MUM-OF-THREE Debbie Cavanagh has walked free from court after being convicted of a brutal attack on the former best friend she accused of having an affair with her husband.
The 27-year-old’s life fell apart when a woman knocked on the door of her Duddingston home to tell her that she was pregnant by her husband Dean - and that he had also been cheating on her with her two best friends.
Cavanagh’s revenge when it came was savage. She attacked former best friend Aisha Johal in her kitchen, repeatedly punching the primary school teacher, biting her “on the body” before grabbing a pair of scissors and lopping her ponytail off.
Married Mrs Johal – who teaches at Duddingston Primary School where Cavanagh’s children are pupils – was attacked two days after the fateful knock on her fromer friend’s door and on the day of the school nativity play.
Cavanagh confronted her husband and the court heard he admitted a dalliance with Mrs Johal. The mum-of-three then invited the teacher – who was then unaware of the allegations – to the family’s semi-detached house in Corbiewynd before suddenly launching her revenge attack.
The 27-year-old admitted assaulting Mrs Johal during an apperance at Edinburgh Sheriff Court yesterday but received an absolute discharge – leaving her without a criminal record – after a sheriff heard she had lost her marriage and closest friends because of the unusual case.
Prosecutors outlined the details of the brutal assault – which happened after Cavanagh invited Mrs Johal to the home she shared with Dean and their children.
Fiscal depute Anthony Steel told Sheriff Donald Corke that Mrs Johal finished school on December 11 before popping to her pal’s for what she thought was a friendly chat at 3.30pm.
After confronting her about the alleged affair, the court heard Cavanagh repeatedly punched the victim in the head, leaving her nose bleeding, then grabbed the scissors and cut her hair.
Mrs Johal called out to ask why she was being assaulted and Cavanagh allowed her to stand up.
The reeling teacher is said to have confessed Cavanagh’s husband tried to kiss her once – but that she had squarely knocked him back. She has always denied having an affair with him.
Mr Steel said: “The accused then punched the complainer, causing her to fall over.”
Mrs Johal, who is believed to be in her late 20s, managed to flee and returned home, going straight to bed without telling her husband about the violent encounter.
Photographs of Mrs Johal’s injuries – which included “superficial scratches and bruising” – were taken on December 14, and two days later she contacted police but declined to press charges.
The teacher later returned to make a formal complaint and Cavanagh was charged at St Leonards police station on February 5.
After Cavanagh accused the teacher of having the seven-month affair, police officers had to be posted outside Duddingston Primary School when Cavanagh sent threatening messages to teachers and parents although no further action was taken.
Her solicitor Steven Donald told the court that Cavanagh had an “ongoing persisting marriage” with her husband before the revelations. But that peaceful home life was shattered when Cavanagh was “advised by a couple of her friends that they suspected her husband was having an affair”, he said.
He added: “She dismissed this suggestion, perhaps not wanting to know. Then she had her own suspicions.
“Two days prior to the incident, a lady approached her at home. Ms Cavanagh knew her, but not well. This lady indicated to her that she had been having an affair with her husband and was pregnant by him. Ms Cavanagh invited her into her home so they could try and discuss the way forward.
“They came to an agreement that would help to deal with the situation in an adult way. There were no crossed words. But the lady confided that other women had been seeing Ms Cavanagh’s husband behind her back.”
The court heard the unidentified woman then named Ms Cavanagh’s two best friends, including Mrs Johal, as the guilty parties.
Mr Donald said Mrs Johal had been the “best friend” of Cavanagh for nearly four years, and the pair socialised and met on a daily basis. Cavanagh would stop in her classroom to chat while collecting her children, the sheriff was told.
The defence agent said his client first confronted her husband and he “confessed” to liaisons with the pregnant woman and Mrs Johal, as well as a third “extremely close friend” of Cavanagh’s.
Mr Donald said: “This news was absolutely devastating. It’s difficult to countenance a situation where she could have felt more betrayed. Her husband and two best friends had been carrying on behind her back.
“She wanted her friend [Mrs Johal] to confess. Ms Cavanagh said to me before court, ‘If she had done that I could have forgiven her’.”
