Page last updated at 15:38 GMT, Monday, 1 December 2008

'Ugly' barrister wins libel case

Carmen Briscoe-Mitchell/Constance Briscoe
Carmen Briscoe-Mitchell, left, and her estranged daughter Constance Briscoe

A barrister's detailed account of repeated childhood abuse at the hands of her mother was not libellous, a court in London has ruled.

Constance Briscoe, 51, wrote in her 2006 memoir Ugly that she was punched, kicked and beaten by her mother.

Carmen Briscoe-Mitchell, 74, from Southwark, south-east London, sued Ms Briscoe and her publishers, saying the allegations were "nonsense".

Ms Briscoe burst into tears when the unanimous verdict was read out.

She said: "I am very happy with the jury's verdict.

Sadly, as we know from the news over the past few weeks, child abuse is all too common and nothing and no one should ever stand in the way of the truth
Publishers Hodder & Stoughton

"It is sad that my mother still feels the need to pursue me.

"Now I just want to get on with my career," she said after the verdict at London's High Court.

Ms Briscoe took a moment to thank her readers, who she said had sent her messages of support throughout the trial.

"I can quite understand why my family went into collective denial but whilst child abuse may be committed behind closed doors it should never be swept under the carpet."

Mrs Briscoe-Mitchell, who also sued publisher Hodder & Stoughton, told the court during the trial that her daughter's book amounted to "lies" and that they had enjoyed a loving relationship.

She left court without commenting on the verdict.

In a statement, the publishers said they were proud of Ms Briscoe and added that recent stories of horrific child abuse have served as a reminder of the need for openness.

'Substantially true'

"Sadly, as we know from the news over the past few weeks, child abuse is all too common and nothing and no one should ever stand in the way of the truth."

Ms Briscoe vigorously defended the memoir as "substantially true".

Mrs Briscoe-Mitchell, a mother of 11, maintained throughout the two-week hearing that she worked hard to raise her family, often without their father, working as a dressmaker.

Her counsel told the jury Ms Briscoe's siblings would support their mother's assertion that she provided for her children as best she could and treated them equally.

But Ms Briscoe's counsel, Andrew Caldecott, cross-examined Mrs Briscoe-Mitchell on her position that she did not abuse any of her children.

Mr Caldecott presented the court documents from Southwark borough's social services department outlining allegations made in connection with her then 14-year-old son, Carlton.

A social services letter stated that she had locked him in a room and threatened to strip him naked and beat him.

Mrs Briscoe-Mitchell denied the allegations.

Ms Briscoe, one of Britain's first black female judges, published Ugly in 2006, followed by a second volume, Beyond Ugly.



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