Landmark ruling as woman who killed husband with a hammer granted retrial

sally challen

Sarah Challen will face a new murder trial (Credit: Family Handout)

Sarah Challen, the woman who killed her husband with a hammer at their home in Surrey in 2010, will face a new murder trial a panel of judges has ruled.

The 65-year old has never denied killing husband, Richard Challen, 61, but denied murder claiming diminished responsibility.

She was convicted of murdering her car-dealer husband by striking him repeatedly over the head with a hammer. She hit him over twenty times before wrapping his body in a curtain.

Over the two-day hearing, the court heard from a psychiatrist that, at the time of the killing, Challen was suffering from two mental disorders.

Her lawyers argue that she would have faced the lesser charge of manslaughter had the coercive or controlling behaviour offence, as part of the Serious Crime Act 2015, been in place at the time of the trial in June 2011.

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

Coercive control is a term of domestic abuse that aims to control a victim’s behaviour and restrict their liberty and freedom.

Justice for Women, who campaign on behalf of female victims of domestic abuse, worked with Challen for a retrial.

Her son, David, 31, has also been outspoken in his support for his mother and said:

“…a lot of good can come from this for my mother and for anyone else suffering from mental domestic abuse in reference to coercive control”

The court said the new murder charge must be put to Challen within the next two months.

She has already served eight years of her 22 year sentence.

Leading charity declares ‘the system does not work’ for domestic abuse sufferers


(Credit: Scottish Women’s Aid)

Scottish Women’s Aid have said the ‘single-biggest’ legal reason for calls to their helpline are from women and children failing to receive ‘affordable’ and ‘competent’ legal services concerning domestic abuse.

This comes in the same week a report by the Scottish Human Rights Committee (SHRC) was delivered to the UN’s 72nd CEDAW session in Geneva, making 24 recommendations to the Scottish Government on how to protect and improve women’s rights.

On the access to justice and legal aid, the report states there are still ‘significant barriers for women to engage in the criminal justice system in Scotland’ – and despite the increased budget for legal aid in 2018/19, The Law Society of Scotland’s perspective is that this only serves to cover administrative costs and inflation rises rather than the aid itself.

In an interview with EN4News, Chief Executive of Scottish Women’s Aid, Marsha Scott, describes the legal services to women and children suffering domestic abuse as “shoddy”, with this being a contested issue for quite some time with the Scottish Government.


The Law Society calls for larger fees and relaxed budget goals as a “prerequisite to ensure equality of access to legal advice”. They assert, “It is well documented that any decline in legal aid means less protection for women, as a high level of legal aid work is carried out in respect of issues that disproportionately impact on women including child contact, divorce and protective orders”.

Chair of the SHRC, Judith Robertson, said:

“While the Scottish Government is to be commended for many of its actions to progress gender equality, our latest report to the UN shows that it must now go further, faster, to ensure that all women in Scotland are able to enjoy all of their rights – economic, social, civil and political – on the same terms as their male counterparts.”


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