Woman challenging murder conviction amid ‘fresh evidence’ of coercive control
A woman who bludgeoned her husband to death with a hammer thought any attempt to escape her marriage apart from killing him or herself was “useless”, leading judges have heard.
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.
Her lawyers told the Court of Appeal, where she is challenging her murder conviction, that she did not seek treatment for depression earlier that year because she believed she had no way out of her predicament.
Clare Wade QC, representing Challen, said: “From the perspective of coercive control, she had stopped seeking effective help by this time as she thought that any attempt to escape her situation/entrapment – short of suicide, homicide, or both – would be useless.”
Challen, 65, 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.
Ms Wade said: “It has never been argued that this legislative change of itself affords a ground of appeal.
“Rather, it is our growing understanding of domestic abuse and, in particular, the mechanisms and impact of coercive and controlling behaviour which is significant.”
Ms Wade said the lack of knowledge about coercive control at the time of the trial meant that her defence of diminished responsibility was not put as fully as it could have been.
The court heard evidence from Professor Evan Stark, a retired forensic social worker who has written on the issue of coercive control.
He said: “Coercive control is designed to subjugate and dominate, not merely to hurt.
“It achieves compliance essentially by making victims afraid and by depriving them of rights, resources and liberties, without which they cannot effectively defend themselves, escape, refuse demands or resist.”
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.
Caroline Carberry QC told the court in written submissions: “The introduction into the legal lexicon in 2015, four years post conviction, of the phrase ‘controlling and coercive behaviour’ was the popularisation of a new phrase to describe an old and well understood problem.
“It is not one upon which juries require expert guidance.”
Ms Carberry said there was “ample evidence” to demonstrate that Challen was able to think in a “logical and coherent way” before, during and after the killing.
She added: “This evidence is utterly inconsistent with the contention that her responsibility was substantially impaired.”
Ms Carberry said Mr Challen’s alleged behaviour was “without doubt unacceptable”, but that the court does not need to decide whether it amounted in law to coercive and controlling behaviour.
The court also heard evidence from psychiatrist Dr Paul Gilluley, the Crown’s forensic expert during the trial, who said he remains of the opinion that Challen was not suffering from any mental disorder at the time of the killing.
But another forensic psychiatrist, Dr Gwen Adshead, who assessed Challen after her conviction following a psychotic episode, said she was suffering from a severe clinical mood disorder, probably bipolar-affective disorder.
Dr Gilluley went to assist a member of the public who was taken ill during the hearing, which caused proceedings to be suspended and left Challen visibly upset.
Scores of demonstrators gathered outside the Royal Courts of Justice ahead of the hearing, 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.”
Some supporters were unable to fit into the packed public gallery to hear the case.
The appeal hearing, before Lady Justice Hallett, Mr Justice Sweeney and Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb, continues on Thursday.
Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Jonathan Brady / PA Wire.