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Murder cases reopened in wake of Sally Challen appeal | Domestic violence

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A number of murder cases are being re-examined to investigate possible unsafe convictions where coercive and controlling behaviour may not have been available as a defence, the Observer can reveal.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission began the painstaking work of sifting through 3,000 cold cases in the wake of the landmark case of Sally Challen, who was jailed for life after killing her abusive husband in 2010 but later had her murder conviction quashed in the wake of new, coercive control laws introduced in England and Wales.

Fresh evidence that found she was suffering from two mental disorders at the time of the killing meant her case was returned to the court of appeal in 2019, and she walked free due to time already served after submitting a plea of manslaughter.

Now the CCRC is appealing to anyone who has had their case rejected by the court of appeal and believes they may have suffered a miscarriage of justice because coercive control – a sustained pattern of abuse intended to harm, punish or frighten – was not explored as a factor during their trial.

So far, the commission has identified at least five cases which are undergoing further investigation and could be returned for appeal.

“This is not a static number. Investigations are continuing, and hopefully it will go up as more cases are identified,” said Linda Lee, one of the CCRC commissioners. “We are looking at murder cases where coercive control may have had a serious impact on events but wasn’t raised because nobody recognised it or thought of it at the time.”

Coercive control was made a specific criminal offence in 2015 and can be used as a partial defence to murder where the victim’s controlling behaviour affected the defendant prior to the offence.

Challen’s son, the domestic abuse campaigner David Challen, said: “Our family is really welcoming of a review of any cases where someone has killed as a result of their experience of coercive control and that abuse was not recognised.

“My mother says that many other women who are victims of abuse are in prison serving life sentences for murder instead of manslaughter – she knows this because she has met them.

“If only a small handful of cases or even one case can be overturned as a result of this process, it will be worth it because the transformative impact on the life of that person and their family is huge.”

Lee explained: “We’re not just looking at the cases of cis women who were in heterosexual relationships. We are inviting anyone who believes coercive control played a role in their case – and there may be potential to examine fresh evidence – to make an application.” Lee, a former president of the Law Society, said she could not comment on individual cases but that one scenario, for example, may be that a mental health issue stemming from coercive control was not explored at trial but warranted the gathering of fresh expert evidence.

Harriet Wistrich, a lawyer with the Centre for Women’s Justice, which has done some work with the CCRC, said: “The problem with some of the cases that we’ve seen is that women do not disclose abuse or are too frightened or ashamed to discuss it for a variety of reasons, including that they may fear for their safety or that their children will be taken away.”

Kate Paradine, chief executive of the charity Women in Prison, said: “Nearly two-thirds of female prisoners are survivors of domestic abuse. We know that earlier intervention to provide safety and support could have prevented women being swept into the criminal justice system.

“Domestic abuse and coercive control wreak a devastating impact on survivors and our society, so we must ensure all parts of the justice system take this into account.”

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[Ticker] US to lift Covid travel-ban on EU tourists

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Fully vaccinated travellers from the EU and the UK will be let back into the US from “early November” onward, the White House said on Monday, ending an 18-month ban and prompting airline firms’ shares to climb. “This new international travel system follows the science to keep Americans … safe,” a US spokesman said. The EU recently recommended increased restrictions on US visitors, amid anger at lack of US reciprocity.

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Ten women and girls killed every day in Mexico, Amnesty report says | Global development

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At least 10 women and girls are murdered every day in Mexico, according to a new report that says victims’ families are often left to carry out their own homicide investigations.

The scathing report, released on Monday by Amnesty International, documents both the scale of the violence and the disturbing lack of interest on the part of Mexican authorities to prevent or solve the murders.

“Mexico is continuing to fail to fulfil its duty to investigate and, therefore, its duty to guarantee the rights to life and personal integrity of the victims as well as to prevent violence against women,” says the report, Justice on Trial.

“Feminicidal violence and the failings in investigation and prevention in northern Mexico are not anecdotal, but rather form part of a broader reality in the country,” the report adds.

Femicide has been rife in Mexico for decades – most notoriously in an epidemic of murders which claimed the life of some 400 women in the border city Ciudad Juárez during the 1990s. In recent years, a growing feminist movement has held massive street protests against the violence, but authorities have proved unwilling to take action to stop the killing.

“It’s always a question of political will,” said Maricruz Ocampo, a women’s activist in the state of Querétaro.

Ocampo has been part of teams lobbying state governors to issue an alert when femicides reach scandalously high levels – a move to raise awareness and mobilise resources. But officials often resist such moves, she said, as governors worry about their states’ images and investment.

“They refuse to recognise there is a problem,” she said.

The president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has also downplayed the problem. He branded the women protesting on 8 March, International Women’s Day, as “conservatives” and alleged a dark hand manipulating the demonstrations.

When asked last year about rising violence against women, he responded, “Tell all the women of Mexico that they are protected and represented, that we’re doing everything possible to guarantee peace and quiet and that I understand that our adversaries are looking for ways to confront us.”

Mexico recorded the murders of 3,723 women in 2020. Some 940 of those murders were investigated as femicides.

The Amnesty report focused on Mexico state, a vast collection of gritty suburbs surrounding Mexico City on three sides. It has become notorious for femicides over the past decade – and for the way the former president, Enrique Peña Nieto, a former Mexico state governor, ignored the problem.

The report found cases of families carrying out their own detective work, which were ignored by investigators. In many cases, authorities contaminated crime scenes or mishandled evidence. They often did not even pursue leads such as geolocation information from victims’ mobile phones.

In the case of Julia Sosa, whose children believe she was killed by her partner, two daughters found her body buried on the suspect’s property – but had to wait hours for police to arrive and process the crime scene. One of her daughters recalled the subsequent interview process, in which “the police officer was falling asleep”.

Sosa’s partner hanged himself, prompting police to close the case, even though family members said there were more leads to pursue.

In states rife with drug cartel violence, activists say cases of femicides go uninvestigated as impunity is commonplace.

“The authorities say it’s organised crime and that’s it,” said Yolotzin Jaimes, a women’s rights campaigner in the southern state of Guerrero. “Many of these aggressors find protection under the excuse of organised crime.”

The persistence of femicides is a stark contrast to recent gains by the women’s movement in Mexico. The country’s supreme court decriminalised abortion earlier this month. A new congress recently sworn in has gender parity and seven female governors will be installed by the end of year – up from just two before last June’s election’s

The decriminalisation of abortion “let off some steam” from the pressure driving the protests “because part of the demands was over the right to choose,” Ocampo said. “But when it comes to violence, we still see it everywhere.”

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US official urges EU to speed up enlargement

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Gabriel Escobar, the US’ newly-appointed acting deputy secretary of state for South Central Europe, has urged Europe to speed up Western Balkans enlargement. “To return 20 years later and see that there hasn’t been much progress on that front was a little disappointing,” he told the RFE/RL news agency Friday, referring to his last post in Europe in 2001. “We would like to see a more rapid integration,” he said.

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