British abuse victim who killed husband will not face murder retrial

by Sonia Elks | @SoniaElks | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 7 June 2019 16:33 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: A statue of the Roman Goddess Justicia stands on top of the old Bailey in Cental London March 6, 2001

Image Caption and Rights Information

Sally Challen had her conviction for murder overturned after an appeal found the trial had not factored in the effect of decades of abuse on her mental health

(Updates with sentence, comment from Challen)

By Sonia Elks

LONDON, June 7 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A British woman who killed her husband with a hammer after suffering years of domestic abuse will not face a retrial, prosecutors said on Friday, a decision women's rights groups hailed as a "landmark moment".

Sally Challen, 65, had her conviction for murder overturned in February after an appeal found the trial had not factored in the effect of decades of abuse on her mental health.

She was to have faced a retrial, but prosecutors agreed to instead accept a guilty plea to the lesser charge of manslaughter.

Challen was sentenced to nine years and four months, but will not return to prison as she had already served the full term, court officials confirmed.

She urged prosecutors to give more consideration to the impact of domestic abuse when dealing with victims in future.

"I just hope that the justice system will recognise that abuse happens and that they should take it more seriously," said Challen at a press conference.

"I have met many women in prison who should not be there."

Sally Challen was convicted of murdering her husband Richard in 2011 and sentenced to 22 years in jail, which was later reduced to 18.

Her supporters say she was a victim of coercive control by her husband for more than 40 years, which was a factor underlying the attack and its immediate trigger.

Britain introduced laws in 2015 making "coercive or controlling behaviour" a domestic violence offence carrying a penalty of up to five years in jail.

It was intended to close a loophole in the law that had previously allowed abusive partners to exert control with behaviour that stopped short of violence.

Challen's legal team for the appeal argued the abuse had been poorly understood at the time of her murder trial and was not properly considered.

"The rarer cases where women like Sally have been driven to kill, the context is they are the victims of abuse and they have been driven, as Sally has, to mental illness," said Harriet Wistrich, of feminist organisation Justice for Women.

The group helped to bring the court appeal and campaigned on behalf of Challen.

Domestic violence charity Women's Aid said the decision was "fantastic news" and the Women's Equality Party called it a "landmark moment" for judicial understanding of domestic abuse.

About 2 million people, predominantly women, suffer domestic abuse every year in Britain, the government has said. It can take myriad forms, from beatings to rape, control of a partner's actions or limiting access to money, family and friends.

Domestic abuse costs England and Wales about 66 billion pounds ($84 billion) annually, mostly due to its physical and emotional impact on victims - as well as costs to police, health and support services, according to government research. ($1 = 0.7846 pounds) (Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.