This article contains references to sexual exploitation of minors.
A mother-of-two spoke of the sickening realization that her husband was using his wedding photography business as a front.
While claiming to be editing pictures, he was accessing child pornography.
Donna Winchester only discovered her former husband Phil Davidson's appalling crimes when police raided their family home on December 19 2016, as their children, who she doesn't wish to name, slept soundly.
According to evidence presented in court, Davidson had amassed 527 movies featuring children as young as 18 months old and used vile search terms online like “baby rape" and “kiddy rape."
Now Donna of Medway, Kent, England, feels physically sick when she thinks of how Davidson used his work as a perfect front. He claimed to be on his laptop all night editing wedding photos when, in fact, he was accessing depraved videos and images of children being abused.
“In my opinion, his remorse is all an act. I don't believe he's accepted that he is a pedophile, and that he has nobody to blame but himself. It's almost as if he doesn't consider the children in the images to be real because they're on a screen."
“After his arrest, I felt completely numb, and disgusted at what he'd done. But with him in prison, the children and I were finally free from the cage he'd trapped us in."
Donna and Phil (Collect/PA Real Life)
Still carrying enormous guilt for not realizing what he was doing, Donna is furious that Davidson—jailed for 16 months in September at Maidstone Crown Court after admitting possession of indecent images of children and extreme pornography—was released in May 2018 after serving half his sentence.
Now calling for a crackdown on sentences for sex offenders, Donna says lenient jail terms leave no time for rehabilitation. Since the bombshell revelations, Donna has subjected every aspect of her relationship to microscopic scrutiny.
“Looking back, he veered between showering me with attention and being totally aloof."
“Whenever he went cold, it made me want to win him over even more, though. We got together romantically when I was 19. When he finally said he wanted me, I felt so relieved."
“Now, I know that what he and I had was not love. He'd just cast a spell over me."
In February 2000, as Donna turned 21, Davidson proposed on a romantic trip to the Maldives.
She now says her acceptance was tinged with doubt—but she felt under pressure to commit to him.
“It was almost through a sense of obligation. Things weren't great, but I wanted to be loyal and give things a go. He'd not long lost his mum, who I'd been close to as well, so I felt I owed it to her to make sure he wasn't alone."
From the moment he slid an engagement ring on to her finger, though, Donna said everything changed.
Donna and Phil on their wedding day (PA Real Life/Andrew Morant)
Davidson became distant, refusing to come up to bed and instead staying up all night, playing online games.
Worried she would embarrass her family if she pulled out of the wedding so late, she tried to convince herself he was simply stressed.
Swallowing her uncertainties, she went ahead, exchanging vows at St Mary's Church in Ashford, Kent, in 2002.
After tying the knot, their relationship improved somewhat and Donna became pregnant in 2003—welcoming her eldest the following year—only for Davidson, once again, to pull away.
“It was like he could do whatever he wanted, go wherever he wanted—but I had to just do what he told me. He wasn't attentive at all during the pregnancy, which was quite difficult. I remember being nine months pregnant and balancing on a chair to paint the baby's room because he wouldn't help."
“Once our baby was born, he'd lie around in bed all day and sit on his computer all night. He never seemed to enjoy our family time. It made me feel so insecure."
Over the next few years, during which time the couple had another child in 2009, their relationship continued to be rocky.
With Davidson increasingly distancing himself, Donna felt neglected and unloved.
Eventually, after she uncovered a string of affairs by seeing incriminating messages on his phone, she realized she no longer loved him—but agreed to put on a united front for the children.
From around 2011, leading separate lives, but living under the same roof, all intimacy between the couple stopped.
“I really thought staying was best for the children. I didn't want them growing up in a broken home. I get upset about how brainwashed I was now. That person wasn't me – I'm strong and independent."
“I often wonder how I ended up there, but it all started so small and subtle, chipping away bits here and there until eventually, he was eroding whole chunks. By then, it's too late and you're so worn down that you feel weak."
Emotionally battered, Donna limped on, playing up to the role of doting wife on family days so as not to upset the children.
And, it was after one of those days to see some Christmas lights on Oxford Street, central London, in December 2016 that her world came crashing down.
The following morning—December 19—she awoke at around 6am to the house “shuddering" as somebody hammered on the door.
“I could hear a commotion, so went downstairs, disoriented, to see a swarm of police talking to Phil. He wouldn't meet my eye, his face plastered with that same guilty look he'd worn when I confronted him about his cheating. I thought, 'What on earth have you done?'."
“Police told me that somebody had been accessing illegal material from our internet IP address. An officer plugged something into Phil's laptop to do a scan, and he was deathly quiet."
“Within minutes, he was led off and a detective told me they'd found enough evidence to arrest him on suspicion of possessing indecent images of children."
Donna and Phil (Collect/PA Real Life)
As cops broke the news they had discovered the sick terms Davidson had been searching for, adding that he was no longer safe to be unsupervised around the children or sleep in the same house as them, Donna's mind ricocheted with questions.
Wanting to co-operate as much as possible, she handed over all of his electronic devices, then took the children to a friend's home so officers could comb the house.
“He'd always had such strong reactions to children being hurt. He wouldn't watch any news reports about it, and would literally walk off to end the conversation. I never for one minute imagined he could do this."
“Now I can see it's because that was all too close to home for him. He was leading two separate lives and bringing up things like that made them cross over, so he shut it down."
In May 2017, Davidson was charged and Donna testified against him, providing a statement for the prosecution in which she talked about how abusive he had been throughout the relationship.
Then, in September 2017, he admitted his crimes—appearing at Maidstone Crown Court, where he claimed that seeing the pain inflicted in the terrible images of children being abused relieved his own depression.
Donna when she was younger (Collect/PA Real Life)
“The phrases he searched made my stomach turn. Police have reassured me that there's absolutely no suggestion that he abused our children, but it still sickens me that their dad is so dangerous. There is no justification for what he did."
Despite the seriousness of his crime, after serving half his 16-month sentence, the disgraced photographer was released.
“I have an awful lot of anxiety around that. In my mind, there's been no time for rehabilitation or counseling. The justice system needs to take these criminals seriously or it'll just become a cycle of re-offending, especially if they've already been jailed once—what else do they have to lose?"
Now divorced, Donna has happily found love again, but does not wish to name her new partner.
She and the children are slowly rebuilding their lives, with the help of counseling, and do not have any contact with Davidson.
Firmly focused on helping other abused women, Donna has been working with the Freedom Program, which examines the attitudes and beliefs of abusive men, and tirelessly helping to raise awareness of Clare's Law—legislation giving any member of the public the right to ask the police if their partner may pose a risk to them.
“I feel a lot of guilt that I didn't realize what he was doing sooner, but nobody ever imagined this would happen. He had the perfect cover with his wedding photography."
“All those nights he said he was editing pictures—it sickens me to think what he was actually doing."
A version of this article originally appeared on Press Association.