Court Finds For Former MP in Counterclaim Against “VIP Sex Abuse” Accuser

From the Daily Mail:

A former Liberal Democrat MP is to receive libel damages from an alleged fantasist who made unsubstantiated rape claims against him.

John Hemming, 58, has scored a major High Court victory against Esther Baker, 36, who has tormented him for four years with unproven claims of child sex abuse.

Baker, it may be recalled, first appeared in the media in 2015, alleging that she had been subjected to sex abuse as a child at the hands of a group associated with a church. She claimed that some of this abuse had occurred in woodland, and that police officers would stand guard, on one occasion addressing an abuser as “Lord”. The Mail notes that at the time she “won the crucial backing of Labour deputy leader Tom Watson”, although he wasn’t the only MP: her name was raised in Parliament by John Mann, and she has received supportive comments online from Jess Phillips and Sarah Champion.

Media reports did not mention John Hemming by name until he himself went public in 2017 as having been accused – however, his identity by this point had been bandied around online and so effectively had been published already. In particular, he was named as an abuser at a rally opposite Downing Street in mid-2015 by one of the speakers, a high-profile conspiracy theorist named Bill Maloney, and from the context it is obvious his view was based on Baker’s allegation. A video of Maloney’s speech was uploaded to YouTube.

The judgment, by Mrs Justice Steyn, can been seen here. The issue is slightly complex in that Baker is actually the claimant and Hemming is the defendant; the “libel damages” referenced in the Daily Mail article refer to a counterclaim by Hemming concerning a Tweet made by Baker. The detail comes at the end of the judgment:

Judgment for the Defendant on the counterclaim, insofar as the counterclaim is based on the natural and ordinary meaning pleaded by the Defendant at paragraph 107 of the Amended Defence and Counterclaim, with damages to be assessed.

Baker denied “that the Tweet caused or was likely to cause serious harm to the Defendant’s reputation”, but “although the Claimant has denied the words of her Tweet bear the meanings pleaded by the Defendant, she has not pleaded what meaning(s) she contends the words complained of bear.” Further, “No defence of truth is pleaded”.

Baker’s own claim is that Hemming libelled her in relation to three statements in which he referred to her as a false accuser. However:

As I have already said in relation to the counterclaim, it was made clear to the Claimant that if she contends that the allegations of rape she made against the Defendant are true, she was required to provide details of what she alleges occurred, when, where and if she alleges the Defendant was part of a group who abused her, to plead that allegation, identifying those who she alleges were part of the same group. Having failed to do so in her claim, in breach of PD53 para 2.8 – and having chosen not to do so in her defence to the counterclaim – I consider that the Claimant should be precluded from denying that her allegations were false…

This does not mean, though, that the matter is quite at an end – Baker still has the opportunity to submit a “Re-Amended Reply to Defence… admitting or denying the truth of each allegation contained in the meanings of the first, second and third publications which the Defendant has pleaded are true”, and as regards the counterclaim an alleged “innuendo meaning” has not yet been disposed of (see footnote).

On Twitter, Baker complains that the Mail failed to use a statement that she provided to the paper. In this statement, she interprets the judge’s ruling as an acknowledgement “that my claim against Mr Hemming is strong enough to proceed to trial”, and she contrasts her situation as an “unrepresented” woman “on disability benefit and who has been made bankrupt” against “a legally represented millionaire”. She also believes that the case raises issues about whether “an accused suspect naming himself as the accused, then restricts a complainant from discussing her alleged abuse”, presumably because her Tweet did not name Hemming. The judge addresses this particular point:

The fact that the extrinsic knowledge which some readers of the Tweet would have had, enabling them to understand that her Tweet was referring to the Defendant, had previously originated from him is irrelevant. The Claimant acknowledged that such a grave allegation was bound to cause serious reputational harm. It does not assist her case to say that she did not name him expressly given that, as she has accepted, her Tweet would have been understood by a proportion of her followers as referring him.

UPDATE (24 November): It has now been reported that Hemming has won a lifetime injunction against Baker which prohibits her from repeating her rape allegations against him, and which clarifies that “the effect of my judgment is that the allegation has been found to be untrue and defamatory”.

Of course, it is impossible to positively disprove a negative, but this this the only reasonable way to interpret Baker’s failure to provide details. Baker’s public account has always been vague and insubstantial, and she has long implied on Twitter that there was some temporary legal obstacle that was preventing her from describing her story in any detail. It is difficult reconcile this with her failure to take the opportunity to put such details before the court at the judge’s invitation.

