Abuse victim driven to kill her boyfriend slams justice system for ‘failing her’April 13, 2019
A battered woman who was driven to kill her boyfriend slams the justice system for failing victims like her and her jail pal Sally Challen.
Elizabeth Hart Browne, who stabbed Stephen Rayner after years of beatings, says courts need to do more to support women trapped in dangerous relationships.
She was acquitted of murder but after two years is still fighting to get her children back.
Elizabeth, 29, says it feels like being punished twice – and is heartbroken when her kids ask why she can’t be with them.
She was in high security HMP Bronzefield, Surrey, at the same time as abused wife Sally – freed 10 days ago pending a retrial for killing her abusive and controlling husband Richard.
Along with fellow inmates, Sally took Elizabeth under her wing while she was awaiting trial for murdering Rayner, father to one of her children.
The kids, aged five and nine, now live with a carer and Elizabeth is allowed just six hours of supervised contact a month.
She has attended parenting classes, had 18 weeks of intensive counselling, undergone psychotherapy, joined a domestic violence group and sat in on workshops by the Woman’s Trust.
Ex-jewellery shop worker Elizabeth is even studying for a degree in psychology and criminology to help put her past behind her.
She believes some women are blamed for becoming involved with abusers – and are losing their children as a result.
Elizabeth says: “No one comes from a perfect family home. And mine wasn’t perfect. Far from it.
“But I don’t think that because I have made that mistake I should have my children taken off me for the rest of my life.
“It seems like a further way to punish me because I didn’t get the punishment the court wanted me to get. I didn’t get life. This is my penance that I have to pay.”
Elizabeth was on remand at HMP Bronzefield after accidentally stabbing her boyfriend in the neck in self defence. She says she met many domestic abuse survivors – inclu- ding Sally, who ran the jail’s Women’s Institute branch.
Sally, 65, was found guilty of murdering her husband Richard, 61, in a hammer attack in 2010 and was jailed for life in 2011. She said she suffered decades of abuse and humiliation from her husband, who controlled her finances and who she socialised with – while he flaunted his money, had affairs and visited brothels.
The conviction was quashed in February after new laws were passed in 2015, making coercive control illegal.
Elizabeth says Sally – who is supported by her sons David, 31, and James, 35 – gave her invaluable support in jail.
She says: “Sally was lovely. I like knitting and she said ‘I know you’re a young girl but this will really help pass the time.’
“So I did that. In a lot of ways her case mirrors mine. All the women in there were really lovely, they were so supportive and nice.”
Elizabeth met Rayner in Belushi’s bar in Hammersmith, West London, in 2011. But a year later, his dark side emerged.
They had gone out to celebrate her sister’s 18th birthday and Rayner became angry after seeing the girls dancing together.
He turned over a table and was kicked out of Liquid nightclub in Uxbridge.
Outside, Elizabeth had to defend herself with her stiletto heels as he grabbed her by the throat until she passed out.
Rayner received an 18-month community order and was ordered to attend a domestic violence programme. Elizabeth took him back, but the assaults continued.
During a six-year relationship 25-year-old Rayner knocked her into a glass mirror, broke her jaw, bit her face and waterboarded her in the bath – pouring water over a cloth covering her face.
Despite everything, Elizabeth kept quiet. She had grown up in care and feared that telling police or other agencies would result in her own kids being taken away.
She explains: “I lived for the good moments, when I was happy, the kids were happy, and I tried to take away all of the bad stuff just for the good stuff.”
On the night of Rayner’s death – September 17, 2016 – Elizabeth had been at a family party.
Rayner exploded when she returned late to their home in Hanwell, West London.
During a struggle, he began punching her. She picked up the nearest object – a knife on the living room table – and hit him.
But Elizabeth didn’t realise she had stabbed him until he collapsed outside.
She was held for attempted murder and only learned Rayner’s fate later that night when the charge was upgraded to murder.
Having her children kept in care after her acquittal has shattered Elizabeth. She says social services need better training to help victims like her get their kids back.
And Elizabeth slams so-called “victim blaming” which can lead to children being taken off mums who complain of abuse.
She adds: “Men get away scot-free even though they’re the perpetrators, and the women have to jump through every hoop. It’s victim blaming.
“They’re saying it’s your fault for getting hit. They say they won’t give me my children back because I could get into another bad relationship – I’m getting blamed. I have always been a good mum. I haven’t made good choices and I feel awful that I have put them through hurt and pain. I know this would all be different if I’d just walked away from that relationship – and I will never tolerate any of that again.”
The account resonates with Sally Challen’s solicitor Harriet Wistrich, co-founder of Justice for Women and director of the Centre for Women’s Justice. She said: “On the one hand there is a failure to adequately protect victims of abuse and prosecute perpetrators, and on the other an over-zealous determination to prosecute for murder those driven to kill in consequence of the abuse they have been subjected to.”
Adina Claire, acting chief executive at Women’s Aid, added: “We campaigned for coercive control to be recognised in law. It is at the heart of domestic abuse, yet abuse that is not physical is still not taken seriously enough.”
And American professor Evan Stark, who coined the phrase “coercive control”, said women were too often left powerless.
He said: “For every woman who strikes out against her entrapment like Sally Challen, hundreds are driven to suicide, homelessness or insanity, and thousands more survive without effective recourse.
“Sally Challen’s release should be a signal that the law, and the government behind it, is ready to provide the justice these women deserve.”
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