Two Supporters of “VIP Abuse” Accuser Esther Baker Settle Libel Claim Brought by Former MP John Hemming

From the Daily Telegraph:

A former MP, who was falsely accused of being part of a VIP paedophile ring, has won a rare libel action over comments made about him on social media.

John Hemming, who was the Liberal Democrat MP for Birmingham Yardley between 2005 and 2014, had been accused of being part of a group that had abused children in Staffordshire in the 1980s and 1990s.

His accuser, Esther Baker, waived her anonymity in 2015, to make the claims, but the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), later concluded there was insufficient evidence to charge him.

Now Mr Hemming has won damages and apologies from two of Miss Baker’s supporters, who posted comments online that implied the former politician was guilty.

Graham Wilmer, founder of the Lantern Project a charity, which helps abuse survivors, and journalist David Hencke, who worked for the now defunct website, Exaro, agreed to pay more than £10,000 after accepting their comments were defamatory.

The Telegraph also quotes Hemming as alluding to the case of Declan Canning, a man who was convicted last year of sending him threatening messages – Canning had a grudge against Hemming relating to his activism around family courts, but his messages referred to him as a “dirty paedophile” who had “raped Esther”.

The libel case was settled out of court, and some details of Hencke’s settlement were reported on social media last month: Hencke himself posted a statement about it on 19 December, in which he stated that

Mr Hemming alleges that the article is defamatory of him and suggests that certain passages of that article imply that he is guilty of raping Esther Baker. That is not what I intended the article to mean.

Baker’s allegation against Hemming dates back to 2015, when she made a number of media appearances, although his name was not published. She claimed to have experienced sex abuse as a child in a woodland location at the hands of a group of adults associated with a church, and also including others such as “a Lord” and a “senior politician”. She further alleged that police had guarded the spot and prevented her from escaping; the term “Satanic Ritual Abuse” was not used, but it was obviously implied by the ritualistic setting and role inversions. At the time, with the Metropolitan Police’s Operation Midland in full swing, the media was eagerly reporting any story that pertained to allegations of “VIP abuse”, although a police investigation has since failed to substantiate her claims and more recent headlines refer to her in quote-marks as a alleged “fantasist”. (1)

After Baker first made her claims, Tom Watson MP called for a “comprehensive investigation”, and Baker was also supported by three other Members of Parliament: John Mann (who raised her name in the House of Commons chamber), Sarah Champion and Jess Phillips, who defeated Hemming in the 2015 general election. (2) Hemming’s name remained out of the media, but it was passed around among self-styled activists and featured in in an open-air speech made by Bill Maloney at a protest event opposite Downing Street in June 2015. Hemming went public himself after the police investigation ended in 2017.

Baker says that she remembered Hemming as being one of her childhood abusers after seeing his photograph online. This was around the time when there was some disagreement over proposals for the running of the IICSA, about which Hemming had expressed a view that differed from Wilmer. Wilmer runs a counselling project in Liverpool called the Lantern Project, which has been criticised for its therapeutic approach (NHS funding was withdrawn in late 2015). Baker received assistance from the Lantern Project, although a suggestion in the Sunday Times that her alleged memories had arisen out of counselling there was incorrect. (3)

Wilmer used to have presence on Twitter, where he would repeatedly Tweet the phrase “tick tock” as an apparent indication that critics would soon be the subject of discrediting developments, perhaps including police intervention. I found these aggressive and gleeful posts to be curiously at odds with his professional persona, which had previously been built up in the media over several years.

Somewhat cryptically, the Telegraph story simultaneously quotes Wilmer as apologising for having “caused Mr Hemming and his family upset and distress” but his lawyer as saying that he had “lodged a full defence”.

UPDATE: Baker says that she has submitted formal complaints about the Telegraph and a derivative re-write in the Mail. In particular, she complains that it has been inaccurately reported that Hencke and Wilmer have agreed not to refer to her again as a “victim” or “survivor”, when the restriction refers only to claims that infer Hemming’s guilt. Hencke has also stated that the Telegraph report is inaccurate, and that his settlement included “got no damages, no costs, no apology,no liability over any tweet. I happily agreed to give £500 to Victim Support for domestic abuse.”

UPDATE 2 (October): Baker has now been declared bankrupt, following a petition brought by Hemming. Baker has not gone into details about this, although she has made a characteristically cryptic Tweet about how “I had a choice. The truth or money. I chose the truth. Simple. The people asking me to make false allegations in a court of law attempted to blackmail me with this money and legal action. They were awarded some money in the interim – I stand by truth and morals.” The matter has not received any media attention, and it has also been ignored on social media by Mark Watts, the former Exaro reporter who has previously chronicled her interactions with the police and legal system in some detail.


1. Baker also alleges that she remembers Hemming from a domestic setting. She has also claimed to have been taken by night to Dolphin Square in London, although this part of her story hasn’t been emphasised for some time, and to have been abused again later as a teenager. However, her teenage allegations appear to be concerned with an unrelated local context (e.g. a former employer) rather than conspiracies involving VIPs.

Baker has further suggested that abuse occurred in foreign orphanages, and in December she said that she has evidence concerning links between “Bristol/Philippines & PIE” (the Paedophile Information Exchange) that she wanted to present to the IICSA, but that she is being prevented from doing so by “Westminster inference”. She heavily implied that her information is pertinent to the case of Douglas Slade, a PIE member from Bristol who committed abuse in the Philippines after moving there in 1980.

2. Phillips addressed disparaging comments about Hemming to Baker and others on Twitter in the wake of the election, stating “I blocked Hemming last night after creepy ‘I’m watching you’ style tweets” – in particular that Hemming “asked me ‘if I was having a nice drink in prince of wales’ which was were I was”. For her part, Champion (who frequently speaks on the subject of grooming gangs) has sympathised with Baker’s complaint about recent sceptical media coverage, Tweeting that “One day they’ll believe the victim – but it feels a very long way off!”

3. Also in 2015, an advocacy group called Reflections UK was founded by Baker, Phil Lafferty and Jenny Tomlin, with Wilmer serving as “Police Liaison Advisor”. The launch was attended by Jess Phillips and Nicky Morgan MPs. The group appears to no longer exist, although an archived version of its website from 2016 can be seen here. At that time, Baker’s co-chairs were Jennie Grace (var. Jenny Grace) and one Jacky Hughes. The bioblurb confirms that Jennie Grace is the same person as Esther Grace, author of a 2009 memoir titled Nowhere to Belong, published by Hodder under the pen-name Harmony Brookes: her account of being repeatedly raped by soldiers on a UK military base as a child was summarised in early 2015 by the Sunday Express‘s James Fielding after she waived her anonymity. Fielding, whose journalism has also promoted Bill Maloney and self-styled “police whistleblower” Jon Wedger, included the detail that police were investigating her claims, but no prosecutions appear to have followed.