Our thanks to a number of people for pointing us to this story. Apparently the pre-meditated killing of a partner by bludgeoning him over the head more than 20 times with a hammer is manslaughter, not murder. Note how in all the media coverage of this case, the point is made that some women in prison might have their cases examined. I haven’t seen a single comment to the effect that some men in prison might have their cases examined. Four months ago we pointed to a case in my home town of Bedford, where a young man came within 10 days of dying as a result of his partner’s coercive control – here.
A piece by David Brown, Chief News Correspondent, in yesterday’s Times:
A wife who killed her husband after enduring 40 years of “coercive control” said yesterday that she still loved him after being told she would not face a retrial for murder.
Sally Challen, 65, walked free from the Old Bailey after a case that could lead to dozens of appeals from other women convicted of killing their abusive partners.
Challen, who still wears her wedding ring, spent nearly nine years in jail after killing her husband, Richard, 61, by battering him over the head with a hammer.
The mother of two said outside court that she still loved the husband who had raped her [J4MB: allegedly] and controlled every aspect of her life. “I miss him dreadfully and I wish none of this had happened,” she said. “I will always love Richard, he is part of me. I can’t explain it. In a way I love the ideal of Richard, if that makes sense, the person I wanted him to be. I’ve had therapy to try and explain it.”
Coercive control, which describes a pattern of behaviour by an abuser to harm, punish or frighten their victim, became a criminal offence in 2015 but has not previously been used as a defence to murder.
Challen learnt about coercive control in prison while listening to a storyline in The Archers, on BBC Radio 4, in which Helen Archer was accused of attempting to murder her controlling husband, Rob.
Challen said: “Richard was charming. He was a salesman and he could charm birds out of trees. I was not a strong woman, I did not have the confidence I have now. I am just so happy I can live my life again. It has been a very long road. It has been very difficult moving on from the past but I am a much stronger person.”
She added that victims of coercive control often did not realise they were being abused, and encouraged relatives and friends to help if they had concerns.
The Justice for Women campaign, which supported Challen, said that it was looking at ten other cases of women who were convicted of killing their abusive partners, two of which were before the Court of Appeal.
Challen’s murder conviction was overturned in February. Prosecutors said yesterday that they would accept her guilty plea to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.
She said she knew of many other women who had suffered miscarriages of justice after being convicted of murder rather than manslaughter and hoped that her case would help other wives to escape coercive relationships.
Challen, from Claygate, Surrey, had been jailed for life at Guildford crown court in 2011. She had met her husband when she was aged 15 and they were married for 31 years.
At her original trial the prosecution described her as a jealous woman and said there was no evidence that she had a mental disorder. Three appeal court judges ruled in February that evidence that Challen was suffering from mental disorders when she killed her husband had not been available at the time of her trial and undermined the safety of her conviction.
The Crown Prosecution Service initially said that it wanted a retrial but dropped the charge and accepted her guilty plea three weeks before the new trial was due to start.
Mr Justice Edis told Challen that a newly instructed prosecution psychiatrist had found that at the time of the killing she had “an adjustment disorder caused by your reaction to the immense stress cause by your husband’s behaviour to you”.
He said she had beaten her husband to death after discovering that he was planning to see another woman because she was “angry, jealous and suspicious but also ill”. The judge added: “You were not delusional. You felt trapped and manipulated because you were trapped and manipulated.” [J4MB: She drove to her husband’s house with the hammer in her handbag. Trapped? Manipulated?]
She was sentenced to nine years and four months in jail yesterday but because non-life prisoners serve a maximum of half their sentences she was freed to walk out of the Old Bailey with her sons, David, 31, and James, 35, who have campaigned for her murder conviction to be overturned. They said they hoped the case “provides an understanding of how she was driven to take the life of our father”.
James said in a victim impact statement read to the court that they had witnessed their father’s coercive control and wished they had done more to help their mother as they had “let her down”. He added: “We are not seeking to justify our mother’s actions but the background circumstances are such that she does not deserve to suffer any further.”
LETTER OF THE LAW
Coercive control hung over the Sally Challen appeal when it was heard in February but the behaviour only became a crime in 2015, four years after she was convicted of killing her husband Richard (Jonathan Ames writes).
There are 17 types of behaviour that constitute coercive control, including isolating a person, monitoring their time, repeatedly putting them down and enforcing rules and activity that humiliate, degrade or dehumanise. Financial abuse, including allowing a person only a punitive allowance, also constitutes coercive control.
Convictions under the law carry a maximum prison term of five years in addition to a potential fine.
Karen Bradley, then a Home Office minister, said that the offence would “protect victims who would otherwise be subjected to sustained patterns of abuse that can lead to total control of their lives. We are sending a clear message that it is wrong to violate the trust of those closest to you and that abuse will not be tolerated.”
Some lawyers and campaigners say that the law needs reform because it applies only to people who are cohabiting, so for an offence to occur the parties must be connected either as family members or through a personal relationship.
The law does not apply to those who have broken up and are no longer living together, which, campaigners say, encourages victims to stay in coercive and controlling relationships just so they can fulfil the requirements for a potential prosecution.
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