AN abused wife who bludgeoned her “controlling” husband to death has revealed how decades of his psychological torture drove her to kill.
Sally Challen, 66, had been caged for life after admitting to battering 61-year-old Richard to death with a hammer in 2010.
But after nine years in jail, she walked free in June after appealing against her murder conviction in a watershed moment for domestic violence victims.
Now, months after her release, Sally has revealed how she endured 40 years of “coercive control” and was once raped by her late husband.
She also recalled how she was pressured into an abortion by him as a teen, was bullied by him over her weight and felt betrayed by his lies and many affairs.
Sally finally snapped in August 2010 when she discovered he has been arranging to see a woman he had met on a dating website called Dinner Dates.
While her husband ate his lunch, she struck him 18 times with a hammer in a bloody attack.
Sally then stuffed a tea towel into his mouth, wrapped him in some old curtains and left a note reading “I love you, Sally” on his body.
She then drove to Beachy Head, a notorious suicide spot in East Sussex, but did not take her own life.
Sally was 15 when she met first met Richard, who was six years her senior, and she quickly became besotted with the sophisticated car salesman.
She had been deeply affected by witnessing the death of her father when she was six, and said that she was “terrified of being abandoned”.
Sally had an abortion at the age of 17 after Richard made it clear he did not want to raise the child.
“I didn’t think Richard would like it [the prospect of having a baby] so an abortion was the only option,” she told the Daily Mail.
To those who knew them they seemed like the perfect family, with a £1 million home in Claygate, Surrey, and all the trappings of suburban life.
But in reality, Richard was a controlling man and perpetually lied to her in a textbook case of “gaslighting” causing her to question her own sanity.
When they married in 1979, Sally had to buy her own wedding ring and after the birth of their two sons was prevented from having friends.
Richard repeatedly told her she was overweight.
One Christmas he used a photograph of himself sitting on a Ferrari with topless models as a card from them both.
As well as emotional abuse, there was also physical abuse – including rape.
She told the Daily Mail how Richard first used sexual violence to “teach her a lesson” during a trip to America in 1998, when their sons were 15 and 11.
They were saying goodnight to friends, when a drunk pal kissed Sally forcefully on the lips.
Sally said Richard was “furious”.
“Richard took me in the bedroom, bent me over the bed and raped me,” she said.
“He’d never been sexually violent towards me before. I didn’t know what was going to happen next. I felt degraded and unclean.”
Their marriage descended into a hideous cycle of control and humiliation culminating in 2009, when she discovered her Richard had been frequenting brothels.
Sally was left “utterly betrayed” by her husband’s use of prostitutes.
This prompted her to ask for a divorce and she moved into a new house.
By April 2010, she was unhappy living alone and was desperate to go back to her husband.
When she asked him to take her back, he responded with a series of conditions, including to “give up your constant interruptions when I am speaking”.
But soon after reconciling, Sally became suspicious and anxious that he was “messing her about”.
She felt unable to confront him, describing herself as a “meek little mouse”.
Eventually she snapped in August 2010 after her husband demanded bacon and egg for his breakfast and sent her out in the pouring rain to fetch him some.
When she got back to the house she grew suspicious that he’d sent her out so he could ring one of his many girlfriends and a swift check of phone records confirmed her fears.
Sally maintains she does not recall her actions, but this is when she picked up the hammer and whacked him over the head.
The mum-of-two was jailed for life at Guildford Crown Court in 2011 after being found guilty of murder.
But her conviction was quashed in February and prosecutors accepted her manslaughter plea in June after his controlling behaviour came under further scrutiny.
Coercive control, which describes a pattern of behaviour by an abuser to harm, punish or frighten their victim, became a criminal offence in 2015.
It had not previously been used as a defence to murder.
Sally learnt about coercive control in prison while listening to a storyline in The Archers, the BBC Radio 4 drama serial in which Helen Archer was accused of attempting to murder her controlling husband, Rob.
After walking free from jail in June, Sally said: “Richard was charming. He was a salesman and he could charm birds out of trees.
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“I was not a strong woman, I did not have the confidence I have now. I am just so happy I can live my life again.
“It has been a very long road. It has been very difficult moving on from the past but I am a much stronger person.”
She added that victims of coercive control often did not realise they were being abused and encouraged relatives and friends to help if they had concerns.