In Brief

Sally Challen appeal ‘gives hope to other abused women’

‘Landmark decision’ sees new legal understanding of coercive control

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A woman who killed her husband in a hammer attack after decades of abuse has had her murder conviction quashed.

Sally Challen admitted killing 61-year-old Richard in August 2010 but denied murder. She was convicted in June 2011 after a court heard that she bludgeoned her husband to death with a hammer. Challen will face a retrial after her lawyers asked the Appeal Court to reduce her conviction to manslaughter.

The Daily Telegraph says the development “gives hope to women who killed their abusive husbands”, while the Daily Mail describes it as a “watershed moment”. 

Her appeal hearing involved a new understanding of coercive control - the pattern of behaviour by an abuser to harm, punish or frighten their victim. It became a criminal offence in England and Wales in December 2015 - four years after Challen’s conviction.

However, her lawyers argued that had its impact been widely known at the time of the trial, the jury may have convicted Challen of the lesser charge of manslaughter.

Relatives and supporters of Challen in the public gallery cheered and applauded as the judges announced their decision. The BBC says Challen, who appeared via video-link from HMP Bronzefield in Ashford, was “visibly emotional” as she was told of the decision. She was later said to be “delighted” at the result but “daunted by what’s to come”.

The hearing followed years of campaigning by her sons David, 31, and James, 35. Speaking outside the Royal Courts of Justice, David described it as “an amazing moment”. 

He added: “The abuse our mother suffered, we felt, was never recognised properly and her mental conditions were not taken into account.”

Chris Jenney, her brother, said: “I’d like to have seen her walk out of prison. She’s no threat to society. There’s no public interest or benefit to her being in prison.”     

Challen’s lawyer also zoomed in on the potential consequences for other women. Harriet Wistrich said there were “many more cases” of women whose years of abuse by their partners would merit a reassessment of their convictions.

“How many have been convicted for murder where they’ve killed someone abusing them?” said Wistrich. “There are probably dozens of them.” One such woman already been given leave to appeal.

The Justice For Women campaign group is working on several cases, including those of Farieissia Martin and Emma-Jayne Magson.

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