Footnote: Ritual Abuse and Dolphin Square

In relation to the “innuendo” meaning alleged in the counterclaim, the judgment also contains references to ritual abuse and Dolphin Square, the London apartment block that has long been at the centre of VIP abuse allegations and conspiracy theories:

I have not struck out or given summary judgment in respect of the Claimant’s (amended) defence to the innuendo meaning. The Claimant has denied that she has made claims of “ritual abuse” and she has denied that she has made allegations regarding “Dolphin Square abuse”, which form part of the extrinsic facts on which the Defendant has based the innuendo meaning he has pleaded. She has also put in issue whether the extrinsic facts pleaded support the Defendant’s pleaded innuendo meaning. Those are all matters to be tried.

It is true that Baker has not stressed her alleged abuse has having been “ritualistic”, but her disavowal of the term is surprising given a summary of her claims at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) (emphasis added):

Ms Baker alleges that she was sexually assaulted by her father and by persons of public prominence associated with Westminster and that there were institutional failings in connection with that alleged abuse by police and law enforcement services. She says that her father introduced her to a paedophile ring which included persons of public prominence associated with Westminster. She also says that she was abused from the age of 8 to around age 12 and that the abuse was organised and sometimes ritualistic, that it was filmed, and that the police acted in a security role.

Her story is certainly evocative of the tropes of ritualistic abuse in the popular imagination, and it has been understood in that way by some of her supporters; in particular, Bill Maloney stated that “she was being abused, Esther, in the forest. The forest is a very dangerous place to be taken to be abused, because you’re either going to wind up in the ground, but you know it’s going to be ritualistic.”

The Dolphin Square claim derives from an article that was published by Exaro News and since withdrawn and excluded from the internet archive. Baker claimed that she had been taken by night to London, and that although she had not known the location she recognised details about a secret “medical room” at Dolphin Square provided by a man named “Darren”, who has since withdrawn his claims. Darren in turn claimed to have recognised Baker, and the two accounts were brought together by Exaro‘s David Hencke, although for some reason he excluded her recognition of the “medical room”:

And to add to the complications a third survivor, a man already talking to the Met Police, about allegations in Dolphin Square, London has identified from a picture of Esther as a child, her being there. She remembers being taken to London but had no idea where she had been taken.

That past tense “had” implies that she now does know, although perhaps she could say that she wasn’t certain. However, to my knowledge she has never clarified the point on social media. Hencke settled a libel action brought by Hemming in January, although he denied that the basis for the complaint reflected his intended meaning.

16 Responses

  1. She also tweeted material referencing Dsq (Dolphin Square) and had allowed Graham Wilmer to broadcast Hemming’s name in April 2015 shortly after Baker was allegedly video interviewed by the police.

    Wilmer was allegedly “supporting” Baker at such interviews, presumably as “appropriate adult” when in fact his presence was entirely inappropriate.

    Details of Wilmer’s tweets are on an update on latest blog article on trollexposure.

  2. Any comment from her supporters in the House of Commons?

  3. Tom Watson quitting Parliament on the same day seems like coincidence. But I wonder.

    • Has he left the door open for George Galloway?

      • ^ I don’t know, it would be a rather odd result if so. The Posh Plumber is supportive of Galloway.

        I personally do not believe that Galloway is fit for office.

  4. RTE, I see you have also blogged about this.

    The timing just seems odd. Those of us who have been following the CSA investigations into real and false claims should be conscious of the bigger political picture. Watson was out of favour with the Corbynite wing of the party from day one, for reasons that have nothing got to do with his backing of Exaro CSA complainants, and indeed faced down a move against him at the Labour party conference. As I understand it, they were trying to abolish the office of Deputy Leader entirely as a way of getting at Watson. Quite a few other centrist and Blairite MP’s have announced that they do not feel comfortable in the current Labour party and have defected to other parties or left politics entirely.

    But it is strange that he would time his announcement on the same day as the Baker/Hemmings court case judgement and that he would chose to leave the House of Commons entirely, as he was in the a safe Labour West Bromwich seat (see link below):

  5. Not quite the same day tdf but as near as damn it yes.
    Maybe the Hemming ruling was the last straw, don’t know tbh.

    Hemming ruling was on 5th, Watson resignation 6th.
    There are persisting rumours that Watson has been interviewed twice under caution fairly recently by the police, if those rumours are true then it could be the underlying reason for his departure – or of course nothing at all to do with it.

    Time will tell. I agree however that the timing is interesting and perhaps is suggestive of a connection to the Exaro shambles. The internals of the Labour Party don’t seem, on the surface of the wording in Watson’s resignation letter, have had anything to do with his decision. So yes, it’s odd timing.

  6. I have seen a few Twitter accounts claim that Watson was basically Jess Phillips’ political mentor. Is that correct does anyone know?

  7. Newsnight interview with Andrew Windsor finishes with the idea that collaboration is better than competition. I salute him.

  8. The James Delingpole Podcast with Iain Dale deals with the Proctor case, from approx 33 minutes in:

  9. Tom Watson. Says he quit due to internal attacks and ‘Labour brutality’. No mention of Exaro in this piece. Full interview online from 7am tomorrow.

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