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.’

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

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