Ac­cused AND HIS Ac­cuser

It’s a sick phe­nom­e­non of our age – a pub­lic fig­ure ac­cused of his­toric sex abuse only to be cleared af­ter his life’s been ru­ined. For two years this ex-MP has been in­ves­ti­gated for al­legedly rap­ing a six-year-old girl. As po­lice say no ac­tion is be­ing ta

Daily Mail - - Shakespeare - by Jenny John­ston

WHAT would you do if you found your­self ac­cused of the worst sort of crime, the rape of a child? for­mer MP John Hem­ming has been there, and is rather can­did about the way he re­acted.

‘How do you cope? You get very drunk,’ he says mat­ter-of-factly. ‘I’d never been ex­actly tee­to­tal, but when all this blew up, I hit the bot­tle harder than I per­haps should have. How do you make sure you get to sleep, rather than lie there hav­ing it all go round in your head? If you’re drunk, it makes it eas­ier.’

It is two years since 57-year-old Mr Hem­ming — al­ways one of our more flam­boy­ant politi­cians, mostly be­cause of his colour­ful pri­vate life — was ac­cused of be­ing the mem­ber of a pae­dophile ring. The allegations are still mind-blow­ing (‘ fan­tas­ti­cal’, he says point­edly).

A woman called Es­ther Baker, whom he claims never to have met, ac­cused the one- time MP for Birm­ing­ham Yard­ley of be­ing in­volved in the sys­tem­atic abuse of chil­dren as young as six.

In graphic ac­counts, she claimed she was mo­lested dur­ing the Eight­ies and Nineties in woods in Stafford­shire, be­gin­ning when she was six and con­tin­u­ing un­til she was 11.

She claimed that serv­ing po­lice of­fi­cers would stand guard dur­ing the at­tacks, and some­times join in.

Today Es­ther, now 34, is still adamant that Mr Hem­ming was one of her at­tack­ers, telling me that she ‘has no doubt’ and that his face is clearly etched in her mem­ory.

She did not name Mr Hem­ming pub­licly when she made her allegations and — since he had not been charged — his name was never in the pub­lic do­main.

But Es­ther waived her right to anonymity and in go­ing pub­lic with her story, Mr Hem­ming says she pro­vided enough de­tail for him to be eas­ily iden­ti­fi­able.

Re­ports de­scribed her al­leged at­tacker as a Lib Dem MP and a pi­ano player. It was com­mon knowl­edge in West­min­ster that Mr Hem­ming was a keen jazz pi­anist.

‘Ev­ery­one knew it was me,’ he says. ‘It didn’t take much to work it out. I had re­porters on my doorstep. I had to tell my chil­dren — all but the youngest who was just three, too lit­tle to know any­thing. But I had to have that con­ver­sa­tion with my sec­ond youngest, who was only nine.’

STAFFORD­SHIRE Po­lice be­gan in­ves­ti­gat­ing Es­ther’s claims and in May 2015, she gave 33 hours of de­tailed tes­ti­mony.

This week, how­ever, they in­formed Mr Hem­ming that he would not be charged.

And yes­ter­day, po­lice ruled out launch­ing a probe into Es­ther Baker, say­ing: ‘It would not ben­e­fit her or the wider com­mu­nity.’

Mr Hem­ming had wanted her to be in­ves­ti­gated for per­vert­ing the course of jus­tice.

Now, you might imag­ine Mr Hem­ming would want to shut the door on this chap­ter of his life as quickly as pos­si­ble. But he has taken a very dif­fer­ent ap­proach.

This week he chose to go pub­lic about his or­deal, iden­ti­fy­ing him­self as the MP at the cen­tre of the scan­dal.

Why? ‘Be­cause I have no in­ten­tion of let­ting this go,’ he says. ‘And to fight back it makes it eas­ier if I iden­tify my­self. What has hap­pened here has been mon­strous. I had the ev­i­dence right at the start that none of this could have hap­pened, and I went to the po­lice with it be­fore they even asked to speak to me. That it has taken two years to pub­licly de­clare the ob­vi­ous is un­ac­cept­able.’

