February 28, 2019
A woman who bludgeoned her husband to death has won an appeal against her murder conviction in a landmark ruling.
Sally Challen wins appeal against murder conviction in landmark ruling
Georgina 'Sally' Challen, 65, was fighting to be released from prison today, hoping to get her conviction downgraded to manslaughter on the grounds that her husband, Richard, subjected her to decades of coercive and controlling behaviour in their 31-year marriage, which impacted her mental state.
But, in a partial win for Mrs Challen, Justice Lady Heather Hallett ordered a retrial, meaning she won't be immediately released.
The judge told the courtroom: "The Court of Appeal heard in the opinion of a consultant forensic psychiatrist the appellant was suffering from two mental disorders at the time of the opinion, this evidence was not available at the original trial.
"The court quashed the conviction and ordered a retrial."
Sally cried and hugged her prison officer while her two sons cried with relief.
Sally Challen wins appeal against murder conviction in landmark ruling
The historic decision was handed down in a packed courtroom on Thursday afternoon, eight years after Mrs Challen was convicted of murder at Guildford Crown Court in June 2011, in a trial that painted her as a "jealous spouse".
She was sentenced to 22 years, decreased to 18 on appeal.
A new understanding of the events that led to Mr Challen's death surfaced in 2015, when coercive control was criminalised as a form of domestic abuse.
Eight years after her conviction, the court heard Mrs Challen had been bullied, isolated from friends and family, and 'gaslighted', a form of abuse in which perpetrators manipulate victims into questioning their sanity. Mr Challen, it was claimed, cheated on Mrs Challen and lied to her, leading her to attempt suicide more than once. On one occasion, he raped her 'as a punishment'.
The Court of Appeal accepted new evidence from Dr Gwen Adshead that Mrs Challen had bipolar and a dependent personality disorder that was triggered by the abuse.
But did not downgrade the conviction to manslaughter as the family had hoped. She now faces an anxious wait to see whether or not she will be freed before the retrial as judges consider bailing her.
At the second day of the appeal hearing, which started Wednesday, close to 50 supporters filled the benches in the courtroom, a reflection of the public attention on the case, which many see as a test of the way courts treat coercive control.
For those on Mrs Challen's side, the case was a chance for justice for their abused mother and sister. But the court stressed the argument wasn't just about coercive control, which doesn't amount to a defence.
"As you know this case is received greatly in the public attention and there are people out there who think it’s only about coercive control, but it’s not," said Justice Lady Heather Hallett. “It's about psychiatric conditions that were undiagnosed at the time."
She continued: "We can’t just say if you’re a victim of coercive control that gives you a defence, it doesn’t. To raise it to provocation you’ve got to have something more."
Supporters of Mrs Challen - formerly an office manager at the Police Federation - were tense and let out an audible groan when Caroline Carberry, QC for the Crown Prosecution Service, said a trip to Wisley Gardens and the cinema in the lead up to the killing were evidence that she was not suffering from a mental disorder.
Lady Hallett scolded the courtroom: "I appreciate people are very interested in these proceedings. I don't want to have to clear the court, but I promise you I shall."
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