? Attractive, popular and talented, Matt was a member of the college’s football and rugby teams.
That the pair came from contrasting backgrounds – Matt’s roots are solidly working class – was less important than their shared interests in nature, animals and travel.
They only began dating in late January 2016 after Matt travelled on research trips to South Africa and Argentina. But they went together to the Galapagos to help with her research work on birds, and this was followed soon after by a trip to Dubai to meet Matt’s father and his partner. After just three months, Sophia began talking about marriage.
‘I asked my dad if it was too soon and he said yes, but at a weak moment when we were on the beach she proposed and I heard myself agreeing, though I said we should wait awhile.’ But Sophia announced their intention to marry at a family dinner that evening.
Over coming weeks, small hints of his fiancee’s more tempestuous nature began to emerge – he says she turned their planned wedding from what was originally going to be a small affair into a major event with a £20,000 price tag. They were due to marry last month.
But she returned to the Galapagos for seven weeks just before last Christmas without Matt, who had his own work to complete. Shortly after her return in February, she tearfully confessed to bedding a Peruvian named Ernesto.
Matt recalls: ‘I was heartbroken. It still stings even now. We were sitting in the car park at Fen Drayton Lakes – an RSPB nature reserve – on February 12. I hit the dashboard of her car, causing what was probably a small crack, but I never touched her. I was also sobbing so hard.
‘She told me that I should find a female student and cheat on her then we would be even. I was deeply offended. I thought, “I don’t know this person… how could I have been so wrong?”’
Here, of course, Matt and Sophia’s accounts of what took place vary dramatically. Matt told the court that she became hysterical, screaming that she couldn’t live without him.
He told the magistrates, ‘She said: “If you tell anyone I have cheated, I
I found it so humiliating to be pushed into a police riot van
I will now be less naive – I was young and in love
will ruin you. I will tell everyone you have been a violent monster.”’
However, Sophia had told the court that he, in fact, subjected her to repeated assaults, punching her in the face and body and gouging her eyes. ‘He was pacing around calling me a whore,’ she told the court. ‘I remember thinking I have driven this man to violence. All I wanted was for him to forgive me. I thought I was going to die.’
Three days later, at 5am, there was a knock on Matt’s door. ‘At first I thought it was a drunk – we get them sometimes. But the two uniformed police officers quickly disabused me of that notion. I was shocked, but not overly concerned as I knew I was innocent. But it was humiliating to be handcuffed and pushed into the police riot van.’
He was made to wait 16 hours before the interview took place – and it was then that Matt realised he was in a potentially very serious situation. The police showed him photographs of damage to Sophia’s car radio and also a mobile phone which she claimed he had caused – although he told the court he was not responsible for the extent of the damage later seen.
‘When the officer read her 13-page statement I could not believe it had come to this with someone I had loved and who I thought loved me back. It was sickening.’
Matt shakes his head, astonished even now that anyone could believe he was capable of such behaviour. ‘I am a peacemaker and a crier, not some angry monster,’ he insists.
‘After three months I eventually managed to get the agreement that I was allowed to go back into my department but not into the college. I also had to stay away from certain places I knew she would be at certain times. Even if I wanted to go for a coffee in college, I had to ring to make sure she wasn’t there. But it was difficult. Every part of my life that I tried to get back, I found she was there as well.
‘As soon as I got back into the gym, I found she had a membership herself so I was unable to go there. It grew increasingly depressing as I felt I was losing everything.
‘I felt that I couldn’t even go to parties or socialise with friends in case she turned up.’
Despite Sophia’s allegations, Matt had some powerful supporters.
During the trial at Huntingdon Law Courts in Cambridgeshire, magistrates were given glowing character references, and his college tutor Dr Helena Brown took to the witness stand.
She described him as an ‘exemplary member of the college’, who was ‘reliable, trustworthy, and had made significant efforts to raise awareness of gender issues and equal opportunities for female students’.
It was enough to convince the magistrates to throw out Sophia’s assault claims – although Matt was convicted of criminal damage after smashing her car radio, a claim he never denied.
‘Clearing my name has meant the world to me. I feel that I can breathe easily again. My family can relax – especially my mum who was distraught over the idea of me going to jail. A conviction would have made it impossible for me to work with children or even fly to countries like the USA.
‘I can now walk around the city with my head held high not fearing that people are whispering about me or that someone will shout abuse. No one should be in any doubt that I was completely vindicated of any physical assault.’
NOW, Matt is slowly picking up the pieces. Sophia is still at the university, he understands. The fellows at Christ’s are due to meet this week to decide whether he can finally be allowed to re-enter – a move which would begin to address some of the devastation.
Matt is trying not to feel bitterness, and he has tentatively started dating. But, he admits, his experiences are likely to cast a cloud over his future for some time to come.
‘I do think that I will be a bit less naive – I was young and in love.
‘I’m getting back into dating to feel normal again and I’m seeing someone, but I feel that I have to be very careful who I trust from now on.’
Despite what has happened, Matt has no criticism for the police or the legal system.
‘I think it’s right to protect those who have been victimised,’ he said. ‘If my suffering is the price to be paid for even one person being saved by intervention, then I accept it.
‘The only thing I feel I got away with is being tied to her as a husband for the rest of my life. I know that I’ve dodged a bullet there.’
Last night, Sophia could not be reached for comment.
IN LOVE: Just three months after Matthew and Sophia began dating, she proposed to him on a beach