When Mahala Rigden, 53, finally tracked down her missing husband, she was in for a shock...
￼Here, Mahala, tells the story in her own words.
Holding hands with my love before the wedding celebrant, I only had eyes for him.
‘You look gorgeous,’ he smiled at me.
‘You too,’ I whispered.
I’d met Pete Rigden, then 30, at the shopping centre where we both worked.
I was a chef in a restaurant and he was a security guard.
Just six months later, we were engaged and a month on from that, we married.
Afterwards, Pete and I bought a house of our own.
But when I changed jobs, I was under a lot of stress.
I suffered with fibromyalgia, a long-term condition causing pain all over my body. It flared up so much, I had to give up work.
‘We’ll get by,’ Pete soothed. ‘I’ll make sure of it.’
He increased his hours and I saw him less and less.
Then he was transferred to a different department store four hours away.
‘We’re moving,’ he said. ‘I can’t,’ I said. ‘My family is here.’ I was sure he’d change his mind.
But instead, Pete packed a bag and left. Not even a hug goodbye. Surely this isn’t the end of our marriage? I thought.
He increased his hours and I saw him less and less. Then he was transferred to a different department store four hours away. ‘We’re moving,’ he said. ‘I can’t,’ I said. ‘My family is here.’ I was sure he’d change his mind.
But instead, Pete packed a bag and left. Not even a hug goodbye.
Surely this isn’t the end of our marriage? I thought.
At first, we spoke on the phone and Pete sent money for the bills, but then that all stopped.
‘You need to make up your mind about what you’re doing,’ I said on the phone. ‘If you’re not coming back, I’ll have to put the house up for sale.’
‘I’m not coming back,’ Pete admitted.
Devastated, I put our home on the market.Pete came to collect his things, then he left and I never heard from him again.
After that, I tried to get on with my life.
I focused on my health, my family and my little Yorkshire terrier, Ben.
Going back to work in a clothes shop, I loved talking to people and helping them look their best.
Then in 2008, five years after Pete had vanished from my life, I thought we should make it official. So I tracked him down on Facebook. Don’t you think it’s about time we sorted the divorce out, I wrote.
I could see that Pete had read my message, but instead of replying, he blocked me!
With no other way to get in touch, I put the whole matter to the back of my mind.
But last year, it had been long enough. I just wanted to get it sorted once and for all.
Finding him on Facebook again, I could see he was in a relationship.
Surely he’ll want to get the divorce sorted now as well, I reasoned. So I sent another message.
Seeing as you’ve settled down, don’t you think we should start the divorce?
Again Pete didn’t reply. But a few months later, a message dropped into my inbox from a woman.
She’d seen the message on his phone and said she’d asked Pete about me, but he denied knowing me. I’m his girlfriend, she wrote. I’m married to him, I typed back.
As we chatted, I found out he’d met another woman in 2006 and married her – and now he had a girlfriend too. It was 11 years of lies!
I was still trying to process it all a couple of days later, when a local policeman popped in to the shop.
While we were catching up, I mentioned to him what I’d found out. ‘Where do I stand?’ I asked the officer. ‘I’ve never come across anything like this before,’ he told me.
After he’d looked into it, he called and told me what Pete had done was a crime. Being married to more than one person was bigamy.
A friend said if I didn’t report him there was a risk I could get in trouble for knowing about it.
So, I left it with the police and soon Pete was arrested.
In July this year, Peter Rigden, 48, appeared in court and pleaded guilty to bigamy.
District judge, Anne Arnold, said his behaviour was ‘disgraceful’ before jailing him for six months and issuing a 12-month post-sentence supervision order.
I felt he got what he deserved. He broke the law getting married knowing he already had a wife. He should’ve just agreed to a divorce in the first place!
I’ve applied again, but there’s still a lot of paperwork and it’s expensive.
All the stress triggered my fibromyalgia and I have good days and bad days, but I still have my family and my friends.
Now living with my mum and my lively Jack Russell, Jacko, I’m getting on with my life. But not only has what happened caused me pain, Pete has stolen my trust. I don’t know if I could ever find love again – how could I ever believe what they were saying?
I just hope that what’s happened means no-one else will fall victim to Pete’s web of lies.
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