‘Sally’s Law’ – People that kill a partner after years of domestic abuse and violence, will now be treated more leniently under new reforms – named Sally’s Law, following the case of Sally Challen.
I can’t remember the exact year but we were living in the flat so it must of been around 1987. I can’t remember the exact time but I know it was in the middle of the night. What I do remember, very clearly is holding a pillow over my sleeping husbands head. I held it there for what seemed like forever. He started spluttering and I sort of ‘came to’ and realised what I was doing. It kind of felt like a dream but it wasn’t. I think the night before, he had hit me but it really doesn’t matter if he did or didn’t. Perhaps he had called me a fat c**t. Probably, as he called me that and other things most days. He was a very heavy sleeper – more so when he had had a drink, but again, I can’t remember if he had had a drink or not. I could so easily have killed him that night and to this day, he knows nothing about it!
What would of happened to me if I had held that pillow there for just a bit longer? Well, I would have gone to prison for life probably. The things that I would of missed or that would never of happened run through my mind. I would never of had my youngest daughter or the grandchild she is carrying now. I would not have seen my eldest daughter grow up and I wouldn’t have seen or probably know my granddaughter and grandson, who are my world. I would never have met my late husband Clive. So many things. How long would I have served by now? 36 years!! Maybe someone like Justice for Women would have campaigned to get me out. Maybe not. But one thing I do know for certain is that the domestic abuse I experienced at his hands would not have been seen as important at the trial that would have almost certainly convicted me of murder.
Does this shock you? That I could so easily have committed murder? Would you of cared if you knew back then? No, I don’t think so. In fact, i would have been just another woman who killed her husband and got life for doing it. End of!! There are so many women in prison NOW that this has happened to.
My point is, I know how easy it is to almost kill someone. I could so easily of held that pillow there, over his face for a few seconds, a couple of minutes longer. I didn’t want him to die though. No. He was the father of my child. He was my husband. I had loved him. I simply wanted the abuse and violence to stop! Does what I nearly did that night make me a bad person? Does it make me evil? I don’t think so. But I probably felt I was back then.
I imagine Sally Challen felt similar feelings. Sally Challen was sentenced to a minimum of 22 years in prison in 2011. In August, 2010, she had killed her husband of 31 years after having experienced domestic abuse, coercive control and rape for many, many years beforehand. Soon after Sally’s conviction, her two son’s, James and David approached Justice for Women and asked them for help. They found Sally a new legal team and new grounds for appeal citing the domestic abuse and coercive control she had experienced in the intervening years. Four years later in 2015, coercive and controlling behaviour was made a criminal offence and this was the breakthrough Justice for Women and Sally’s son’s needed. At last, Sally had the grounds for appeal. In June 2019, Sally became the first woman to ever have a murder conviction quashed under the new coercive and controlling behaviour law. Sally had her sentence reduced to 14 years for manslaughter and as a result of already serving 9 years in prison, she was released. I don’t know Sally but I know her son, David through my work with NCDV. David is an official supporter of NCDV.
So why am I telling you this?
Because it has very recently been announced that people who kill a partner after enduring years of domestic abuse and/or violence will be treated more leniently by the Criminal Justice system. This new law will be called ‘Sally’s law’. Judges will be required to treat years of physical abuse or coercive control as a mitigating factor following the case of Sally Challen.
These changes in the law come after an independent review on domestic homicide sentencing by Clare Wade KC, who was Sally Challen’s defence barrister. This report was published in March. For the first time, coercive control will be acknowledged as a mitigating circumstance for victims and survivors of domestic abuse who kill their abuser. Judges will now have to consider the sometimes years of abuse and trauma experienced by the accused, which will in turn give them a chance of a fairer trial and more sympathetic, reduced sentence.
At NCDV, which is my ‘day job’, I work on a Prison Partnership. In total, I am working in partnership with 7 women’s prisons in England. Historically, it has always been very difficult for women in prison to secure protection orders such as Non-Molestation orders as the courts will deem these women not at risk because they are in prison. However, there are mitigating circumstances here too. These women may not have ‘officially’ separated from their abuser. They haven’t left the relationship. They have been put in a position where they have been temporarily removed from the abusive relationship and often are met at the gate on their release, by their abuser. NCDV helps and supports these women to secure protective orders before they are released from prison so that they do not fall straight back into the cycle of abuse.
Almost two thirds of women in prison in the UK are reported to have experienced domestic abuse. Many are in prison for crimes associated with that domestic abuse. This can range from shoplifting or drug dealing, to assault and domestic homicide. I have spoken to women in prison who have told me that they were not listened to about the abuse they experienced which contributed to their crimes. That the abuse they experienced was not mentioned in court and how they received unfair, and harsh sentences where as their abuser went completely unpunished even when reported. How can this be fair?
The independent review by Clare Wade KC, highlighted that greater protection should be given to people who kill their abusers. This overhaul will also increase penalties for abusers, partners and ex-partners who kill after a relationship has come to an end. But will this be enough? What needs to happen to prevent situations getting to this point in the first place?
It is a question that Sally Challen has given a lot of thought to. In a recent interview Sally did for The Sun newspaper, Sally said: “Educating in school is good. Getting abused victims to talk to schoolchildren is good. This is learned behaviour, and often picked up from an abusive dad. “Kids need to learn that that is not normal behaviour, and this is not how you treat women.”
I totally agree. However, and speaking from experience, it is very difficult to ‘get in’ to schools to do this work, where domestic abuse and violence is still seen as a taboo subject for some establishments and parents of children are not always keen for their children to learn about it! But there is no doubt about it……..
Knowledge is Power!
When Sally was in prison, she attended the Freedom Programme, which is a 12 week group programme for women who have experienced domestic abuse and violence. Sally has said that the programme completely opened her eyes because it made her realise that what she had experienced WAS domestic abuse. Some of you may know that I am a qualified facilitator of the Freedom Programme and have worked with hundreds of women, facilitating this programme. I have witnessed and heard many women say that for the first time, they had realised, they were not to blame for the abuse they had experienced. It is a totally life changing programme and one which I would recommend to every woman that has experienced domestic abuse. It gives women back some of the control that has been taken from them. It empowers them.
With these new reforms allowing coercive control and physical abuse to be seen as mitigating factors, the criminal justice system now has the ability to take a persons experiences of abuse and trauma into consideration when they are handing down a prison sentence.
Sadly, the new reforms have come too late for hundreds of women who have or are already serving life sentences for murdering their abusers.
Around one in four homicides in England and Wales are committed by a current or former partner or relative. Of course, murder is a very serious offence and the perpetrators of murder quite rightly, should receive prison sentences. What would the world look like if no one that commits murder went to prison!? But hopefully, these new reforms will make sure that people who kill as a result of experiencing domestic abuse and the trauma that comes with it, will at least be seen and treated in a fairer way.