Yes, Mum killed Dad. But she’s NOT a mur­derer

Sally Challen was jailed for 18 years for blud­geon­ing her hus­band at their £1m house. But read her son’s dev­as­tat­ing tes­ti­mony about the years of vile abuse she suf­fered — and you’ll see why a change in the law could soon free her

Daily Mail - - DR MAX - by Julie Bin­del

EV­ERY month David and James Challen go to visit their mother. It’s an easy train ride to Sur­rey from Lon­don.

Du­ti­ful and lov­ing sons, they bring what­ever she needs: a new blouse, per­haps, and some trousers she’d like, and spend two hours chat­ting over cof­fee and bis­cuits.

Sally will fill them in on her job in the bou­tique and the progress of some of her plants in the gar­den. But want she likes most is hear­ing about her boys’ lives. Their jobs, their re­la­tion­ships, their gos­sip and the restau­rants they’ve vis­ited. She loves hear­ing about the food they’ve eaten. The dis­cov­ery of a new Ital­ian bistro and an ex­cit­ing pasta dish, de­scribed mouth­ful by de­li­cious mouth­ful.

‘Mum loves pasta, she hasn’t eaten any­thing de­cent for years,’ says David, 31. ‘She adores hear­ing about our meals out.’

For Sally is in prison — Send, a closed cat­e­gory women’s jail, near Wok­ing. She’s been in­car­cer­ated since June 2011 when she was sen­tenced to 22 years (re­duced on ap­peal to 18) for the mur­der of David and James’s fa­ther, Richard, 61.

In Au­gust 2010, she took a ham­mer and struck her hus­band 20 times on the head as he sat eat­ing his break­fast in the cou­ple’s £1 mil­lion house in Clay­gate, Sur­rey.

Af­ter­wards, she wrapped his body in a cur­tain, left a note say­ing ‘I love you, Sally’, and the next day drove to no­to­ri­ous sui­cide spot Beachy Head. It took a chap­lain two hours to talk her out of jump­ing.

But the broth­ers do not con­demn their mother for what she did. Quite the op­po­site. They say they wit­nessed her be­ing psy­cho­log­i­cally abused by their fa­ther for years in a man­ner that would to­day be known as co­er­cive con­trol.

But when Sally took a ham­mer and killed her hus­band of 31 years, the only man she’d ever loved, the law did not recog­nise that do­mes­tic abuse of­ten leaves no black eyes or bro­ken bones.

The jury saw a de­ranged, venge­ful and ob­ses­sive wife and she was vil­i­fied by the me­dia as a cold-blooded killer, some­thing David and James, 35, still find in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult to for­give and for­get.

While David cam­paigns against do­mes­tic vi­o­lence and ad­dresses fem­i­nist con­fer­ences around the UK, his brother finds it too dif­fi­cult to speak to the Press.

‘While we do not jus­tify our fa­ther’s killing, we are seek­ing to stop the lie that our mother is a mur­derer. She is not, the ver­dict was the wrong one. She de­serves jus­tice. Peo­ple need to un­der­stand that she killed my fa­ther not be­cause she is a bad per­son, but be­cause he drove her to the edge,’ says David.

Af­ter the Se­ri­ous Crime Act 2015 cre­ated a new of­fence of con­trol­ling and co­er­cive be­hav­iour in an in­ti­mate or fam­ily re­la­tion­ship, Sally has been given leave to ap­peal against her con­vic­tion and is wait­ing for a court date.

In the mean­time, her sons keep vis­it­ing, and hop­ing. ‘Mum al­ways looks out of place in a prison. For us, it will never be nor­mal see­ing her in there,’ says David.

Her case is ter­ri­ble and shock­ing in de­tail. To the out­side world Sally, now 63, and Richard Challen ap­peared the per­fect mid­dle- class cou­ple. Richard, who owned a car deal­er­ship, pro­vided well for the fam­ily while Sally, an at­trac­tive, el­e­gant blonde, worked as an of­fice man­ager for the Po­lice Fed­er­a­tion.

David be­came aware, from a young age, how­ever, that things were not quite right in his par­ents’ mar­riage. That pos­si­bly not ev­ery­one’s Dad spoke to their Mum the way his did.

‘I could sense that there was some­thing “mo­rally wrong” with my fa­ther. He was al­ways putting my mother down, and talk­ing to her like she was noth­ing,’ re­mem­bers David.

‘It was hor­rific for us to wit­ness. If some­one com­mented that she looked like she lost weight, he would say: “You haven’t seen her with­out her clothes on.” As a young child I would hear him call Mum “thun­der thighs”, and I could see it up­set her. It made me feel dis­gusted by his be­hav­iour.

‘She was con­stantly crit­i­cised for ev­ery­thing, from her cooking to the way she raised us. If we didn’t show good man­ners at the din­ner ta­ble he’d say to my mother: “Why don’t you teach these chil­dren how to hold a knife and fork prop­erly?”’

