On the 27th and 28th February Sally Challen will appeal her conviction for the murder of her abusive husband, for which she is currently serving a minimum term of 18 years in prison.
Sally killed Richard in 2010 after years of being controlled and humiliated by him. At the time of her conviction, ‘coercive control’ was not a crime in England and Wales, only becoming recognised in law as a form of domestic abuse in 2015. Coercive control is a way of understanding domestic violence which foregrounds the psychological abuse and can involve manipulation, degradation, gaslighting (using mind games to make the other person doubt their sanity) and generally monitoring and controlling the person’s day-to-day life such as their friends, activities and clothing. This often leads to the abused becoming isolated and dependent on the abuser. It was dramatised very well in Helen’s storyline in Radio 4’s The Archer’s back in 2016.
Sally was only 16 when she met 22 year old Richard. At first he was charming but gradually the abuse began. He bullied and belittled her, controlled their money and who she was friends with, not allowing her to socialise without him. But, whilst he forced strict restrictions on her behavior, he himself, would flaunt his money, have numerous affairs and visit brothels. If she challenged him, he would turn it back on her and make her feel she was going mad. Although Sally did manage at one point to leave Richard, even starting divorce proceedings, she was so emotionally dependent on him that she soon returned, even signing a ‘post nuptial’ agreement he drew up that denied her full financial entitlement in the divorce and forbade her from interrupting him or speaking to strangers.
It was not long after this reunion, that Richard the offence took place. Sally , so utterly dependent on Richard, wanted to believe that they could be together, but his behaviour towards her was increasingly humiliating. The final straw was when he sent Sally out in the rain to get his lunch so that he could phone a woman he had been planning to meet from a dating agency. Sally returned suspicious and challenged him, he commanded her not to question him and she struck him repeatedly with a hammer.
Her defence at trial was diminished responsibility, the legal team downplayed the abusive behavior of her husband, Sally was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum tariff of 22 years, reduced to 18 at appeal. Despite the death of their father, Sally’s two sons and all those who knew Sally and Richard well have supported her recognizing that she was completely controlled by Richard.
In 2017, Justice for Women submitted new grounds of appeal to the Criminal Appeal court highlighting new psychiatric evidence and an expert report showing how coercive control provides a better framework for understanding Sally’s ultimate response in the context of a history of provocation. Unfortunately, permission to appeal was refused by a judge who read only some papers. Sally’s last chance was a renewed oral application for appeal before three court of appeal judges. On March 1st Sally was granted leave to appeal and hearing has been set for 27th and 28th of February. If this appeal is unsuccessful, Sally who is now 63, will have to spend at least another 12 years in prison.
Please come down to the Royal Courts of Justice, Strand at 9.30am on 27th and 28th February to show the Court you support Sally appealing her conviction.