Wife’s quashed murder conviction ‘positive step’ in coercive control awareness

The landmark decision to overturn Georgina Challen’s murder conviction has been welcomed by campaigners working to raise awareness of the issue of “coercive control”.

Known as Sally, the 65-year-old former Police Federation worker saw her conviction for the hammer killing of her husband, 61-year-old Richard Challen, quashed and a retrial ordered at the Court of Appeal on Thursday.

The case has drawn attention to the issue of coercive control, a form of domestic abuse criminalised in 2015.

Sian Hawkins, head of public affairs at Women’s Aid, said: “We campaigned for coercive control to be recognised in law and have been working to raise awareness about this devastating form of abuse.

“It is clear from the verdict that some progress has been made in relation to society’s understanding of coercive control.”

Refuge said the judges’ decision was a “very positive step forward”, while White Ribbon, a charity campaigning to end male violence against women, said “so much more” awareness of coercive control was needed.

Coercive control describes a pattern of behaviour by an abuser that is used to harm, punish or frighten their victim.

It can include threats, humiliation, manipulation, degradation and intimidation and generally monitoring or controlling the victim’s day-to-day life.

Coercive control may also involve an element of “gaslighting”, which is using mind games to make the victim doubt their sanity, and often leads to the abused person becoming isolated and dependent on their abuser.

The form of abuse became a criminal offence in December 2015 under section 76 of the Serious Crime Act and can be punishable by up to five years in jail.

It was dramatised in Radio 4’s long-running series The Archers in 2016, in a storyline which focused on the abusive marriage between characters Helen and Rob.

The term itself was developed by forensic social worker Professor Evan Stark, now retired, who gave evidence in Sally Challen’s appeal.

A panel of three judges ordered a retrial after hearing about psychiatric evidence that was not available at the time of her trial in 2011.

Challen was found guilty of murder at Guildford Crown Court and later jailed for life with a minimum term of 22 years, later reduced on appeal by four years.

Lady Justice Hallett said: “The Court of Appeal heard that, in the opinion of a consultant forensic psychiatrist, the appellant was suffering from two mental disorders at the time of the killing.

“This evidence was not available at the time of the trial and the court quashed the conviction and ordered a retrial.”

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