He be­lieves he has been the vic­tim of an ‘out­ra­geous’ situation in the wake of near hys­te­ria about his­tor­i­cal child abuse, fol­low­ing the Jimmy Sav­ile con­tro­versy. ‘What I fear has hap­pened is that the pen­du­lum swung too far one way — but now has swung too far the other,’ he says. ‘It makes you ask: “Is our sys­tem too sup­port­ive of peo­ple who make false ac­cu­sa­tions?” ’

He talks about his life ‘hang­ing in limbo’ for two years. He’s clearly not the hys­ter­i­cal type (he stud­ied the­o­ret­i­cal, atomic and nu­clear physics at ox­ford, and has the at­ten­tion to de­tail of the sci­en­tist), but he is livid at what he and his fam­ily have been through.

‘Your life is on hold for two years. As much as your head tells you it’s all ut­ter non­sense — bonkers! — you know that peo­ple are wrongly con­victed. You also know that these crimes get peo­ple at­tacked. And we did face at­tacks.’

He can’t go into de­tail about these, be­cause they may re­sult in crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tions, but suf­fice to say his fam­ily re­ceived ter­ri­fy­ing and un­wanted at­ten­tion and moved house dur­ing the or­deal.

He de­scribes how ev­ery as­pect of his life was af­fected. His part­ner, Emily, 38 — the mother of his two youngest chil­dren — was un­der­stand­ably dis­traught.

His chil­dren (he has three older chil­dren — now aged 17, 24 and 27 — from his first mar­riage) were ‘so shocked’.

His busi­ness am­bi­tions suf­fered. He owns a tech­nol­ogy firm which turns over £24 mil­lion a year and em­ploys 250 peo­ple, but had also planned to use time away from pol­i­tics to work on a new start-up.

‘This was knocked back be­cause of the false allegations and the need to re­main in Birm­ing­ham for se­cu­rity rea­sons.’

He means fears that his fam­ily would be at­tacked by ‘pitch­fork-wa­vers’. ‘There were so many se­cu­rity con­cerns. We’ve al­ways had CCTV, but now we have the best sys­tem go­ing, sim­ply be­cause I needed to pro­tect us.’

Even his pi­ano play­ing was af­fected. ‘I was pre­vented from get­ting more gigs for my jazz band be­cause of con­cern about be­ing at­tacked while I was per­form­ing,’ he says.

Then there were the wor­ries about his ca­reer. When the story first broke, he was fight­ing for re­elec­tion to Par­lia­ment, and says he faced the ‘ em­bar­rass­ment’ of hav­ing to come clean with con­stituency of­fi­cials.

‘No one be­lieved the allegations. But be­ing ac­cused of this sort of crime is the worst thing. I would have pre­ferred to have been ac­cused of be­ing a bank rob­ber.’

Did he worry about go­ing to pri­son? ‘Not when I was think­ing log­i­cally, but you know that mis­takes are made.

‘As an MP, I’ve been in­volved in sev­eral crim­i­nal ap­peals — two of the cases were about sex crimes, too — so I know it hap­pens.’

His health suf­fered. As well as drink­ing (‘wine and beer’), his blood pres­sure went up.

He says he could not bring him­self to tell his mother, who is 89, about the allegations.

‘I only told her this week, when it was all over,’ he says. ‘I couldn’t worry her like that.’

At times, he seems slightly baf­fled that he wasn’t able to shrug off the ac­cu­sa­tions. ‘My head was telling me that I should not give it a sec­ond thought. I could prove that it was non­sense,’ he says.

‘But it did still af­fect me. You have to have thick skin to be an MP, and I thought I had the hide of a rhino, but it got to me.’

Lit­tle won­der he is hit­ting out now — at the po­lice, for the length of time the in­ves­ti­ga­tion took — at Es­ther Baker and her sup­port­ers, and at his po­lit­i­cal ri­vals for what he sees as their in­ap­pro­pri­ate in­volve­ment.

