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.
Her subjects include Sally Challen, who made headlines this summer when she was released after more than eight years in prison for the murder of her bullying, adulterous husband Richard.
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.
Now, Paula is using her art to put these women in the public eye and question if their convictions were just.
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."
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.
Her second painting is of Sally Challen, who famously was released this summer after her 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 – including Emma-Jayne Magson, who fatally stabbed her partner, in Leicester, in 2016.
Paula now 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 between 15-20 years for first-degree murder, whose partners were abusive.
“Justice for Women are fighting for the likes of Emma-Jayne Magson, and 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.”
Paula’s painting of Magson was the most difficult to create, she admitted: “The others are either from an earlier time, or in the case of Sally Challen, now happily resolved.
“But as I was painting Emma-Jayne’s portrait, which has her smiling but covered in blood after being smacked in the mouth, I became quite emotional, to know what she went through, and how her conviction for murder seems unsafe.”
Magson is currently awaiting her appeal date.
Paula’s work can be seen at the University of Northampton’s MA Fine Art exhibition, which opens with a preview evening, from 6pm to 9pm on September 17, in the Walgrave building, St George’s Avenue, NN2 6JD. The exhibition is then open daily, between 10am and 4pm, until September 24.