FOCUS STORY: Michelle Brown – Area Coroner/CHESS Trustee

Michelle Brown has been the Area Coroner since March 2021 and CHESS Trustee for the past 3 years. This is her story….

‘I was an only child; raised in the North within a family where my mother and I both suffered abuse at the hands of my father.  As a young girl being subjected to sexual abuse it meant I could never invite friends home and so I became very isolated.  Without the Support Services that are available now in these situations I always felt completely alone but also in some way responsible for my mum’s wellbeing. If I was at home it meant my dad would leave mum alone so I took it upon myself to always try and fix things for people – this mentality carried throughout my life, often to my own detriment.’

‘When I was 14 my parents divorced and within 2 days mum had moved in her new boyfriend who was 20 years younger than her and actually closer to my own age. As this new relationship grew I found myself on my own much of the time now and so decided to leave home.’

‘So at 16 years old I boarded a ferry to France with just £24.  I survived by getting odd bits of work but after 6/7 months had just £5 left in my pocket so knew I needed to move on. I made the choice by jumping on the first ferry available and this took me to Jersey. With no friends or family to stay with and no money my only option was to sleep in public toilets where I couldn’t be picked up by local services which would have meant being deported. I knew this was a lifestyle that couldn’t continue so I made the move to return to my mums who had now got married.’

‘Life began to look like it was settling down a bit when I found work in the jewellery trade at a shop in London and met a guy. When mum moved South I felt I also wanted some stability and so ended up getting married and buying a house in Essex. I was still only just 18 years old so as you would expect the marriage was short-lived lasting only 13 months.’

Michelle told us ‘I made a lot of wrong decisions being forced to grow up quickly but without the correct nurturing and I had never been allowed to be a child. The experience with my father and trying to look out for my mum had turned me into someone who needed to fix things for people and sort out their problems. At 21 I got married again to a guy 16 years my senior. Within 3½ years I had 3 young children and was in a controlling, violent marriage to a man who would not allow me out of the house, other than for education.’

‘So I signed up for Night School which allowed me the freedom I craved and I dived back into learning having left school with no qualifications. I achieved 9 GCSE’s, 7 A Levels, completed an Access Course and then went onto to get my Law degree by 1995. By this time my marriage had ended in divorce and I was suffering from an eating disorder weighing only 5 stone.’

‘There is no doubt this was a particularly difficult time. With 3 young children and no husband to support us I had to survive on benefits. I took night shifts at the mortuary, became a foster carer and had to find creative ways to provide food.’

‘It sounds funny now but at the time I was desperate. I used to look on public noticeboards for any weddings that were happening around town. I would dress up the children in their best clothes and if the wedding had a buffet we would go in and I would tell the kids to eat as much as they liked, whilst filling my bag up with food to take home. I would stay long enough that it looked like we were guests but not too long that people would get suspicious.’

‘My motivating factor was always my children. I could not give up and wanted them to have the best chance in life, chances that I hadn’t had. In 2002 I got a position at the CPS dealing with serious sex offences, rape and domestic abuse cases which my experiences have given me understanding for.  Then a role as Assistant Coroner which I loved, and more recently as Coroner.’

‘I came across CHESS and decided that I wanted to volunteer.  But in my line of work with the CPS there was a chance that I would cross paths with people I had encountered so decided to become a Trustee instead.  I have now worked with CHESS as a Trustee for around 3 years and love working with them and seeing the change that they are able to make in people’s lives.’

‘Yes life has certainly been tough – I could have been dead or in prison but I was able to push through and now have an amazing life that I am grateful every day for.’

Read More Stories

Read more from the 20 Years, 20 Stories campaign here ‎ and for all of the stories from HARP, Southend here