The school’s nativity play was being staged on the day of the attack, and both Cavanagh and Mrs Johal were present. The court heard Mrs Johal texted her friend saying, ‘You look sad, give me a phone’.
Mr Donald said the pair returned to Cavanagh’s home with the teacher unaware of what his client now knew.
After learning of the now pregnant woman Dean Cavanagh had cheated with, the court heard Mrs Johal suggested assaulting her and cutting off her hair. Mr Donald said: “Ms Cavanagh had no intention of doing that until she heard that.
“The complainer said Ms Cavanagh would be better off if her husband moved out. At that moment, Ms Cavanagh realised that the complainer preferred her children to be without their father than confess to her own deceit.”
Mr Donald said this realisation finally sparked the attack.
He added: “It was not a case of a head being shaved. It was a snip off the bottom of a pony tail because of what the complainer said to Ms Cavanagh.
“It was a crushing blow Ms Cavanagh had received which left her at an extremely low ebb. She went to the GP the next day and was prescribed diazepam.
“Her marriage is over. Her husband moved out.”
The court heard that Cavanagh was now trying to piece her life back together following the events of last December.
Mr Donald said: “This was a complete and utter aberration. She has lost her husband and two best friends, all in the space of 48 hours. It felt like a bereavement.
“She felt absolutely powerless. She really has been delivered an almighty blow. Her concern is for the future and her concern is for her children.
“She is a first offender who has never been in trouble before.
“I would ask the court to consider an absolute discharge. There is no prospect of a repetition. She just wants to walk from court with her head held high.”
Wearing a smart white jacket, black trousers and heeled boots, Cavanagh awaited the verdict in the dock, with two female supporters waiting nervously in the public gallery.
Sheriff Corke said: “Obviously there is some difficulty because, on the facts, it’s the sort of case where I should call for reports. However, I’ve heard the circumstances and they are unusual.
“I can’t say that you should walk from court with your head held high.
“You should consider your behaviour which was in no way acceptable and I don’t want to give the impression that the court condones this type of thing.
“But it is a one-off. An admonition would make it difficult to gain the employment you need because it would be difficult to explain. Under the circumstances I will take the very unusual step of a discharge.”
Cavanagh, who has children aged eight, six and five, declined to comment yesterday but smiled broadly as she walked from court.
When contacted by the Evening News last month when details of the incident first emerged, Cavanagh said she believed the alleged affair had lasted from May to December last year. She added: “My husband admitted he had the affair and gave a statement to the education board.”
Asked about cutting the teacher’s hair, she said: “I won’t confirm or deny that it happened, but I will say that it’s the kind of thing that happens to dirty people.”
It is understood Mrs Johal is off work but not suspended, while Cavanagh’s complaint about her is still being investigated by education bosses. It is also understood the allegation of an affair has been strongly denied by the teacher.
A spokesman for Edinburgh City Council last night confirmed a “complaint has been received” and is being looked into.
One Edinburgh based legal source described the verdict as “pretty rare”.
He said: “She could quite easily have faced serious consequences.
“However, the Sheriff has taken all aspects of the case into consideration and has reached a balanced outcome. Nobody comes out of this sorry affair particularly well.”
Facebook page hounded victim
ALTHOUGH Aisha Johal was viciously punched and bitten by Debbie Cavanagh, losing her hair would have been particularly distressing and shameful for the teacher, who is understood to belong to the Sikh religion.
Hair is considered sacred by Sikhs – they view it is a gift, a central article of faith and a symbol of love for God. Many Sikhs never have their hair cut.
But attempts to maximise Mrs Johal’s public humiliation did not stop there.
After we published our story last month on allegations of an affair involving the teacher and Mrs Cavanagh’s husband, a Facebook page was set up aimed at hounding the P1 teacher out of school.
Called “Get Mrs Johal out Duddingston”, the page, which has since been taken down, contained a series of abusive messages.
One said: “The mother should have cut all her hair off, I would have shaved every last bit off. A tattoo across her forehead saying slag would be ideal.”