As Satya Thakor is sentenced to 28 years for attempted murder, his wife, Nisha Laxman, speaks for the first time about his lies and abuse.
Everyone thought Satya Thakor was a "nice guy" with his life mapped out. Happily married to his university sweetheart, lawyer Nisha Laxman, with whom he had a three-year-old daughter, he was on track to become a successful surgeon.
But Satya wasn't a doctor at all – having abandoned his medical degree, he had spent years visiting the library to read medical books every day, so he could keep up his professional pretence, while living off his wife's earnings.
In the early hours of May 14, with Nisha on the verge of discovering the truth, his decade of deception ended in brutal fashion. Satya picked up a knife and attempted to kill his mother-in-law, Gita, while she slept at home in Wraysbury, Berkshire – before stabbing his wife, her brother, Primal, and his wife, Rishika.
This week, Satya, 36, was sentenced to 28 years at Reading Crown Court for three counts of attempted murder and one of grievous bodily harm. In a victim statement read out in court, Nisha called him "evil", detailed his emotional and financial abuse, and implored him to "stop lying".
"He couldn't look at me," says 35 year-old Nisha today, in her first interview. "He put his hands over his face, and swayed or sobbed. I wanted him to look at me, I needed that. Whenever he has had the chance to do the right thing, [he hasn't]."
When we meet at the law office she shares with Primal, 37, the siblings' calm demeanour belies the trauma they've suffered. They speak of violent dreams and painful scars.
"There were times when I felt I was dealing with Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde," says Nisha, tears filling her eyes. "But I didn't dare say it out loud – I didn't think anyone would believe me."
Satya and Nisha met at a Diwali party when they were at university in London – she did law at City, while he was studying biomedical sciences at St George's with dreams of going on to be a doctor. Mild-mannered and honest, Nisha recalls, Satya wooed her with coffee and dinner dates. When they graduated in 2005, he confided that he had only achieved a 2:2, missing the grade he needed to go on to study medicine as a second degree. Nisha suggested he study pharmacy instead – like her father, Kishore – but he decided to pursue his medical career at the University of St Lucia, whose qualifications are accepted by the General Medical Council (GMC).
"I told him, 'I'll support you, however long it takes'," says Nisha. "As far as I was concerned, we were in it together."
Nisha has no doubt Satya started his course – after a month in St Lucia, he studied remotely back in the UK, with placements at hospitals across the country. But she has no idea exactly when or why the lies began: had he failed his exams or run out of money? He told her he hit every milestone – graduating into his first job as a newly-qualified doctor at Frimley Park Hospital in Surrey, before moving on to a position as a surgical registrar at Mansfield Hospital in 2018 – when, all the while, he was in the library, reading medical books.
"He was an exceptionally good liar," she says. He forged an NHS keyfob and payslips, set himself assignments and left the house to work regular night shifts – even on Christmas Day. His best friend and cousins, who were doctors themselves, never suspected a thing.
Believing Satya had accrued debt from his second degree, Nisha paid for nearly everything, including the house they rented in Slough, holidays, and toys for their daughter. He paid for the odd dinner out – Nisha believes he had £20,000 ($40,000) of premium bonds from before they met – but when it came to big investments, he gaslighted her.
On the day of their wedding, Satya crashed his car into the central reservation of the M4, so they couldn't go on the 'surprise' honeymoon he claimed he had booked. To delay Nisha's dreams of buying their own home, he told her she hadn't proved she could keep the house, look after their daughter, and hold down a career, all at once.
"Sometimes I would cry so much, I would have to go in the shower so the neighbours wouldn't hear my sobs," she says. "The logical side of me said, 'That's unreasonable and cruel'. But I listened to the emotional side that said, 'He's right, you're worthless and inadequate'. I lost my voice."
Even her memories of his "incredibly romantic" proposal, when he filled his brother's lounge with candles, are tainted. Satya asked her to pay for her own ring, she recalls – and never reimbursed her: "I'll never know if he truly loved me."
