“You don’t get to say goodbye to anyone, you don’t get to phone them up and say ‘oh by the way I’m going into witness protection, I’m not going to speak to you’.”
Self-isolation and reduced contact with friends and family has been a necessity during the pandemic, but for some people it’s a never-ending reality.
The BBC was given extremely rare access to someone in the closely-guarded and secretive UK Protected Persons Service (UKPPS).
For more than 20 years, Sian (not her real name) says she was a victim of horrendous, sustained, physical and sexual domestic violence.
As a result, she and her children now live in “witness protection” conditions in a state of enforced separation and anonymity.
Having grown up with abuse throughout her childhood, Sian was a teenager when she met the man she would later marry.
But things quickly took a dark turn.
At first it was sexual violence,” she said, pausing briefly after every few words.
“But then physical violence crept in. Within three weeks he was raping me. That led to two decades of domestic violence.”
Things got worse after Sian had children.
But – after a particularly traumatic experience – she sought medical help and that led to wider involvement from the authorities – the police deemed the risk to her life was so severe, she had to enter the protected persons service right away.
Life changed immediately.
She and her children were moved to another part of the UK and, to all intents and purposes, dropped off the face of the earth to many people they knew. They were given new identities and asked to start over.
“There’s always this constant reminder of what has happened and where we are, so that will never leave us,” she told me, hesitating.
“Your old life stopped and your new life has started. You live ‘normal’, which is normal for us, but not for anybody else.”
It’s not just witnesses of serious crime that are part of the UKPPS.
It is also for people like Sian, where the threat on their life is so severe, there is no other option.