The son of a woman convicted of murdering her husband with a hammer has claimed society ‘let her down’ as a victim of domestic abuse ahead of her landmark appeal today which could secure her freedom.
Georgia ‘Sally’ Challen bludgeoned husband Richard, 61, to death at the couple’s £1million Surrey home in 2010 by hitting him 20 times with the weapon as he ate breakfast.
Challen, who turns 65 today, was jailed for 22 years in 2011, which was later reduced to 18 on appeal, but experts told a hearing today a new law on ‘coercive control’, introduced four years after her conviction, would mean she would only be guilty of manslaughter today.
She appeared at the Court of Appeal via videolink from HMP Bronzefield in Surrey, looking visibly upset and wiping away tears.
Her two sons David, 31, and James, 35, have previously campaigned for their mother’s release claiming their father subjected her to 40 years of physical and emotional abuse, including rape, after they first met when she was 15 and he was 22.
And experts told the court today his behaviour would come under coercive control, an offence which applies to behaviour that threatens, isolates or makes a person dependent through actions such as constant insults, destruction of property and cutting them off from friends and family.
It came after David said his mother should have been afforded more protection as a victim of abuse, claiming living 40 years in a ‘pressure cooker’ drove her to kill.
Sally Challen, right, 65, was jailed for 22 years for murdering her husband Richard, left, 61, with a hammer in August 2010 but her sons David, 31, and James, 35, claim she was the victim of decades of abuse including rape and psychological torment by their father
David, pictured left, joined protesters from Justice for Women outside the Court of Appeal today where judges will decide whether Challen should have been convicted of manslaughter, which could lead to her freedom
A huge crowd gathered outside the court in London today, pictured, to demand Challen be freed by the judges
David, pictured left outside court, also appeared on Good Morning Britain today, right, and said society had ‘let his mother down’ as a victim of domestic abuse
He joined by protesters from Justice for Women outside the Court of Appeal this morning where she could be freed if judges decided she should have been convicted of manslaughter.
Challen is appearing at her conviction appeal over a video link from HMP Bronzefield in Ashford, Surrey.
Last March she was granted the right to challenge the conviction, leading to today’s hearing.
The campaigners say new psychiatric evidence shows ‘coercive control’ was responsible for her actions following the decades of abuse.
Coercive control became a legal defence in 2015 but was therefore not available to Challen at her trial in June 2011.
On the day of his death, Mr Challen, 61, had told his wife she should not interrupt him when he was talking, not talk to strangers and quit smoking as part of an agreement drawn up to salvage their marriage.
But she battered him to death with a hammer after suspecting he was having an affair with a woman he met on the dating website Dinner Dates, jurors had heard.
After killing her husband she wrapped up his body in a carpet and then drove it to Beachy Head the next day, where she was talked out of killing herself.
She denied murder on grounds of diminished responsibility but was handed a life sentence.
Today Professor Evan Stark, a retired forensic social worker and an expert in domestic violence, gave expert evidence to the court on the topic of coercive control.
Prof Stark said he has never met Mrs Challen and was only permitted to give expert evidence about coercive control.
He said: ‘We believe that coercive control is a model of abuse which we believe more accurately depicts the actual experience that women and children have.’
He defined coercive control for the court.
Mr Challen, left, said the appeal was an opportunity for the court to recognise the ‘lifetime of abuse’ his mother suffered and how she was ‘driven to’ commit her actions
Her trial previously heard Challen killed her husband shortly after he made her agree a postnuptial agreement that stripped her of financial assets and banned her from smoking. The couple are pictured together here
He said: ‘It achieves compliance by making victims afraid.
‘Depriving them of rights, resources, and liberties without which they can’t defend themselves.
What is coercive control?
In 2015 it became an offence under UK law to subject someone to ‘coercive control’.
The offence is defined as when someone with a personal connection makes one feel controlled, dependent, isolated or scared and causes a ‘serious effect’.
Examples of such behaviour include isolating a person from friends and family, monitoring a person’s movements, controlling their money, continuous verbal abuse, threats of violence and damaging property.
A serious effect is defined as having substantially impacted a person’s daily life, changing the way they live or causing them to feel threatened by violence.
The offence came into force in December 2015. Although a person who committed coercive control before then cannot be charged with it, it can be used to show bad character and support a general case of abuse.
‘It induces a hostage like condition of entrapment, in some ways similar to that induced in a prisoner of war.’
He told the court that one of the signs of coercive control is isolation.
He said: ‘Cutting her off from friends, family, coworkers, associates.
‘Isolation so that the only sense of reality is from the person abusing you.’
