A piece by Nicholas Hellen and Caroline Wheeler in today’s Sunday Times. Reference is made to an American male sociologist, Evan Stark. It’s clear from his bibliography that he’s a supporter of the long-discredited Duluth model of domestic violence.
Sally Challen appeared to behave like a wife consumed with jealousy when she reacted to her husband’s serial infidelity by attacking him with 20 hammer blows to his head in August 2010. She was found guilty of murder and was sent to jail for a minimum term of 18 years.
Today, however, Challen, now 64, is on the brink of making legal history in a case that may change the courts’ treatment of domestic abuse.
An American academic, Evan Stark, whose work helped to shape the 2015 coercive control offence in British law, will act as an expert witness in the Court of Appeal on February 27.
Sally will be freed if the court decides that her 31-year marriage to Richard Challen is a textbook example of controlling behaviour that stripped her of a sense of self and that as a result she should have been found guilty of manslaughter.
Sally met Richard when she was 15 and he was a 22-year-old estate agent. But this is not a happy story of childhood sweethearts. Her family were so concerned about the relationship that they sent her to join her brother Terence Jenney, who is 17 years older than her and was living in Belgium.
It was in vain. Terence recalls that she would make furtive phone calls at night and rejoined Richard after six months.
The process of unravelling what the couple’s sons, James, 35, and David, 31, at first regarded as “just another toxic relationship” has forced family and friends to delve deep into the darkest episodes of the couple’s private life.
James said: “It’s hard to scroll back through my life and talk about this. I feel even the times when things felt good and the family was happy, it wasn’t. It’s been tainted by my father’s abuse of my mother.”
Remarkably, even Richard Challen’s family and friends are backing Sally’s appeal. His niece, Amanda Connelly, said: “We support the campaign to have Sally’s abuse recognised in court.” Other supporters include the Labour politicians Jess Phillips and Carolyn Harris. [J4MB emphasis. Well, there’s a surprise.]
The “charge sheet” is distressing. Early on in their relationship he threw her down the stairs when she accused him of cheating on her. She tried to overdose on aspirin. He raped her to punish her when he saw a family friend giving her an innocent kiss while they were on holiday in Los Angeles.
He went to brothels and caused embarrassment by flirting with much younger women at a family wedding in Australia. On stopovers in Bangkok he sneaked away to massage parlours.
Terence, now 81, a company director, winces when he recalls a Christmas card that featured Richard, by then a second-hand car salesman, perching on the bonnet of his Ferrari, sandwiched between two topless models. Richard insisted on placing it on the mantelpiece in the family home.
Richard would decree which television programmes the family were allowed to watch, controlled which friends Sally was allowed to see and would disable her car so that she could not use it. He even turned her into an unwilling accomplice in his business dealings. She was the bookkeeper for his car dealership, which HM Revenue & Customs investigated because of concerns about cash-only transactions.
In 2005 he crashed his Ferrari while racing on a track in Belgium. He had forgotten to notify his insurer of the trip, so, facing a repair bill of £33,000, he transported the vehicle back to Surrey and concocted a story that it had been smashed locally in a hit-and-run accident.
He made Sally say that she had sent a fax to the insurer, but it did not save him: he was convicted and given a 51-week suspended sentence.
In material terms the family enjoyed a prosperous life. Home was a property valued at £1m a decade ago in Claygate, an exclusive corner of Surrey. The boys were privately educated and holidays included a trip to the Maldives.
Yet the atmosphere at home was oppressive. Richard confiscated Sally’s earnings and restricted her to housekeeping money. She secretly worked as a cleaner for a cousin to earn pin money.
The family learnt how to tiptoe around Richard. James recalls: “I remember a few times holding my mother as she cried about the way he was treating her. I was only around 16.”
James’s partner Jennifer Turney, 32, was welcomed into the family when she started seeing James at 18. But things changed when she and Sally became close and Richard began to see her as a threat.
Sally tried to make a new start with her husband after the brothel incident and Jennifer helped her buy new bedding, a silk nightdress and a gown: “He looked her up and down and shook his head. She rushed out to the car, locked the doors and put on Take That’s Patience. We could hear her screaming over that.”
Sally’s family tried to engineer an exit for her, giving up their share of an inheritance when their mother died in 2002. She secretly bought her own property and moved out, taking David with her in 2009. But she could not make up her mind whether to divorce or not.
Family members say she became “unbalanced”, and Debbie Giles, a friend, concluded: “She was insane when she was separated.”
Richard pressed home his advantage, insisting that she push through the divorce and agree to a cut-price £200,000 settlement. He laid down a behaviour contract, emailing her on April 27, 2010: “When we go out together, it means together. This constant talking to strangers is rude and inconsiderate. To give up smoking. To give up your constant interruptions when I am speaking.”
The bloody denouement [J4MB: The cold-blooded violent murder, more like.] came a few weeks later when, after she had decided to try a reconciliation, he sent her out of the house on an errand so that he could talk to a girlfriend.
His last words [J4MB: Alleged words] were his regular refrain: “Don’t question me, Sally.”
How to get help
If you have been a victim of domestic violence, call Refuge on 0808 2000 247 or visit refuge.org.uk
You can subscribe to The Times here.
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