CPS accepts Sally Challen’s manslaughter plea

|News, Violent crime

The Crown Prosecution Service has today accepted Sally Challen’s guilty plea to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

This follows the Court of Appeal’s decision to order a retrial for murder in light of medical evidence not available when she was convicted in 2011 of killing her husband Richard the previous year.

Following this ruling, the CPS directed an independent consultant psychiatrist, Dr Philip Joseph, to review all the medical the evidence and take a fresh look at the case.

After meeting Mrs Challen last month, Dr Joseph concluded she was suffering from an adjustment disorder - an abnormality of the mind that substantially impaired her mental responsibility for her acts.

Further medical reports from the prison psychiatrist, also obtained after the appeal, supported Mrs Challen’s defence of diminished responsibility. This differed significantly from the evidence available to prosecutors in 2011, when the two experts in the case disagreed on this point.

Helen Ellwood of the CPS said: “We have a duty keep all cases under continuous review and take account of any new information that comes to light. Following the Court of Appeal’s ruling, which heard new evidence not available at the earlier trial, we ordered a fresh psychiatric report to examine Sally Challen’s mental state when she killed her husband.

“The balance of medical evidence now indicates Mrs Challen was suffering from an abnormality of mind at the time of the killing, which substantially impaired her mental responsibility for her acts. After careful consideration, the CPS has therefore decided to accept Mrs Challen’s manslaughter plea on the grounds of diminished responsibility.”

Mrs Challen has now been sentenced to nine years and four months for manslaughter.

Assessing the evidence

Following the Court of Appeal’s retrial order in February, the case was reviewed by CPS South East senior prosecutors. As well as the original charge of murder, they considered the alternative offence of manslaughter, and whether the partial defences of diminished responsibility or provocation applied.

Diminished Responsibility

Under s2(1) of the Homicide Act 1957, on a charge of murder, the defence must prove a person was “suffering from such abnormality of the mind… as substantially impaired his mental responsibility for his acts”.

At the murder trial in 2011, the prosecution and defence experts offered differing opinions over whether the defence of diminished responsibility was available.

However, during the course of the appeal, and since the original conviction was quashed, three further psychiatrists have diagnosed abnormalities of the mind.

This supports the defence of diminished responsibility.

Provocation

The relevant law relating to provocation is set out in s3 Homicide Act 1957. Subsequent caselaw has confirmed that ‘provocation is some act, or series of acts, which would cause in any reasonable person, and actually causes in the accused, a sudden and temporary loss of control…..’

In this case, there was significant evidence of premeditation on Mrs Challen’s part and that she had clearly given forethought to the circumstances in which she might attack her husband.

The issue of coercive control in relation to the defence of provocation was considered as part of the appeal. However, the Court of Appeal judgment concluded that “coercive control is not a defence to murder”.  The academic expert evidence regarding this subject was ruled inadmissible by the judges.

Conclusion

The CPS concluded the defence of diminished responsibility is likely to succeed and there is no longer a realistic prospect of conviction in relation to the charge of murder.

Notes to editors

  • Georgina ‘Sally’ Challen (DOB: 27/07/1954) killed her husband Richard on 14 August 2010. She was convicted of murder after trial at Guildford Crown Court in June 2011. Her appeal was heard on 27/28 February 2019. She pleaded guilty to manslaughter on 5 April 2019
  • Helen Ellwood is a Senior Crown Prosecutor with CPS South East Complex Casework Unit
  • All our charging decisions are made in line with the Code for Crown Prosecutors and based on whether our two-stage legal test for prosecution is met. This involves a careful review of all the available evidence to judge whether there is a realistic prospect of conviction, then a consideration as to whether the prosecution is in the public interest
     

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