Court of Appeal due to rule in Sally Challen murder conviction case

Court of Appeal judges are expected to give their decision on a “coercive control” murder conviction challenge by a woman who killed her husband in a hammer attack.

Georgina Challen, known as Sally, says she killed 61-year-old Richard Challen in August 2010 after 40 years of being controlled and humiliated by him.

After hearing closing submissions from lawyers for Challen and for the Crown, Lady Justice Hallett said she hoped the court would be in a position to give a ruling on Thursday afternoon.

Challen, 65, became visibly emotional a number of times as she watched proceedings over a video link from HMP Bronzefield in Ashford, Surrey.

Her case, which is supported by Justice for Women, is that “fresh evidence” on the issue of coercive control would help a jury reach a different verdict.

The defence of coercive control only passed into law in 2015, so was not available to Challen at the time of her trial.

Her barrister, Clare Wade QC, told the court on Thursday that, because it was not understood at the time, the issue of coercive control was “not sufficiently marshalled and not sufficiently analysed” for the argument that was being run in Challen’s defence.

She said: “Our understanding of coercive control has developed since the appellant trial.

“It wasn’t known about at the time of the trial and it wasn’t fully appreciated and, because of that, the facts weren’t presented in a way that was consistent with coercive control.”

She said the theory of coercive control explains how behaviours are used to abuse people in relationships and “shifts the emphasis away from physical harm”.

Ms Wade added: “Coercive control in itself is not something that is completely new, it is the understanding that has developed.”

She said there were many incidents Challen mentioned in her police interview, including the fact she received no help from her husband as a new mother, which were not put forward in evidence because they were not thought to be relevant.

Georgina Challen appeal
Georgina Challen appeal

The barrister also said forensic psychiatrist Dr Gwen Adshead, who saw Challen in prison in 2015 after she suffered a manic episode, had concluded she was suffering from two mental disorders at the time of the killing.

Dr Adshead believed these were “suppressed” by the coercive control operating within the marriage.

Caroline Carberry QC, for the Crown, argued Dr Adshead’s evidence could have “no relevance” to Challen’s state of mind at the time of the killing, five years before she saw her.

She added: “Looking at all the evidence in this case, it cannot be said that Dr Adshead brings anything new that is of materiality to the position as it was at the relevant time in August of 2010.”

Ms Carberry also said the jury’s verdict was based on “cogent expert” evidence but also on evidence of Challen’s behaviour at the time.

Georgina Challen appeal
Georgina Challen appeal

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.

She was jailed for life with a minimum term of 22 years, later reduced on appeal by four years.

Her lawyers are asking the court to overturn her conviction and substitute a manslaughter conviction in its place.

But lawyers for the Crown contend the jury at her trial were provided with evidence about her state of mind and her conviction is safe.

Scores of demonstrators attended the hearing on Wednesday and Thursday, following a high-profile campaign by Challen’s sons David, 31, and James, 35.

Speaking before the hearing, David Challen said: “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.”