An abusive husband left his wife in ‘near constant fear’ in what was his lawyer labelled an ‘African marriage’.

Joseph Onyait’s barrister, Martin Lewis, told Oxford Crown Court on Wednesday: “It was in many respects an ‘African marriage’…it was far more misogynistic than a British marriage would be these days.”

His client, a Ugandan-born former British Army soldier and naturalised UK citizen, was said to have left his wife in ‘near constant fear’ between 2016 and the break-up of the marriage in 2020.

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Onyait, 43, once held a knife to his wife’s face, made regular threats to kill her, and pushed her in the chest in arguments over online prayer meetings she attended during the 2020 pandemic lockdowns.

He hid their daughter’s passport, meaning the mother could not take the girl away abroad with her. They agreed to open a joint ISA but when he opened the account and ordered his wife to pay in £2,000 the savings account was only in his name. Unknown to his wife, in March 2020 he took out a life insurance policy in her name for which he was the only beneficiary.  

Prosecutor Simon Gledhill said Onyait demanded his wife show him her phone and prevented her from visiting friends, controlled what she could wear. Between 2017 and 2020, she estimated she fled the house at least once a month ‘out of fear of violence escalating’.

The victim lived in ‘near constant fear’ throughout the four year period Onyait was accused of controlling behaviour.

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Jailing him for 27 months, Judge Nigel Daly said: “For four years at least you made your wife’s life a misery.

“You controlled her, you coerced her, you were violent towards her. She had to leave the house from time to time because of your behaviour.

“And this isn’t just a one off. It went on and on and on.

“Now, I am told that this was something that has been described to me as a ‘bit of an African marriage’ and there is a different culture in Uganda, where you originally come from.

“But you are not in Uganda. You have haven’t really been for some time.

“You have served to your credit in the British Army, you have lived in this country for some time. You know the culture of this country, you have chosen to live within it.”

The judge said he had to deal with Onyait according to the laws of England and Wales. “It may cause you some difficulty to come to terms with the change in the culture and the different views we may have in this country but if you live here you have to adapt to such cultures. It is not good enough to behave like this to your spouse.”

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Earlier, Mr Lewis described his client’s relationship as a ‘good marriage that turned into a thoroughly bad marriage’.

He said the final assaults in May and June 2020 came about after the victim turned to a different branch of the Christian faith, joining online prayer meetings. “That is not a reason under any circumstances for him to behave in the way he did but it appears to have been really the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

Onyait, formerly of Greenfinch Close, Oxford, pleaded guilty on the day of his trial to controlling and coercive behaviour. He was of previous good character.

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