A bully boyfriend tried to strangle his girlfriend when she was 36 weeks pregnant during a four-year campaign of control. Crazed Zach Pennell launched the attack on Sophie Henson after pulling over to the side of the road while driving.

The "coward" then fled the scene, running into woods in a bid to escape, while Sophie sat alone, injured and vulnerable in the car. The attack caused her skin to turn blue and left her convinced she was going to die.

During their four-year relationship, he controlled her, making her feel trapped and worthless and leading her to believe she couldn't live without him.

The 27-year-old brute is now behind bars and Sophie has chosen to share the hell she suffered at his hands in a bid to help others who are being abused by their partners.

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The 23-year-old met Pennell in 2020, through a friend, having never had a real boyfriend before. The then-19-year-old had self-esteem issues and was smitten with Pennell due to the way he made her feel.

Bully Zach Pennell is now in jail over his domestic abuse.
Bully Zach Pennell is now in jail over his domestic abuse. 

She told Wales Online: "I was really overweight at the time and I thought it was the best relationship ever. He bought me flowers and kissed me in front of my friends.

"He would say ‘look I’m interested in you, not them’. He properly showed me off from the start." But she became alarmed by how the relationship progressed.

By the second week of knowing Pennell, Sophie said things began to take a sinister turn. He became jealous about the fact Sophie had children and demanded that her mother moved out.

She said: "It went extremely quickly. I had known him a week and a half when he asked my mum to move out. We were then basically living together at mine.

"He didn’t accept my children and he said contact with their father had to be done through my mum." Sophie described how Pennell’s deep insecurities saw the pair fall into a toxic routine.

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He knocked Sophie down with insults and made her feel like she needed to prove her worth and earn his trust. She said: "I would pick him up from work at 5.30am.

"I would get home and he would stay awake until 12pm smoking and I would have to stay awake and clean. In this time I was not allowed to eat, I had to fast and lose weight because he said he ‘couldn't take me out’ because I wasn't presentable.

"While he was at work he would make me sit in the freezing cold in my car outside his work. He said it was because he didn’t know me as a person and I needed to prove that I wasn’t cheating on him.

"He said it was dodgy that I already had kids and that I needed to show him that he could trust me. At 3am I would have to go home to clean before picking him back up at 5.30am. We did this whole routine for a year."

Sophie said she lost so much weight during this time, that people often didn’t recognise her. By the second year, Sophie said Pennell was out of work which took a toll on him. During this time, she said the abuse got even worse.

Sophie Henson was in a relationship with Zach Pennell for four years.
Sophie Henson was in a relationship with Zach Pennell for four years. 

She said: "It became awful in the house. I wasn’t allowed food and I had to beg people to lend me money. There were times where my mum came to my house and I had to scream at her to leave me alone because she wasn't allowed to talk to me."

Sophie said Pennell gradually became more aggressive and controlling. He would often hide her car and house keys under his pillow, so that she was not free to leave and enter her own home as she pleased.

If she wanted to make a phone call, he would make her do it on loud speaker in front of him. He insisted on knowing where she was at all times.

On several occasions she described how Pennell forced her to look at herself in the mirror while saying degrading things about herself. She said: "I would have to stand in front of the mirror and say I am ‘fat’ and ‘useless’. I would have to repeat lines after him.

"He would say that girls are better than me because they have better figures, that I will always be worthless and that I’m a weirdo. He would also say horrible things about my family.

Sophie Henson thought she would die at Zach Pennell's hands.
Sophie Henson thought she would die at Zach Pennell's hands. 

"If I wouldn’t say something, there would be three levels where he would push my head forward. On the fourth go he would push my face into the mirror."

For a length of time in 2022, Sophie said the pair broke up. During their break, she explained how she fell pregnant, which made her particularly vulnerable. She said Pennell promised her that he would change and that they could be a happy family.

She said: "He said we could move on with the baby and that he wouldn’t hold [me getting pregnant] against me." But despite his promises, Pennell’s vile behaviour towards Sophie did not improve.

She described how Pennell did not want anyone to know she was pregnant, so made her wear baggy clothing. He also prevented her from going to scans and medical appointments relating to the pregnancy.

The first time Sophie had a scan, she was 32 weeks pregnant. She said it only came with the help of the police and social services, who had been trying hard to help her safely leave Pennell.

She said: "Around May 2023 I had to ring my social worker. I rang her and said ‘please don’t talk, please get the police to arrest me tomorrow morning’. I hung up and deleted the call.

