The victim of a man convicted of deliberately infecting his partners with HIV has told how his life ‘fell apart’ as a result – causing him to lose his job, home and place at university.
The man, who was 26 at the time, had been in a short-term relationship with Brighton hairdresser Darryl Rowe, which he believed had been ‘loving’ and ‘real’.
However, he later discovered he was one of 10 victims of Rowe, who was deliberately spreading HIV by either having unprotected sex with partners, or by tampering with condoms.
It was only when he was contacted by a local sexual health clinic a couple of months after their relationship had ended, and asked to attend for an immediate HIV test, that he discovered he had been a victim.
Now 28, the man, originally of Brighton, has been awarded £22,000 in damages from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA), having made a claim through specialists Hudgell Solicitors.
He says it has taken two years to start rebuilding his life, having spiralled into depression, leading to him missing work, losing his job, his home and his place on his university course.
“I’ll never ever be able to understand of comprehend why Darryl did this to people and it has shattered my trust in people. I’ve never been able to get my head around it and I don’t think I ever will,” said the victim.
“The crazy thing when I look back is that he seemed such a genuine person. He seemed to be the one more committed. I liked him and but he seemed more into the relationship and the more affectionate and jealous.
“He’d often say I didn’t show him enough affection, so his feelings for me seemed very real, and I was certainly of the opinion that we were exclusively seeing each other.
“Despite this there was obviously nothing real at all, as all the time he was with me to infect me.”
The man had met Rowe on a gay dating website in October 2015 and was in a relationship with him for around two months. He says that after he had ended the relationship, he was then suddenly contacted by officials at a sexual health clinic in February 2016.
He was then told that it was suspected he would have HIV, something tests confirmed, and asked questions about who his previous sexual partners had been.
“It was a really strange experience as I was told I had to go to the clinic and have the test and when I got there I was warned that they expected me to have HIV. When it was confirmed they started asking me who my past sexual partners had been and when I had been with them.
“I told them about Darryl, and that we’d had protected sex twice and it was clear that he was suspected for some reason. They said there had been a man reported like someone I had described as a previous partner and that I could have been deliberately infected.
“They asked whether I wanted to report it to the police but I was more concerned about my own situation at that stage, and I couldn’t believe that he would have done it to m deliberately. I thought at the time it must have been an accident on me, as I felt our relationship had been real,” he said.
Rowe initially denied the allegations and police issued a public health warning, asking men who had had sex with a man matching his description to contact the authorities.
He then went on the run in November 2016, targeting two more men in the north-east while using a fake name. When he was finally arrested, he was found with a rucksack of sabotaged condoms.
“Finding out he had been arrested and then charged with this stuff was just completely mind blowing. I was being told I had HIV, but not only did I have that to contend with mentally, but also how it had happened and why,” the man added.
“I didn’t want to pursue charges with regards to what had happened to me at the time, as I just wanted to focus on my own life.
“I’d recently started a new relationship with a new partner, and we’d had unprotected sex, so I was panicking as to whether I may have infected him, which thankfully I hadn’t, and how he would take the news. I was also worried about how I would tell my friends and my family.
“I just felt like my life had been ruined, and that nobody would want to know me. There is still a huge stigma to HIV and I thought that no men would want to come near me, I felt like I had been left with a poison inside me.”
As part of a research study into new HIV treatments, and from continued daily medication, the man is managing the HIV successfully and says he is ‘healthy and well’.
It has no physical impact on his day to day health, and he has been told it won’t impact on his life expectancy, but having HIV has already had a devastating effect on his life.
“Living with HIV is not as hard as living with the stigma,” said the man. “I just couldn’t cope with the emotional side of what had happened to me and how my life had changed.
I started to miss work as I just couldn’t face it. That meant I wasn’t earning enough money to pay for my flat so I ended up losing that and sleeping on a friend’s sofa for a while.
“I was missing university also, so much so that they refused to offer me a second year due to missing too many days. It felt like my life was falling apart.”
With debts mounting to around £5,000, a successful CICA claim through Hudgell Solicitors has enabled the man to start rebuilding his life.
It has seen him awarded a £22,000 compensation settlement for Rowe’s ‘deliberate intention to cause harm’, money which is now helping him pay off debts, including a student loan, whilst he has also returned to work in the retail sector.
He has moved to Croydon, where he has secured a university place again to study game design, and following counselling through the Terrance Higgins Trust, which supports people living with HIV, is feeling positive again.
“I am looking ahead but I really do feel at times I was badly let down,” he said.
“When your life hits troubles like I did you need people to support you. My university didn’t do that, despite letters from my GP about the depression I was suffering from and why I had not been attending.
“What I did find was that my friends and my family were there for me and they understood. My new partner has been there for me also. That support network has been crucial to get me to a better place.”
Victoria Neale, a specialist in handling claims to the CICA at Hudgell Solicitors, said: “There can be no doubt that our client has suffered significantly, both physically and psychologically, as a result of the actions of Darryl Rowe.
“Although no amount of money can lessen the impact of what happened to our client in this case, it will go some way to helping him rebuild his life, having found himself running into in financial difficulties in the aftermath of what had happened to him.
“It is entirely understandable that, having been a victim of such a horrific offence, our client found it difficult to face things such as work and university. It has only been through counselling, support and now this damages claim that he has been able to start rebuilding his life.”
Rowe, of Brighton, who was the first man in the country to be found guilty of intentionally setting out to spread the HIV virus, infected five men he had unprotected sex with and sabotaged the condoms of another five in Brighton and Northumberland.
He was sentenced to life with a minimum term of 12 years in April of this year and lost an appeal against his conviction and sentence earlier this month.