Law Report: Girl was wrongly intimidated: Godwin v Uzoigwe and another - Court of Appeal (Lord Justice Dillon, Lord Justice Stuart-Smith and Lord Justice Steyn), 16 June 1992

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The tort of intimidation was made out where a person was shown to have used intentional unlawful coercion against a victim to whom, by reason of the circumstances in which the events happened, that person was in loco parentis.

The Court of Appeal dismissed with costs an appeal by the defendants, Dr Augustine Uzoigwe and his wife Felicia Uzoigwe, from the decision of Judge Fricker, sitting in Sheffield County Court on 9 July 1991, that they were liable to the plaintiff, Roseline Godwin, for breach of contract, assault and intimidation. However, the award of pounds 25,000 damages was too high and should be reduced to pounds 20,000.

The defendants in person; John Hendy QC, and James A D Wood (John Howell & Co, Sheffield) for the plaintiff.

LORD JUSTICE DILLON said that the defendants, both Nigerian, were educated and highly articulate. Dr Uzoigwe was a registrar anaesthetist at Pontefract General Hospital and his wife had a post-graduate diploma in education. They had five children.

As a result of an agreement with her father, the plaintiff, then 16, returned with the defendants from Nigeria to England in 1986. Dr Uzoigwe described the object of bringing her to England as charitable, telling her father it would give her an opportunity of travelling and seeing the sights and getting some education in domestic science.

In fact, she said, she remained in the defendants' house for two and a half years, being treated as a household drudge and virtually a slave. She was made to work ridiculously long hours on household chores, kept short of food, not allowed a bed to sleep on, beaten if she did anything that displeased the defendants and, although not actually locked in, forbidden to go out or to meet other people.

The defendants deliberately used their dominant position over her effectively to control her.

The tort of intimidation, defined as 'intentional unlawful coercion', was amply made out by the facts found by the judge.

The defendants being in loco parentis unlawfully abused parental control and exerted their authority over the plaintiff for two years of her life when should have been happy, preventing her having any contact with people outside their home and in particular any social intercourse with her peers.