Par­tic­u­lar ire is di­rected at Labour MP Jess Phillips, who won the par­lia­men­tary seat he lost.

Ms Phillips had tweeted her sup­port for Baker, call­ing her ‘brave’ for speak­ing out, and urg­ing oth­ers to come for­ward.

Mr Hem­ming has pre­vi­ously ac­cused his suc­ces­sor of pub­licly cam­paign­ing on the allegations made by Baker — some­thing the MP has de­nied. So what of his feel­ings now for Baker? ‘I have no sym­pa­thy for her,’ he says. ‘This case in­volves a com­plainant who had a track record of chang­ing her allegations. These were false allegations.’

With no charges forth­com­ing, Es­ther Baker is ei­ther a fan­ta­sist or a woman who has suf­fered a ter­ri­ble or­deal but made a mis­take over her at­tacker’s identity.

Yet she hasn’t been keen to slink

into the shad­ows this week ei­ther. ‘I will not be called a liar,’ she said on Twit­ter. ‘I’m an­gry. I’m dev­as­tated. I feel let down and hu­mil­i­ated. That I laid ev­ery­thing bare for noth­ing. But I’ll carry on.’ Es­ther Baker, now work­ing as a cashier in Liver­pool, agrees to talk to me, and in­sists that she has not changed her story.

She hits out at one of Mr Hem­ming’s claims that she had made sep­a­rate allegations of abuse in a re­li­gious set­ting. ‘That was part of the same cy­cle,’ she says. ‘It pre­dated what hap­pened in the woods, but it was part of the same thing. It was true.’ Pre­sum­ably one of the prob­lems the po­lice en­coun­tered — as in all cases of his­toric child abuse — was the lack of pre­cise dates and ver­i­fi­able de­tail.

‘Yes,’ says Es­ther. ‘But it hap­pened. When I was go­ing through it with the po­lice I could put a timescale on it through things such as what glasses I re­mem­ber I was wear­ing at the time, but in terms of ac­tual dates, no, there weren’t any in re­la­tion to [Mr Hem­ming], al­though there were spe­cific dates with oth­ers.’

Es­ther says she was floored to see a pho­to­graph of Mr Hem­ming on­line and recog­nise him as her at­tacker. How was she so sure that this was the right man?

‘I liken it to your par­ents split­ting up when you are young. You might only see your dad oc­ca­sion­ally, but you will still recog­nise him years later, won’t you?’ she ex­plains. ‘Well, I saw him [her at­tacker] as of­ten as I saw my dad. I have no doubt.’

She de­scribes sit­ting on her abuser’s knee while she played the pi­ano. It is, on the sur­face at least, a con­vinc­ing ac­count.

She is ar­tic­u­late and while clearly dam­aged (she has claimed she can­not have chil­dren as a re­sult of the abuse that was in­flicted), there are no out­ward in­di­ca­tions that she is liv­ing in a fan­tasy world.

Mr Hem­ming says he first knew some­thing was afoot one Satur­day dur­ing the Gen­eral Elec­tion cam­paign of 2015.

‘I had a phonecall from a re­porter say­ing that allegations were be­ing made about me and sex­ual abuse. I had no idea what he was talk­ing about,’ he re­calls.

LATER that day, he re­ceived another call from an ac­quain­tance, who seemed to know that Es­ther was get­ting in touch with po­lice.

‘At this point I hadn’t been con­tacted by the po­lice, but I called them my­self,’ Mr Hem­ming says.

‘I ac­tu­ally told them I thought there was go­ing to be an at­tempt to per­vert the course of jus­tice.

‘I had a few con­ver­sa­tions with them dur­ing that week. When I hadn’t heard any­thing from them for a few weeks, I thought it had gone away.’

Alas no. Later in May, af­ter the Gen­eral Elec­tion when Mr Hem­ming lost his seat to Labour, Es­ther — who in­sists she had al­ready gone to po­lice by this point — gave an ex­plo­sive in­ter­view to Sky news.

