Sally a woman who killed her husband in a hammer attack after saying she suffered decades of abuse has finally won an appeal to have her murder conviction quashed.
Georgina Challen, known as Sally 65, of Claygate, Surrey, admitted killing 61-year-old Richard in August 2010 but denied murder. She will now face a retrial.
Sally was convicted in June 2011 and was sentenced to a minimum of 22 years, this was later reduced by 4 years at an appeal hearing.
Due to changes in the UK law in December 2015 which made ‘coercive control’ a criminal offence her lawyers sought an appeal hearing to have her conviction reduced to manslaughter.
During the 2-day hearing the appeal court heard how vital evidence of Sally’s mental state had not been made available to the court at the time, Sally was, in fact, suffering from 2 mental disorders at the time of the killing, it was on this basis that the appeal court found her conviction questionable and the lack of this disclosure undermined her conviction.
Sally, who appeared at the appeal via video-link from HMP Bronzefield in Ashford, Kent, UK was visibly emotional as she was told of the decision.
Sally’s relatives, friends and supporters were in the public gallery and they cheered and applauded the appeal court’s decision, although the court refused to reduce the charge of murder to manslaughter. Then there was silence as a retrial was announced. Her son David wept. His mother cried too
The 2-day hearing followed a campaign by her sons David, 31, and James, 35.
Speaking outside the Royal Courts of Justice, David said: “It’s an amazing moment. The courts have acknowledged that this case needs to be looked at again, as we have always said as a family.
“The abuse our mother suffered, we felt, was never recognised properly and her mental conditions were not taken into account.
Such has been the interest in Sally’s case by those in the UK by the middle of the first day of the 2-day hearing Lady Justice Hallett had to stop proceedings and request a bigger courtroom so that more people could attend this landmark appeal hearing.
The back story to this case
David Challen is perhaps an unlikely campaigner against domestic abuse. Aged 31, he can remember the first time he heard the words “coercive control” – and finally had the words to describe his experience of family life growing up.
Labels shouldn’t be important, he says. But for David, finally having the words meant everything.
It was a Saturday morning in 2010, Sally had cooked her husband his breakfast of bacon and eggs, and as he ate his breakfast Sally picked up a hammer and struck her husband on the head over 20 times.
The following day she drove to Beachy Head a known suicide spot in the UK and had to be talked into coming back from the edge of the cliff by a member of the suicide prevention team.
David says, ‘Despite the way in which my father was killed, it is my mother who is the real victim’.
David recalls that throughout his entire childhood and into his teens he knew things were not right at home. He has clear memories of hearing his father attempting to convince his mother she wasn’t sane when she found he had been cheating again, classic gaslighting. He also remembers other incidents such as his father dictating when his mother could leave the house, he knew this wasn’t normal.
There were moments of physical abuse too, an example given was the brutal rape of Sally by her husband just because a male family friend had given her a kiss goodnight on the cheek after an evening spent at the family home.
In the main, the abuse was psychological, financial and emotional and therefore much harder to pin down back in 2010.
Sally was only 15 years old when she met 22-year-old Richard, one would question why a grown man of 22 years of age was so interested in a 15-year-old school girl, her son David believes this was so Richard could manipulate her into being his submissive in the relationship and into the marriage.
“I had a moment in December last year when I was asked to speak at a Justice for Women event and they said, ‘coercive control’ and I was like ‘oh my god, how come I’ve never heard of this term?’ It’s everything.
“You feel a bit helpless without that term so that’s why it was so important for me to hear it.”
What is very telling in Sally’s case at the time of the original trial not one member of the family on either side or friends of the couple spoke against Sally, but they all spoke in detail about the abuse she had endured at the hands of Richard. Both sides of the family and friends wholeheartedly support her appeal and must be relieved that the appeal has been won and that a retrial will take place, but one can’t help wondering why it hasn’t been reduced to manslaughter with so much evidence of the abuse she suffered at the hands of her husband for decades.
During the trial, a 999 call was played in which Sally, who was drunk at the time, can be heard saying she wants him out of the house. The jury then heard Richard taking the phone from her on the recording, sounding “quiet and meek”, his son recalls. It played to the prosecution’s portrayal of Sally as the crazed one in the marriage, and Richard who had to put up with her.
“But my brother and I know that voice,” he says. “It was pure acting. We knew that as his acting voice. It’s sad the way it was manipulated in court and described in the press. And frontline police, perhaps due to their lack of training, didn’t think it was something to follow up.”
“We are really not justifying murder,” David says. “We recognise that she has done a crime, she has killed my father and in a weird way, we still love him. But nothing will ever be solved in society unless we look at the root cause. Right now, this conviction serves absolutely no-one in society and that’s one of the most frustrating things.”
He says he and his brother didn’t take the decision to support their mother lightly. “It’s not just that she’s my mother and I’m her son. I’ve looked very hard in the mirror and I’ve looked hard at the situation that my father has been killed and taken into account what she has done. It’s a horrendous crime and nobody is condoning it but he created her world which revolved around him and he pushed and pulled her throughout the marriage … I think it had just snowballed for her.”
“At times it was physical, most of the time it was psychological manipulation. He verbally fat-shamed her in front of mutual friends and families. He had pictures taken of him on a sports car with topless models and sent it out as greetings cards to friends and some family. It was humiliating.”
On one occasion when Sally caught her husband cheating, she presented him with phone records. Still, he argued back. “It was like sticking jelly to a wall. He would say ‘you’re going mad Sally’. It was his mantra. When she finally proved it, she came to me and said she had honestly been questioning her sanity. At that point, I had alarm bells but still, it wasn’t a tangible thing I could go to the police with.”
The media coverage at the time of the killing and the trial also disturbed him. “I remember there was something on TV and someone was interviewed about what a nice guy my father was, and I remember thinking ‘I don’t even know who you are’.”
For now, David will continue to visit his mother each month in prison and he hopes that the retrial will come swiftly and that his mother is freed. He says: “The scariest thing is she still loves my father. She hasn’t walked the earth properly outside living free to know that she can exist without him because he controlled her so much and even now, even though he is dead, he still has that control.”