Sally Challen’s landmark case has put a spotlight on the fight against domestic abuse in Britain, as well as the changing laws in the country, reports the New York Times.
A British woman who was convicted of killing her husband after decades of emotional abuse is entitled to the family’s estate, a judge has ruled — the latest development in a case that has gripped Britain for years and exposed the challenges of confronting domestic abuse.
The woman, Sally Challen, 66, was found guilty in 2011 of having murdered her husband the year before, but her conviction was thrown out last year after new evidence showed that she had been subjected to coercive control, a criminal offence in Britain since 2015. In a groundbreaking appeal, Ms. Challen pleaded guilty to the lesser crime of manslaughter and was released last June after a judge sentenced her to nine years and four months in prison — time served.
Sally Challen had been in an abusive relationship with Mr. Challen since she was 15 years of age, and had been married for 31 years. When she confronted her husband of infidelity and did not get a satisfactory response, she beat him to death with a hammer at their home in Claygate, 14 miles southwest of London, according to the police. The next day, she went to Beachy Head, a cliff nearby in an attempt to take her life, but was arrested after hours of negotiation with a police officer.
Judge Paul Matthews of the High Court in Bristol ruled last week that Ms. Challen could inherit the estate of her deceased husband, Richard Challen, which is valued at 1 million pounds, or $1.2 million. She had initially been stripped of the inheritance under a provision known as the forfeiture rule, which prevents a convicted killer from inheriting from the deceased.
The inheritance initially went to the couple’s two sons, but because “the facts are extraordinary, tragic and, one would hope, rare,” Judge Matthews ruled, it is being handed to Ms. Challen. She said that she would not claim it, and that her aim in pursuing it was a desire for her sons to be exempted from paying inheritance tax.
Ms. Challen has said that although she found it right that she had served prison time, she disagreed with the initial charge of murder and the life sentence. Since her release, she has vowed to fight for abused women sentenced to life in prison. “They have suffered abuse and other miscarriages of justice,” she said last year, “and they should be serving sentences for manslaughter, not murder.”