27 May 2020

Woman who won appeal after killing husband can inherit his estate – judge

27 May 2020

A mother-of-two who won an appeal battle after killing her controlling husband can inherit his estate, a judge has ruled.

Sally Challen, who is in her mid-60s, was given a mandatory life sentence in 2011 after being convicted of murdering 61-year-old Richard Challen in August 2010.

She was freed last year after winning an appeal fight.

Judge Paul Matthews has now decided that Mrs Challen, of Claygate, Surrey, can inherit his estate.

Sally Challen with her sons James and David (PA Archive)

He concluded that a rule barring people who kill from inheriting their victim’s estate should be waived in Mrs Challen’s case.

The judge, who analysed arguments about Mrs Challen’s inheritance claim at a High Court hearing in Bristol earlier this month, announced his decision in a ruling published on Wednesday.

Mrs Challen had been given a life term after being convicted of murder following a trial at Guildford Crown Court in summer 2011.

Appeal judges quashed that murder conviction in February last year and ordered a new trial.

A judge had been due to oversee a new trial but Mrs Challen was released in June following a preliminary hearing at the Old Bailey, after prosecutors accepted her plea to manslaughter.

Mr Justice Edis imposed a new sentence of nine years and four months for manslaughter, but concluded that she had already served her time.

Judge Matthews heard that the Challens had been in a relationship for around 40 years, since Mrs Challen was 15 and Mr Challen 22, and had two sons.

Mrs Challen had beaten former car dealer Mr Challen to death with a hammer and claimed that she had suffered years of controlling and humiliating abuse.

“The deceased’s behaviour during their relationship and their marriage was by turns contemptuous, belittling, aggressive or violent,” said Judge Matthews, in his ruling.

“His response to any suggestion that she would divorce him was that he would limit access to their children.

“He would ignore her complaints about his behaviour or insist that she was mistaken and that she had not seen what she said she had seen.

The judge said Mrs Challen had been a victim of coercive control and suffered psychiatric illness.

She had considered suicide after killing her husband, and had left a note saying she could not live without him.

“These facts are extraordinary, tragic, and, one would hope, rare,” said the judge.

“They lasted 40 years and involved the combination of a submissive personality on whom coercive control worked, a man prepared to use that coercive control, a lack of friends or other sources of assistance, an enormous dependency upon him by (Mrs Challen), and significant psychiatric illness.”

The judge said Mr Challen had “undoubtedly contributed significantly” to the circumstances in which he died, and added: “I consider that, without his appalling behaviour over so many years, the claimant would not have killed him.”

Judge Matthews said the “justice of this case” required that he should “disapply” the rule barring killers from inheriting their victim’s estate.

The judge said every case had to be decided on its merits and not all victims of coercive control would necessarily be able to inherit.

He added: “I emphasise that the facts of this terrible case are so extraordinary, with such a fatal combination of conditions and events, that I would not expect them easily to be replicated in any other.”

Mr Challen had left no will and a major asset, the home the Challens shared, had been jointly owned.

The judge said his decision would mean that Mrs Challen, not the couple’s sons, would inherit.

He said the “major effect” of that would be that Mrs Challen would not have to pay inheritance tax.

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