The court heard that another feature of coercive control is gaslighting – persistent manipulation during a relationship.
Prof Stark said: ‘It is used to refer to the idea that partners in coercive control play little tricks to make the person they are living with go crazy.
‘It is a terrible experience, it drives people insane.’
He told the court that another element of coercive control is financial control.
He said: ‘Placing limits on funds and withdrawal, as well as using money as a mean to manipulate.’
Prof Stark said the effects of domestic abuse were psychological as well as physical.
He said: ‘Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury in which women seek medical help in the US.
David said his father, right, started mentally abusing his mother shortly after they met more than 40 years ago when she was 15 and he was 22
‘What we then realised is that even though injury was significant, it was not far and away the most significant health problem.
‘We found that the women who were abused were many times more likely to be depressed and to attempt suicide.
‘It turned out to be the leading context in which women attempted suicide.’
Meanwhile David appeared on Good Morning Britain today and said society had let his mother down as a victim of domestic abuse and that she should have had the defence of coercive control.
He said: ‘As a society we let her down. We let victims of domestic violence down as well.
‘She should have been afforded protections. If we all had that language she wouldn’t be in this position
‘We lost a father as well – people forget that. We all acknowledge, could we have done more?
‘Without the language you feel – helpless – I felt helpless for eight years. We haven’t had the language to give examples
‘Our mother deserve the right to freedom she never had that right it was stolen from her.
‘As sons we deserve rights to the recognition of the acts that led to our father’s death. We have to recognise that.’
At her trial the prosecution said Challen, pictured left on her wedding day and right with her husband, was driven by jealousy over possible infidelity
Speaking to Sky News, David added he became aware of his father’s abuse as he reached his teens.
He said: “I could see his mind was elsewhere. There was something inherently bad I felt about him even at a young age.
“It was such a strange feeling to have, like morally in my gut I felt that he was corrupt in some sort of way.’
He added his father would ‘gaslight’ his mother and tell her she was ‘mad’ when she accused him of infidelity, even when she caught him at a brothel.
David said it was also impossible to argue with his father and he was ‘like Teflon’ because no one could make anything ‘stick’ against him.
How Sally Challen’s case has come to a landmark hearing
August 2010: Sally Challen bludgeons husband Richard, 61, to death with a hammer. The next day she drives to Beachy Head and threatens to kill herself only to be talked out of it by a chaplain.
June 2011: Challen is convicted of murder and is jailed for 22 years a month later.
November 2011: Challen’s sentence is reduced to 18 years on appeal.
December 2015: Coercive control is established in UK law, making it an offence to make someone feel controlled, dependent, isolated or scared. It can also be used as legal defense in domestic abuse cases.
March 2018: Lawyers for Challen win the right to appeal her conviction after her sons David and James campaign with Justice for Women that she was ‘driven to her actions’ by coercive control.
February 2019: Challen’s appeal begins at the Court of Appeal in London.
Challen tried to leave him many times and even started divorce proceedings on several occasions but eventually asked him to take her back, after which he forced her to sign a ‘humiliating’ postnuptial agreement stripping her of financial assets and banning her from smoking.
David added: She [Challen] is serving time for a crime. She will serve time for that crime. But that crime needs to be judged properly. She’s not vengeful, she’s not jealous, she was psychologically manipulated and that is what coercive control is.’
Speaking before the hearing, David added: ‘I’ve exhausted myself and my energy for what I can do as a son for my parents to get across the true understanding of what has happened.
‘This affects not just our mother but thousands of victims who don’t have a voice, both men and women.
‘Me and my brother have spoken out, not just for our parents but for other victims too.
‘We have had a lifetime of living with this and eight years trying to find the words.’
Meanwhile in a joint statement ahead of the appeal, the brothers said: ‘Our mother’s appeal is a landmark case, the first of its kind to use coercive control as a part of a defence to murder.
‘This appeal crucially provides an opportunity to recognise the lifelong abuse Sally suffered and, in the hope of understanding the cause of her actions, provides an understanding of how she was driven to take the life of our father, Richard.’
At her 2011 trial at Guildford Crown Court, Challen, of Claygate, Surrey, admitted killing the former car dealer but denied murder, claiming diminished responsibility.
The prosecution case was that it was the action of a jealous woman who suspected infidelity.
Her lawyers will argue that, had it been available at the time, she would not have been found guilty of murder and will ask the court to overturn her conviction and substitute a manslaughter conviction in its place.
Challen’s solicitor Harriet Wistrich, who helped victims of rapist John Worboys successfully fight against his release by the Parole Board after just eight years in jail, said: ‘Domestic violence is often visualised in the form of a woman with a black eye or broken arm.
