A circus worker has been jailed for attacking his ex-partner after their dream of living an off-grid Good Life turned sour.

Matthew Boughen battered the woman he was living with after she asked him to leave the eight-acre smallholder at Ashwater, in the wilds of the Devon countryside near Beaworthy.

She had set up home there in a converted bus and a bell tent and was growing vegetables and keeping chickens while he had given up his job as a tent erector with a travelling circus and found temporary work at a nearby quarry.

They fell out because each accused the other of not pulling their weight and she was also informed by police that he had a long history of domestic violence against three previous partners.

He attacked her after she asked him to leave and left her with two black eyes and bruising around her neck. She claimed he had killed her during a strangling attack but she had come back to life after an out of body experience. In the attack, he threw her against her car, punched her repeatedly in the face and strangled her. He told her ‘you can’t kick a dog when it is down and expect it not to bite’ and said he was going to kill her.

She had run ghost-hunting tours in Cambridgeshire before her marriage broke up and she bought the field with the starting a new life living off grid.

She had been in an on-off relationship with Boughen, who she said was abusive to her and who had returned to Devon to live with her shortly before the attack on October 30 last year.

She has since been forced to move off the land and is now living in temporary accommodation in Norfolk. She wrote a victim impact statement which said she has been diagnosed with PTSD and is suffering flashbacks and nightmares.

Boughen, aged 44, of no fixed address, denied but was convicted of assault causing actual bodily harm at a trial at Exeter Crown Court last month. He was found not guilty of intentional strangulation. He was jailed for two years by Judge David Evans, who imposed a restraining order banning any contact with the woman and prohibiting him from entering Norfolk.

He told him: “[She] was undoubtedly in a vulnerable situation in that isolated rural location at night in the pitch dark, where calling for help would be futile. That must have magnified the impact on her considerably. You were verbally insulting her. It was a terrible way to treat someone who up until that morning had been your partner. This was effectively an angry revenge for her having the temerity to assert herself and tell you to leave.”

Mr Greg Richardson, prosecuting, said Boughen returned to the smallholding and resumed the on-off relationship in September 2022 but his then girlfriend asked him to leave on October 30.

He packed his things and drove off but returned shortly afterwards because he had a puncture which he could not get repaired. The woman went to a nearby pub with a friend and an argument started when she returned and found he was still there. It led to him throwing her against her car, getting on top of her, punching her to the face and strangling her.

The woman, aged 38, told the jury: “He threw me on the floor and continued to punch me and said he was going to kill me and spend the rest of his life in prison. I was screaming and begging for my life. I was scratching him and trying to put my thumbs in his eyes. I was doing anything to get him off. He was strangling me with one hand and punching me with the other and then started strangling me with both hands. I died. I literally went black. I felt my arms on the ground. I was dead and looking at my body from outside and begging and praying to get back into my body. I was dead. He had murdered me. When I came around, he said ‘you’re not f***ing dead, you are breathing, get up and call the f***ing police.”

Boughen said he met the woman at a ghost hunting event which she ran and contacted her afterwards but was told she was married. She got back in touch after breaking up with her husband and they started a relationship. He claimed that he had worked hard on the smallholding and helped sort out power for the bus. He said: “She moved to Devon because she wanted the Good Life and I was happy to go along with it.”

He said they broke up and got back together several times and argued about money before she asked him to leave the smallholding. He said he had pushed her once but not punched her or strangled her and claimed she had exaggerated her injuries. Mr Chris Cuddihee, defending, said the jury had not accepted the victim’s most serious allegation of strangling. He said Boughen’s behaviour was impulsive and there had been no previous violence during the relationship.

After the case, Detective Constable Sam James said: “This sentence reflects the seriousness of the offence and what a dangerous individual that Matthew Boughen is.

“I thank the victim for her strength of character displayed during the case, and want to assure the wider public that this is a demonstration of Devon and Cornwall Police’s commitment to support and investigate Violence Against Women and Girls."