Mr Hem­ming says this ‘ should have rung alarm bells’ with the au­thor­i­ties. ‘In any in­ves­ti­ga­tion it is very im­por­tant that the sus­pect doesn’t find out what is in dis­clo­sure by the time they un­dergo an in­ter­view un­der cau­tion,’ he says.

‘ The ac­tion of go­ing pub­lic sug­gested she might be in­ter­ested in pub­lic­ity and at­ten­tion rather than jus­tice.’

At this stage, Mr Hem­ming did some re­search of his own about Es­ther. ‘It was rel­a­tively easy to find out that in De­cem­ber 2014 she had done Press sto­ries mak­ing allegations about be­ing abused in a church set­ting.

‘It was also easy to find that on Twit­ter she had said, in Jan­uary 2015, that she had “never met a politi­cian”.’

By this point Mr Hem­ming had also given the po­lice in­for­ma­tion he be­lieves proved that the case was ‘non­sense’.

He won’t re­veal what this is ‘be­cause it may form the ba­sis of fur­ther le­gal pro­ceed­ings’, but says: ‘I was rel­a­tively con­fi­dent that they would see that the whole thing was just non­sense.’

NONE­THE­LESS, even be­fore he had pre­sented him­self for a for­mal po­lice in­ter­view un­der cau­tion, he had com­piled his own ‘ev­i­dence’ about his move­ments.

‘At the time of the first allegations — 1988 — I was work­ing full­time in Lon­don dur­ing the week. I found a num­ber of wit­nesses will­ing to con­firm where I was.

‘I’d also kept all my credit card re­ceipts and timesheets and diaries from the late Eight­ies. I could see that I only ever went through Stafford­shire on the way up to Liver­pool. I’d maybe stop at a ser­vice sta­tion on the M6 — I was never in the woods.’

Dur­ing the Eight­ies, Mr Hem­ming was mar­ried to his first wife, Chris­tine. They be­came the sub­ject of the gos­sip col­umns in 2005 when it emerged that he had been liv­ing a dou­ble life and had a daugh­ter, now 11, with Emily, who was then his PA.

In 2011, there was a mem­o­rable spat when Chris­tine was given a nine-month sus­pended sen­tence for bur­glary, af­ter steal­ing a kit­ten from Emily’s home.

The fol­low­ing year, af­ter fi­nally split­ting from him, she gave a jaw­drop­ping in­ter­view about their mar­riage, re­veal­ing that he had a been a se­rial phi­lan­derer who’d had around 26 af­fairs.

Six months af­ter the sep­a­ra­tion, Emily gave birth to her sec­ond child with Mr Hem­ming, a son.

Per­haps un­sur­pris­ingly, Mr Hem­ming wants to keep his ex-wife Chris­tine out of the story (‘ al­though she has been very sup­port­ive’), but says it is un­think­able that, back in the Eight­ies, he could have been reg­u­larly leav­ing the fam­ily home to take part in crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties.

‘I had a three-year- old child at that point,’ he says. ‘I was not the sort of per­son who would dis­ap­pear for days at a time.’

In the event, Mr Hem­ming was not asked to pro­vide any al­i­bis, be­cause he was never charged — a fact which tells its own story, he in­sists.

What hap­pens now? nei­ther side seems to want this dis­tress­ing story to go away.

Baker plans to ap­peal the CPS de­ci­sion, and said last night that she hopes the pub­lic­ity sur­round­ing the case as a re­sult of Mr Hem­ming out­ing him­self will bring more ‘vic­tims’ for­ward.

Mr Hem­ming is livid that she is still de­scrib­ing her­self as a ‘vic­tim’, and wants to see her charged with at­tempt­ing to per­vert the course of jus­tice.

‘ Peo­ple can­not make false ac­cu­sa­tions and get away with it,’ he says. ‘It ru­ins lives.’

THE AC­CUSED

HIS AC­CUSER AGED 6 AND NOW

Or­deal: John Hem­ming with part­ner Emily Cox. Above, ac­cuser Es­ther Baker

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