When Nisha was eight months pregnant with their daughter, he told her a new job in the East Midlands deanery, which includes Derby, Nottingham, and Mansfield hospitals, meant they had to move in with his mother in nearby Leicester – isolating her further.
"People would sing his praises to me," says Nisha. "He was so adored by everyone that when there was something darker, I didn't know if I was imagining it."
Ironically, in the months leading up to last year's attack, Nisha had never felt happier. The pair were viewing properties to buy in Leicester and Satya had booked them a family holiday to Los Angeles.
"When I look back, I feel he was deliberately creating a harmonious marriage," she says – because he knew time was running out.
In addition to the financial pressure, Nisha had recently discovered Satya's name wasn't on the GMC's website, and an incredibly realistic forged email about a technical error could only distract her for so long.
"I thought something might have happened at work, and he'd been suspended," she says. "He swore on my life that he was doing the job he said."
Last May, Satya said he had a training course in Reading and asked if they could stay with Nisha's family.
At 5am on the 14th, he entered her mother's bedroom, pushed a rag into Gita's mouth and tried to suffocate her, while stabbing her through the duvet with a kitchen knife. Nisha heard her muffled screams and ran into the room.
"He lifted his arm high, then plunged [the knife] into my neck," she says, fingering her scar. "I remember the shock of the cold blade." She shows me three other scars, where Satya lifted the knife and stabbed her again, waking Primal. Satya said "sorry", then aimed for his brother-in-law's neck, too. Primal has scars on his chin, temple, neck, and stomach.
Somehow, Nisha managed to lock Satya in her mother's room, as her unscathed younger brother, Vin, 29, scooped her daughter up. By the time the police arrived, he had slashed his own wrists, climbed into a half-filled bath, and was feigning a psychotic breakdown.
But there was evidence the attack was premeditated. Police found an overnight bag in the house containing his and his daughter's clothes. Gita's will was missing – Nisha believes he thought the inheritance money would let him 'quit' medicine and allay his financial woes. Nisha's online banking book, meanwhile, was in Satya's car, where, months later, Primal found a hammer, knife, gloves, and a bin liner in the side compartment of Satya's car.
"It sent an absolute chill down my spine," says Nisha.
A year before Satya's attack, on the same date, Nisha's friend's sister had been murdered by her husband. Mitesh Patel, later sentenced to at least 30 years in prison, killed Jessica and planned to flee to Australia with his boyfriend and the life insurance payout. Since the trial, other friends have approach Nisha and Primal to saying their story has shown them they, too, are victims of domestic abuse.
The trial didn't give Nisha all the answers she wanted, but at least there was some relief. "My biggest fear was that people wouldn't see his true colours," she says. "He's a wolf in sheep's clothing. Even now, I don't think he fully appreciates what he has done and how cruel he was."
Satya is yet to respond to her request for divorce, but she is having counselling for post-traumatic stress disorder, after panic attacks and night terrors. Primal has had to restrict his alcohol out of concern that it was becoming a crutch. "I have terrible nights where I don't sleep at all," he says.
For more than 20 years, the Laxmans' family home was a place of love and safety – now they can't decide if they should sell it. They moved back in at Christmas, but have found it a stark reminder of the trauma; not least the patches of missing carpet, cut out to remove blood stains. The bathroom, where Satya slashed his wrists, remains unused.
"[My three year-old daughter] put it best when she said, 'Daddy broke the house'," says Nisha. "It's full of memories of fear."
On police advice, she has ended contact with Satya's family. "He has ruined so many lies with his cowardice," she says.
For all this, Nisha has hope. The night after the attack, she forced herself to walk around the hospital in the dark. "I thought, 'If I don't do it now, I'll always be afraid'," she says. "I felt like he was behind me and I broke down in tears. But by the end, I had a sense of peace. I had been trapped in my marriage – the attack set me free."