‘The concept of coercive and controlling behaviour provides a much more comprehensive picture of the combined methods of coercion and control that can lead a victim to become so subject to the bullying of another that her liberty is effectively removed.
‘We are not arguing in this case that coercive control would provide a complete defence to murder, but the circumstances of a lifelong marriage amount to a form of provocation, which should reduce a murder conviction to manslaughter.’
Challen, pictured with one of her sons as a child, should have been afforded more legal protection at her original trial, according toher family
Her husband, pictured, subjected his wife to a ‘pressure cooker’ of abuse, according to his children
Mr Challen, pictured, has also spoken of how he is ‘exhausted’ by the years of campaigning
The appeal will be heard by Lady Justice Hallett, Mr Justice Sweeney and Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb and is expected to last two days.
Speaking on Good Morning Britain last year, David said the history of abuse started when his mother met her husband when she was just 15.
He said: ‘It’s important to state that my mother met my father when she was 15 and he was 22.
‘Her father died when she was five and her brothers were at university at the time. So the male influence in her life was initially from my father. And parameters were set early on with an infidelity.
‘(He said) ‘Don’t make me choose between her or you Sally – my mum – because I would choose her’. So young sweetheart love – the parameters were set.
‘I think 16 to 56 you’ve got a pressure cooker going of a world that’s built around him and she only knows one relationship. And she can’t diagnose it and I think a lot of people in the country are in a similar situation.
‘She would try to keep track of phone records, print them out and present them to him. He would say ‘you’re making it up – you’re going crazy’. She caught him in a brothel once, red handed, and it confirmed her beliefs.
‘She said to me and my brother once, separately “I thought I was losing touch of reality. I can see the facts right in front of me”.
The 31-year-old last year told Good Morning Britain his father’s abuse of his mother started shortly after she met him when she was just 15
Challen killed her husband at their £1million home in Surrey, pictured, in August 2010
‘It wasn’t until five years that we saw something like that happening and you could see that he was playing her. She managed to step away eventually.
‘But he dangled out a post-nuptial agreement at the end which gave up all the rights to him and she knew her world all revolved around him so she was trapped.
‘It was a shock, of course. I don’t take away there is always going to be a love there (with my father). But the last thing I said to him was a torrent of abuse and how his words were verbally and mentally destroying my mother.
‘Obviously it’s been difficult. It’s an alien thing to look at. She has coped as well as can be.
‘The cornerstone was everything you believed with your mother you realised there and then that she missed a step in life and I think a lot of people miss that step in life when you just don’t know.’
How women’s rights lawyer who fought to keep black cab rapist John Worboys in prison could secure landmark legal victor
Sally Challen’s historic appeal is being led by a barrister who is no stranger to major legal battles.
Harriet Wistrich is arguing the 65-year-old should have been convicted of manslaughter over the killing of her husband following decades of emotional and physical abuse.
The 58-year-old has constantly championed women’s rights and last year represented victims of black cab rapist John Worboys in a successful effort to prevent his release by the Parole Board after just eight years in prison.
Women’s rights lawyer Harriet Wistrich, pictured, who is representing Challen at the Court of Appeal, said the case was far from certain but that the new law is ‘like fresh evidence’
She has spent 25 years as a lawyer and most recently worked for Birnberg Peirce & Partners, working on abuse cases.
Today she will tell Court of Appeal judges Challen would have the legal defence of coercive control if tried today after it was brought into law in 2015, four years after her trial.
The legislation covers abuse where someone with a personal connection to a victim threatens, isolates, intimidates and subjects them to behaviour that makes them dependent, which Challen’s sons claim their father was guilty of for 40 years.
They say their mother snapped after living in a ‘pressure cooker’ after being raped and psychologically abused for so long.
Challen wrote to Ms Wistrich for help in 2012 and she subsequently found her defence did not include the decades of abuse Challen suffered.
Speaking to the Telegraph, Ms Wistrich said the appeal was ‘important in terms of violence against women’.
She said: ‘In a sense it’s like fresh evidence. The fact a law has been passed illustrates an advancement in our understanding of the dynamics of an abusive relationship.’
Miss Wistrich added: ‘The number of people killed in terrorist attacks, such as Manchester, are much lower than the number of women killed every year as a result of domestic terrorism. There should be a massive outcry.’
She founded Justice for Women with partner Julie Bindel in 1991 and since then the organisation has helped quash convictions of more than a dozen women who were convicted of murdering abusive partners.
Ms Wistrich added Challen’s case was ‘a very hard argument’ but that a the huge amount of work carried out by the legal team and a ‘public mood swing’ meant the judges should seriously consider it.