14:07, May 27 203 0 theguardian.com

2020-05-27 14:07:04
Sally Challen can inherit controlling husband's estate, rules judge

A woman who won an appeal over her conviction for murdering her controlling husband can inherit his estate, a judge has ruled.

Sally Challen, 66, was given a mandatory life sentence in 2011 after being convicted of murdering Richard Challen, 61, of Claygate, Surrey in August 2010.

Appeal judges quashed her murder conviction in February last year and ordered a new trial. She was released in June following a preliminary hearing for the new trial at the Old Bailey after prosecutors accepted her plea to manslaughter.

She was sentenced to nine years and four months for manslaughter, but released after the judge concluded she had already served her sentence.

In a ruling on Wednesday, the judge Paul Matthews concluded that a rule barring people who kill from inheriting their victim’s estate should be waived in her case. His decision followed a high court hearing in Bristol earlier this month.

Challen had been in a relationship with her former car dealer husband for about 40 years, since she was 15 and he was 22, and they had two sons, the judge heard. She had beaten him to death with a hammer, and claimed she had suffered years of controlling and humiliating abuse.

Matthews said Challen had been a victim of coercive control and suffered psychiatric illness. “The deceased’s behaviour during their relationship and their marriage was by turns contemptuous, belittling, aggressive or violent,” he said.

“His response to any suggestion that she would divorce him was that he would limit access to their children. He would ignore her complaints about his behaviour or insist that she was mistaken and that she had not seen what she said she had seen,” the ruling added.

Challen had considered suicide after killing her husband and had left a note saying she could not live without him.

“These facts are extraordinary, tragic, and, one would hope, rare,” the judge said.

“They lasted 40 years and involved the combination of a submissive personality on which coercive control worked, a man prepared to use that coercive control, a lack of friends or other sources of assistance, an enormous dependency upon him by [Challen], and significant psychiatric illness.”

He added her husband had “undoubtedly contributed significantly” to the circumstances in which he died, and said he considered without his “appalling behaviour over so many years” she would not have killed him.

He left no will, and a major asset, the home they shared, had been jointly owned.

Every case had to be decided on its merits, and not all victims of coercive control would necessarily be able to inherit, the judge said. “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,” he added.

The ruling means that Challen, and not the couple’s sons, would inherit. A “major effect” of that would be that Challen would not have to pay inheritance tax.

Challen’s guilty plea to manslaughter was accepted on the grounds of diminished responsibility after a psychiatric report concluded she was suffering from an “adjustment disorder”.

The prospect of a retrial was seen as a key test of new laws on domestic abuse and coercive control introduced in 2015.