The at­mos­phere in the house changed when­ever he walked in with his crit­i­cisms of their mother.

‘I re­mem­ber one time he threw all the food in the bin be­fore a din­ner party be­cause he didn’t fancy be­ing so­cia­ble that night, and forced Mum to can­cel,’ re­calls David.

And there were darker, nas­tier things go­ing on in the mar­riage which Sally has de­tailed since, and which ex­tended fam­ily and friends have con­firmed they sus­pected for years.

Sally wasn’t al­lowed friends and was ex­pected to de­vote her­self to her hus­band. She wasn’t al­lowed to speak to other peo­ple when they went out so­cially. She wasn’t al­lowed to see any­one on her own. Once, when Richard ‘caught’ Sally giv­ing a mu­tual friend a good­bye hug, he took her up­stairs and raped her.

ONE Christ­mas, Richard bought a red Fer­rari and paid for a photo shoot with two top­less mod­els while he perched on the bon­net.

‘He de­cided to put the pho­to­graph in a frame on the man­tel­piece in the liv­ing room, and sent the pic­ture out to friends and fam­ily mem­bers as Christ­mas cards,’ says David. ‘I can only imag­ine how hu­mil­i­at­ing this was for Mum.’

She, in turn, be­came fix­ated with Richard’s ‘ other women’ and con­stantly hacked into his phone to read his mes­sages.

‘When I was about 17 I re­call Mum be­ing to­tally con­vinced he was do­ing some­thing be­hind her back,’ says, David, ‘and I re­mem­ber that she had loads of phone records to prove she wasn’t los­ing it. Yet he still de­nied ev­ery­thing, and ac­cused her of go­ing crazy.’

Ac­cord­ing to David and oth­ers who knew the fam­ily, Sally had been with Richard since she was 15 and was un­able to com­pare her re­la­tion­ship with any other. This was her ‘nor­mal’ and she adored her hus­band.

Much of her sub­servient, old­fash­ioned at­ti­tude to her mar­riage came from her up­bring­ing. Sally’s par­ents were born in In­dia, and lived a typ­i­cal ex­pat life­style with ser­vants. Sally was born in Wal­ton-on-Thames in 1954, af­ter her par­ents re­turned to eng­land.

When Sally was five her fa­ther died of a heart at­tack and her mother did not con­sider it ap­pro­pri­ate for her daugh­ter to pur­sue a ca­reer. Sally was ex­pected to learn sec­re­tar­ial skills, marry and de­vote her­self to her hus­band.

JUST be­fore her 16th birthday Sally met the hand­some, charm­ing Richard Challen while out with friends and was ‘im­me­di­ately be­sot­ted’. Richard, who was 22, lav­ished at­ten­tion on the sweet and gen­tle teenager.

‘Mum was the main cog in the fam­ily,’ says David. ‘ Her per­sonal wants and wishes were al­ways sec­ondary. She was de­voted to both him and her chil­dren, and just wanted ev­ery­one to be happy.’

The ul­ti­mate hu­mil­i­a­tion, for Sally, came in novem­ber 2009 when she dis­cov­ered her hus­band had been vis­it­ing pros­ti­tutes. She’d fol­lowed him to a mas­sage par­lour which was sub­se­quently ex­posed as a brothel. She sum­moned the courage to leave her hus­band, bought a house nearby and she and David, who was still at home, moved out.

She even started di­vorce pro­ceed­ings, but six months later de­cided she couldn’t go through with it. She was ut­terly mis­er­able. She didn’t know how to be happy, be­cause Richard wasn’t there to tell her.

‘Dad ma­nip­u­lated the sit­u­a­tion by email­ing her say­ing our cat had died. It will have all been a ploy to get at­ten­tion and sym­pa­thy,’ says David.

It worked. Sally, with­out telling her fam­ily, emailed Richard ask­ing if he would agree to take her back.

Richard’s re­ply, which David has read, beg­gars be­lief. It reads: ‘I will con­sider your re­turn only on these terms. You will con­tinue and com­plete the di­vorce only with a £200,000 set­tle­ment [far less than the amount she was legally en­ti­tled to].

‘That when we go out to­gether it means to­gether. This con­stant talk­ing to strangers is rude and in­con­sid­er­ate. We will agree to items in the home to­gether. You will give up smok­ing and give up your con­stant in­ter­rup­tions when I am speak­ing.’

Sally agreed to the terms. The day David’s fam­ily fell apart, his mother had driven him to his job at a lo­cal restau­rant, as usual. ‘Get­ting out of the car my mother leaned over the pas­sen­ger side as I was about to close the door, looked me in the eyes, and asked: “You know I love you David, don’t you?” Con­fused, I paused and looked at her for a mo­ment and said: “Of course I do.” ’

The next thing he knew, the restau­rant boss was call­ing him into a room, and his mother’s cousin and a po­lice of­fi­cer were walk­ing in. His fa­ther, they said, was dead and his mother was at Beachy Head.

