18 months into their relationship, Leesa Jacobs’ boyfriend Michael John Price, 45, poured petrol over her chest and used his lighter to set her alight inside their Hobart home.
The 44-year-old suffered burns to 25 per cent of her body and doctors thought she would die. Her body is covered in scars from the burns and from the multiple skin graft operations she has had to repair the damage. There will be many more operations ahead for the mother of four.
In court last month, Price pleaded guilty to three counts of assault and one count of causing grievous bodily harm. Justice David Porter described the attack as “appalling” and said the only reason Price had given for his crime was his excessive consumption of alcohol-which at that time was up to a carton of full-strength beer a day.
But the Justice said said “excessive alcohol consumption is, of course, no excuse”.
“You have consigned Ms Jacobs to a lifetime of pain-physical and emotional,” he said before sentencing Price to 10 years in prison and ordered that he not be released for six years.
Ms Jacobs has spoken out for the first time since the attack, telling the Australia Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) she hoped that what happened to her would inspire other women to leave abusive relationships.
She said the night of the attack in June 2015 was a normal night. The couple had been out. Price had not been particularly talkative during the evening, but Ms Jacobs said she had no inkling of what would unfold when they got to their home in Austins Ferry.
“We went home and I went upstairs to my daughter, who had a friend over, and I stayed up there for a few minutes, and then I went downstairs to the garage. He’d gone straight into the garage and was drinking,” she said.
“I went in there and we started … I don’t even remember what we started arguing about … then he said, ‘I’m going to burn you’. And he picked up the petrol tin and opened the lid and poured it over me, and then pulled out his lighter and lit it, and I remember being on fire and trying to pat myself out and screaming. Michael was standing over from me … just standing there watching me burning and not saying anything. I remember looking in the mirror and I could see that my hair had all been burnt up and I had all skin and that hanging off me and all off my arms. My clothes had melded into my chest and my legs and that were still burning and I was still burning even though I had put myself out. I remember sitting down on the floor and thinking, ‘I just want to die now’.”
Doctors originally thought Ms Jacobs might die and she was put into an induced coma for 12 days while they worked to stabilise her. She had to been given morphine even to shower because of the pain of the water on her skin.
“I can’t describe how painful it was. It’s painful when you get a little burn or something on your arm, when you burn it on a stove or something like that, but I had it all over me. I don’t like to look at myself in the mirror because of what I see. All I see is melted skin …. my chest, arms, on my legs and then where they’ve taken the skin. The only part they didn’t take any skin is off the front of my stomach. Other than that everywhere else is scarred. He wanted to burn my face and change the way that I looked and how I felt, and he did that.”
Ms Jacobs said she had met Price through work and she had fallen in love with his smile and happy-go-lucky charm. But things had changed a few months later when they moved in together. Price broke her arm, forcing her to have 11 weeks off work and leaving her with little money, and punched and choked her.
“I stayed because I loved him and I didn’t think that he’d do it again,” she said. “He was just putting me down all the time. Nothing was ever good enough for him and then I started to think that maybe it was something that I was doing, and I tried to make everything better. In the end I realised that there was nothing I could do to make it better — that’s just who he is and who he’s always been.”
She had decided the relationship was over and was moving out and said that Price knew that. She was staying to get the money to move out. Ms Jacobs said she had only been back at work for two days from her broken arm when Price set fire to her. She did not report the previous assaults.
“I did go to the doctor but I always made up a different story about what happened because I was embarrassed. I didn’t want anyone to know,” she said.
Ms Jacobs warned other victims to get out, saying there were services to help victims no matter their financial state.
“Don’t stay — get out of there because they’re not going to stop. They say sorry but they’re not going to stop,” she said. “There’s always something better than staying with that person, always. I just wish that I had thought like that.”
Unable to work and with Housing Tasmania unable to find her suitable accommodation, Ms Jacobs struggles to pay for a private rental and ongoing medical appointments from her Centrelink pension. She is angry that Price is appealing against the length of his sentence.
“I’ve got to live with this and my kids have to live with this for the rest of our lives. He’ll get out and he’ll lead his life. He’s changed my life and my kids’ life, forever”
EnterGhana.com | Credit: ABC News | Woman set ablaze by boyfriend warns others to leave abusive relationships, like ‘Don’t stay, get out!’