Sally Challen wins High Court case to inherit her coercive and controlling husband’s estate

Sally Challen wins High Court case to inherit her coercive and controlling husband’s estate

Sally Challen was jailed in 2011 after being found guilty of murdering her husband, Richard Challen.

Mrs Challen married her husband when she was 25 years old, having met him 10 years earlier. Mrs Challen suffered decades of humiliation and emotional abuse at the hands of Mr Challen with him being frequently unfaithful during the marriage. Mrs Challen tried to move out in 2009 and took steps to divorce Mr Challen but a year later, moved back to the family home. Mr Challen's actions cumulated in Mrs Challen killing him with a hammer. She left a suicide note at the scene saying that she couldn't live without him before travelling to Beachy Head to take her own life, which she was later talked out of. Mrs Challen denied murder at her trial in 2011 but was convicted by a jury and sentenced to a mandatory life sentence.

Mrs Challen was released from prison after her conviction was quashed in February 2019 due to new evidence coming to light about her mental state at the time of the killing. Prosecutors accepted Sally's plea of manslaughter and she walked free as she had already served the prison sentence imposed.

Mrs Challen had been prevented from inheriting her husband's estate due to the Forfeiture Rule. This is a rule of public policy to prevent those from benefiting from their crimes. However, the Judge ruled that an exception should be made in Mrs Challen's case. The Judge said that the facts of the case were "extraordinary, tragic and one would hope, rare". "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 the claimant, and significant psychiatric illness. The Judge also specifically noted that without Mr Challen's appalling behaviour over so many years, Mrs Challen would have not killed him.

Although technically, Mr Challen's estate can now pass to Mrs Challen, she said that she does not intend to reclaim the estate from her sons but instead made the challenge so that a significant sum in inheritance tax can be reclaimed from the government as transfers between spouses are exempt for inheritance tax purposes.

The Judge emphasised that this ruling does not mean that the Forfeiture Rule would automatically be dis-applied in other cases where a person suffering coercive control and every case must be carefully considered on its own merits and facts. The facts and combination of events in this case were described as being extraordinary.

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