David now knows that, the previous day, Sally had gone to the mar­i­tal home to visit his fa­ther. He’d de­cided he wanted ba­con and egg for his

break­fast, and sent her out in the rain to buy some.

On her re­turn, she grew sus­pi­cious that he’d in­vented the er­rand to get her out of the house so he could call one of his girl­friends. A check of phone records con­firmed her sus­pi­cions.

Al­though Sally main­tains she does not re­call her ac­tions, this is when she picked up the ham­mer and struck him over the head. She then did the wash­ing up, and drove back to her house.

On learn­ing that his mother had com­mit­ted the crime, David felt only love and com­pas­sion.

‘I knew my fa­ther was toy­ing with her and en­joy­ing the power he had, and I knew his own ac­tions had led to this.

‘It’s not blind faith, you only need to un­der­stand how some­one’s mind can be con­torted, con­trolled, bro­ken, put back to­gether and bro­ken down again so many times. Look­ing back, I can see it was in­evitable that she would ei­ther shrink into a cor­ner and kill her­self or lash out in des­per­a­tion.’

Sally was charged with mur­der, and the trial was a dis­as­ter for her. Her le­gal team re­lied on a de­fence of di­min­ished re­spon­si­bil­ity, hop­ing she’d be found guilty of the lesser charge of man­slaugh­ter.

Her hus­band’s be­hav­iour and the state of their mar­riage were not deemed rel­e­vant. In her own ev­i­dence Sally stated that: ‘I tried to tell the po­lice the truth in my in­ter­view and I felt numb and very, very tired be­cause I had not slept. I had met him be­fore my 16th birthday and he was about six years older, and I have not known an­other man. I looked up to him and he led and I fol­lowed, and I did not mind that when I was younger, but then I later found out I was not al­lowed to make de­ci­sions for my­self or about friends.’

David de­scribes the five-day trial at Guild­ford Crown Court as ex­cru­ci­at­ing. ‘I was watch­ing the trial and feel­ing des­per­ate,’ he says. ‘There were no punches thrown at my fa­ther, it was more like: “Don’t speak ill of the dead.” ’

Af­ter the jury found her guilty of mur­der, there were tears in the pub­lic gallery.

‘I was in deep shock in­side and it took me about two days to start cry­ing about it. I spoke to Mum on the phone the next day. She sounded like she’d been in a car ac­ci­dent.’

Shortly af­ter her con­vic­tion, a rel­a­tive of Sally con­tacted Jus­tice for Women, a fem­i­nist law re­form cam­paign group that I co-founded in 1990, which sup­ports women who have killed their part­ners as a re­sponse to do­mes­tic vi­o­lence. A new le­gal team was ap­pointed, and fi­nally, in March this year, the High Court granted Sally per­mis­sion to ap­peal her mur­der con­vic­tion.

Her lawyer is Har­riet Wistrich, who blocked the re­lease of the ‘black- cab rapist’ John Wor­boys this year. She is also co-founder of Jus­tice for Women, which helped se­cure the re­lease of Sara Thorn­ton, Emma Humphreys and other women who killed their vi­o­lent hus­bands.

But Sally Challen’s case is the first of its kind. She was not sub­ject to sus­tained, per­sis­tent phys­i­cal vi­o­lence, al­though she has dis­closed to her le­gal team that she was raped by Richard. There are no bro­ken bones or hos­pi­tal vis­its to present as ev­i­dence. Just anec­dotes.

Richard’s fam­ily live in Aus­tralia, but they write to Sally reg­u­larly. ‘They’re all very sup­port­ive of her,’ says David. Does he miss his fa­ther? No, but he hasn’t edited him out of his life. ‘My mum killed my fa­ther, but they will both al­ways be my par­ents. What I learnt from both was dif­fer­ent. My mother taught me love and pa­tience, my fa­ther taught me power and con­trol.’

Al­though life has been dif­fi­cult for David since his mother went to prison, his home life is happy. He came out as gay to his mother some years ago, and she fully sup­ports him, and his com­mit­ted, lov­ing re­la­tion­ship.

But thoughts of his mother are rarely far from David’s mind.

‘I didn’t ex­pect to grow into the per­son I am to­day, be­ing as vo­cal as I am. The mother I love was per­pet­u­ally si­lenced, be­liev­ing her abuse was nor­mal. I choose to be her voice, speak­ing out against the life of abuse she suf­fered.

‘Our mother didn’t jump from Beachy Head af­ter she killed my fa­ther, be­cause the chap­lain asked her to think of me and James, and to stay and see our fu­tures.

‘She now has the op­por­tu­nity to re­alise that the abuse she suf­fered wasn’t a wasted life.

‘Be­cause of our mother, speak­ing out, thou­sands of women could be given the real help they de­serve in the fu­ture.’

Cam­paign: David Challen

Con­trol­ling: Richard Challen with his wife Sally. In­set, pos­ing with a Fer­rari

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