OUTRAGEOUS. A piece in yesterday’s Times:
A woman who beat her husband to death with a hammer after suffering years of mental abuse has won the right to inherit his £1 million estate.
The High Court ruling means that Sally Challen, whose murder conviction was quashed and replaced with a guilty plea for manslaughter last year, is in line to receive all her husband’s assets, including the proceeds of the sale of the marital home.
In the latest stage of the traumatic and controversial case, a judge ruled today that normal rules, which state that people have to forfeit any inheritance from those they have killed, should be waived in Challen’s case.
Her husband, Richard, who was 61 when he was killed, had various occupations, including estate agent and luxury motor car salesman.
At a High Court hearing in Bristol, Judge Paul Matthews said that he was “quite satisfied that the justice of this case requires that I should disapply the forfeiture rule”.
However, the judge cautioned that his ruling should not set a broad template for future cases, adding: “Every case must be decided on its own merits. I emphasise that the facts of this terrible case are so extraordinary, with such a fatal combination of conditions and events, that I would not expect them easily to be replicated in any other.”
The court had been told at the beginning of the hearing that Challen’s sons, James and David, supported her bid to have the forfeiture rule set aside. In June last year Challen, 65, walked free from the Old Bailey in London after prosecutors told the court that they would accept a plea of guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.
Four months earlier three Court of Appeal judges had quashed her 2011 conviction for murder. She had spent nine years in jail but was released after pleading guilty to manslaughter.
The appeal court had been told that Challen, who spent 40 years with her husband, Richard, had endured persistent abuse in the form of coercive and controlling behaviour as well as being raped.
In 2010 she battered him to death with a hammer while he ate a meal at their home in Claygate in Surrey. She covered his body and left a note that said: “I love you, Sally”.
After her release, Ms Challen, who at the time still wore a wedding ring, said that she still loved her husband.
“I miss him dreadfully and I wish none of this had happened,” she said in a statement. “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. In his ruling today Judge Matthews described the circumstances of the case as “extraordinary, tragic, and, one would hope, rare”.
He added that Challen had “disclaimed any interest in actually recovering inheritance from her sons. She simply wishes them to benefit from the tax-free inheritance that she would have had.”
Charisse Crawford, partner and head of the inheritance and trust disputes team at Stephens Scown LLP, the firm that acted on behalf of Challen, said: “She has been through so much and this judgment will give her sons and their families some financial security as they rebuild their lives.”
Challen told the court that she sought no personal gain from the waiver but instead wanted recoup inheritance tax already paid by her two sons.
Leslie Blohm, QC, representing Challen, had told the court that if the forfeiture rule were upheld in this case, her sons, who were “innocent of any crime”, would be worse off.
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