Coercive Control and the case of Sally Challen

The case of Sally Challen is being heard by the Court of Appeal today and I was asked about what the impact of a successful appeal would be by Emma Barnett on BBC 5live – listen here

Sally killed her husband in 2010 by delivering 20 hammer blows to his head. There are many cases of husbands who have killed their wives in similar ways and more often than not, they end up convicted of manslaughter due to their claims that they were pushed to do it in due to things like being “nagged” by their wives and end up serving only a few years in prison.

Sally Challen however was convicted of murder and advised that because it wasn’t a case where there had been physical violence, the defence of provocation as a result of psychological abuse wasn’t available to her. She was sentenced to 20 years in custody reduced to 18 years on appeal.

This appeared grossly unfair at the time but coercive control as it is known was not a criminal offence in 2010 and did not become a criminal offence until December 2015 after a campaign led by Laura Richards and Paladin, the National Stalking Advocacy Service.

Sally’s appeal is being heard by the Court of Appeal today on the basis that the years of abuse she endured from her husband should be considered as provocation in terms of her defence, just as physical violence would have been.

Potentially this could reduce her conviction for murder to manslaughter or a retrial.

A successful appeal will not only be a fantastic result for Sally and her family and other women currently in prison in similar circumstances but also to the wider community of domestic abuse victims.

It will highlight the horrendous impact that coercive control has on its victims and the fact that these types of behaviours are now a criminal offence and the publicity may even encourage more prosecutions and more robust sentencing.

There is intentionally no definitive list of coercive control as this risks excluding incidents, but some of examples that I have dealt with in my cases include:

  • Forcing the victim to eat their meals out of a dog bowl on the floor
  • Removing electrical fuses so that the victim has no heating or lighting whilst he is out
  • No access to money
  • Not being allowed to work
  • Timing her when she goes to the shops or on the school run
  • Tracking her via her phone
  • Putting a tracker on the car
  • Going through her phone
  • Verbal abuse
  • Moving things in the house to try and convince her she is losing her mind
  • Checking receipts when she has been shopping
  • Sleep deprivation

These examples are totally unacceptable and experiencing this behaviour on a regular basis will obviously have a terrible impact on the victim and the justice system needs to recognise this.

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