An artist from the University of Northampton is highlighting the plight of women put behind bars for killing their abusive partners.
Paula Le Baigue has produced a series of oil paintings depicting women jailed for murdering their partners – who, under a recent law change, could have had their sentences downgraded or convictions quashed.
In 2015, the UK government introduced a coercive or controlling behaviour offence which means victims who experience the type of behaviour that stops short of serious physical violence, but amounts to extreme psychological and emotional abuse, can bring their perpetrators to justice.
Paula’s first painting is of Ruth Ellis, who was the last woman to be hanged in the UK in 1965, after being convicted of the murder of her abusive lover, David Blakely.
Another subject is Sally Challen, who was released this summer after more than eight years in prison for the murder of her husband Richard.
Challen’s legal team successfully argued she was the victim of years of sustained psychological and emotional abuse and a psychiatric report found she was suffering from mental illness at the time of the attack.
Her murder conviction was reduced to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility and, because of the time she had already served in prison, she was released immediately.
The decision has set a precedent for domestic violence cases and could pave the way for other abused women to challenge their murder convictions.
Paula said: “I have known people who have been victims of coercive control and there’s a lot of abusive relationships out there. The fact now coercive control is actually a criminal offence, it may give these people some support and hope to escape these relationships.
“If an abused woman kills, very often it should be seen as an offence of manslaughter and not an offence of murder.”
She hopes her paintings will help to support women who are on a list, compiled by the Justice for Women pressure group, of those serving sentences of 15-20 years for first degree murder, whose partners were allegedly abusive.
“I hope my work will highlight this fight for justice,” said Paula.
“I like my work to have a purpose, I’m not content for my paintings to just sit prettily, hanging on a wall – I want them to help people.”
You can view Paula’s work at the University of Northampton’s MA Fine Art exhibition, which opens with a preview evening, from 6pm to 9pm on Tuesday 17 September, in the Walgrave building, St George’s Avenue, NN2 6JD. The exhibition is then open daily, between 10am and 4pm, until Tuesday 24 September.
Paula with her portraits of Ruth Ellis, left, and Sally Challen.