"The police came and I was able to have a scan, when I discovered I was 32 weeks pregnant." Sophie explained how the police and social services were trying hard to help her to leave Pennell.

But for there to be any action, she would have to press charges herself or provide them with hard evidence. She said this can make it difficult for victims to leave a cycle of abuse.

She said: "I could not thank the police enough, how they kept their patience with me even when I kept telling them nothing was going on. They kept trying throughout three years of the relationship.

"Female officers would tell me their heart was breaking for me, they tried so hard." Amongst those trying to support her were workers from the Bridgend Council-run Assia Domestic Abuse Service.

At one point, Sophie said she was put on a 72-hour lifeline which Sophie could use to get emergency help if she felt as though her life might be in danger.

Days after this ran out, Sophie said that’s exactly what happened. On June 12 2023, she explained how Pennel became angry during a car journey in Aberbaiden lanes, Bridgend, Wales. They were on their way to a field where her horse was kept.

Around 36 weeks pregnant at the time, Sophie claimed he pulled her hair and squeezed her throat, before doing it all over again. She explained: "I got out of the car and he jumped out and put me back in and said this was on his terms.

"He was scrunching my fat and calling me names. He was accusing me of sleeping with family members and people I didn’t even know. He would calm down and then talk himself back into it again, saying I ‘deserve it’.

"While he [squeezed my throat] I thought I was going to die. I don’t know what possessed him to stop, whether it was when he felt my body tense up as he knew I was nearly out of it.

"There were times when I lost consciousness and he would say: ‘You’re not dying on me yet’. At one point he thought I did die, I was mostly unconscious but I could hear him panic.

"I finally came around and he said: ‘Why would you do that to me’, before strangling me again. I felt the pain go from zero to one hundred in seconds. My body had had enough.”

Sophie said after some time, Pennell ran off into the woods and left her in the car. In a terrified state, Sophie said she managed to drive her car a few minutes to the nearest house she could find. She knocked on the door and begged for help.

She said: "After all this happened I drove to a house. I was screaming but I remember not hearing a voice come out of me. An elderly man pulled me in the house and said: ‘You are completely safe’. He called his wife to help and they were so lovely.

"They made me a glass of water and helped me ring my [family member]. I was taken to the Princess of Wales Hospital, where I was for a few days. Luckily my baby was completely healthy."

Following the horrific incident, Pennell was arrested and a date for his trial was set. However, ahead of the trial Pennell entered guilty pleas for Coercive Control and Intentional Strangulation.

His pleas were entered on the basis that he denied accusations of violence within the relationship, as well as violence other than strangulation during the June 12 incident.

Although Sophie was relieved that she didn’t have to go through a trial, she said part of her was disappointed that she didn’t get the opportunity to share the her perspective in full in front of the court.

She said: "Ahead of the trial date, I wasn't myself at all. I haven't slept properly for three weeks and it felt like the walls were closing in on me.

"The thought of speaking in front of a jury and trying to plead with them to understand me while worrying that he would twist their arm. I got to Newport Crown Court on the day of the trial and I had been up since 4am that morning preparing myself.

"Eventually when we got there we waited for about three hours and then they said he'd pleaded guilty. It felt horrible, I thought why does he keep getting a say over me? I had prepared and worried myself for nothing.”

Instead, Pennell, of Bridgend, was sentenced at Cardiff Crown Court on Monday, January 15. Prosecuting, Andrew Davies, described Pennell’s abuse towards Sophie as “persistent and of a prolonged period”.

He said it involved multiple incidents of coercive control which was intended to “humiliate and degrade his victim”. Defending Pennell, Andrew Sharp, said this was Pennell’s first adult conviction and had no previous relevant domestic abuse convictions.

He said Pennell was struggling with the loss of his mother and had been diagnosed with a personality disorder during the 26 weeks he had spent in custody. He said: "Has used his time in custody very productively and has taken steps to address his behaviour.”

Sentencing Pennell, Recorder Caroline Rees KC said: “It’s very clear to see what grave impact this had on her and how terrifying your actions were on her, particularly strangulation on a woman going into her 36th week of pregnancy.

"She was a passenger and you pulled the car over at the farm, putting pressure on her windpipe. She must have been terrified - not only for herself but for her unborn child.

"Like a coward, you ran away and left her to seek help from an elderly couple so she could ring her uncle. I have seen pictures of her injuries [which show] clear marks."

She added that he should be “ashamed” of his behaviour. She said it was to his credit that he had engaged with medical treatment and counselling while in custody and sentenced him to a total of 21 months in prison.