Sally Challen at end of ‘long road’ after admitting manslaughter of husband
A woman who killed her coercive and controlling husband has spoken of her “long road” at the end of an almost nine-year landmark legal battle.
Sally Challen, 65, was jailed for life for bludgeoning 61-year-old Richard Challen to death with a hammer in August 2010.
On Friday, she walked free from the Old Bailey after the Crown accepted her plea to manslaughter by diminished responsibility.
There were cheers outside court as a tearful Mrs Challen emerged alongside her sons David and James, who have campaigned for her release.
Thanking her legal team and family, she said: “It’s been a long road.
“They have served my sentence with me. Their visits and phone calls have kept me going throughout what has been a long and terrible nine years.
“I’m just so happy I can now live my life again.”
But she added: “Many other women who are victims of abuse as I was are in prison today serving life sentences.
“I know because I have met them. They should be serving manslaughter not murder.
“I just hope the criminal justice system will recognise that abuse happens and they should take it more seriously.”
Mrs Challen was comforted by her son David as she said she still loved her husband.
David Challen told reporters his mother’s case exemplified how the system “continues to discriminate against women who kill”.
He said: “There is no shame in what we have experienced as a family.
“We have sought for justice and understanding so in the future more lives are not lost and abuse is recognised.
“We are not recognising victims of coercive control properly.”
He said it had been a “torturous” journey and he was looking forward to having his mother back.
Barrister Claire Mawer, of Justice for Women, said the organisation was looking at 10 other cases of abused women, two of which were due before the Court of Appeal.
Mrs Challen’s lawyer Harriet Wistrich criticised the Crown Prosecution Service for “vigorously” pursing Mrs Challen’s case and not considering the public interest or its duty to tackle domestic abuse.
Mrs Challen had faced a fresh trial for murder after her conviction was quashed in the Court of Appeal on February on new evidence about her mental state at the time.
But just weeks before the trial, the Crown Prosecution Service accepted her guilty plea to manslaughter and she was sentenced by Mr Justice Edis to nine years and four months. She walked free due to time served.
The judge said the killing came after “years of controlling, isolating and humiliating conduct” with the added provocation of her husband’s “serial multiple infidelity”.
In a victim impact statement on behalf of her sons heard by the court, James Challen said the last nine years had been “hell”.
He said: “We have lost our father and we do not seek to justify our mother’s actions.
“We believe the background circumstances are such that our mother does not deserve to be punished any further.”
He said the family have conflicting feelings of “anger, grief, sadness and regret”.
Earlier, prosecutor Caroline Carberry QC said the Crown’s decision followed a psychiatric report that concluded Mrs Challen was suffering an “adjustment disorder” at the time.
Opening the facts of the case, Ms Carberry said Mrs Challen’s relationship had hit the rocks after 31 years of marriage but they had attempted a reconciliation in 2010.
But suspecting he was seeing another woman, the defendant brought a hammer out of her handbag and attacked him from behind as he ate lunch at the kitchen table.
Afterwards, she went to throw herself off Beachy Head and told a chaplain: “I killed him with a hammer. I hit him lots of times … if I can’t have him no-one can.”
When police arrived at the marital home they found the body of Mr Challen, with a handwritten note on top reading: “I love you, Sally.”
In her police interview, Mrs Challen said her husband was controlling but she still loved him, the court heard.
She also spoke about occasions when she believed he had been unfaithful to her.
In mitigation, Clare Wade QC told how Mr Challen was “domineering and controlling but not in a physical way” towards his wife, who worked at the Police Federation.
He made “humiliating comments about her weight” and Mrs Challen “put down and criticised at all turns”.
On the day of the killing, it was Mr Challen’s words “don’t question me” that caused her to “flip” and hit him with the hammer, the court was told.