A few days ago, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, received a letter of complaint from the former Lib Dem MP John Hemming.
It concerned the Crown Prosecution Service’s investigation of alleged child sex abuse by Westminster politicians, a subject which has progressed in recent times from being a legal ‘hot potato’ to resembling an unpinned hand grenade.
The Mail has seen a copy of Mr Hemming’s letter, which refers to a woman named Esther Baker, who made extraordinary allegations against him and another politician.
Ms Baker, 35, claims that Mr Hemming, along with one of the most revered figures in post-war politics (whom the Mail chooses not to name), repeatedly raped her in a Staffordshire forest when she was aged between six and 11 years.
The Mail has seen a copy of Mr Hemming’s letter, which refers to a woman named Esther Baker (pictured), who made extraordinary allegations against him and another politician
The rapes took place, Ms Baker said, while police officers guarded the scene.
The co-accused political grandee was dead before these claims were made and so could not defend his reputation. Mr Hemming, who was MP for Birmingham Yardley, was not.
His letter begins: ‘I am writing to express concern about the slow handling of allegations about me made by Esther Baker that are currently being considered by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
The co-accused political grandee was dead before these claims were made and so could not defend his reputation. Mr Hemming (pictured), who was MP for Birmingham Yardley, was not
‘The CPS should also consider my counter complaint that Ms Baker deliberately lied, and therefore committed the offence of perverting the course of justice.’
Mr Hemming, 57, continued: ‘The main objective of this letter is to highlight the impact the public campaign against me, based upon her false allegations, has had on my family and myself.
‘I have five children. The four older children are all literate and have access to the internet.
‘There has been a public campaign against me identifying me (not always by name) since May 2015 . . . [My children have] been upset on a number of occasions.
Additionally, I have been subjected to threats of violence including death threats.’ He awaits an answer from Mrs Saunders.
This unsavoury row between the former MP and his accuser might have remained an obscure legal wrangle but for one particularly extraordinary fact.
Mr Hemming wrote that letter after he discovered that Esther Baker had been awarded what is called ‘core participant’ status at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.
This is the sprawling probe set up four years ago into historic sex abuses, which is set to become one of the biggest and most expensive statutory public inquiries in British legal history.
(The inquiry was set up by Theresa May when she was Home Secretary, following revelations of historic paedophile abuse by the late BBC presenter Jimmy Savile.)
‘Core participants’ are individuals or organisations who are granted a formal interest in the work of the inquiry and given special legal powers and privileges to help shape proceedings.
(The inquiry was set up by Theresa May when she was Home Secretary, following revelations of historic paedophile abuse by the late BBC presenter Jimmy Savile)
The granting of this status to Ms Baker suggested a recognition by the inquiry of the credibility of her claims against John Hemming — which is what has particularly angered the former MP.
Such is the vast scope of the inquiry that it was supposed to encompass no less than 13 separate investigations into different institutions — such as churches, schools, councils, Westminster politicians and others — each of which would surely warrant a stand-alone inquiry.
This week, however, it is the turn of the most controversial of those elements: possible abuses by political figures at Westminster.
Preliminary hearings will begin in London today. While this segment of the inquiry will no doubt be the focus of intense public and media scrutiny, it is fair to say that so far this enormous investigation has not exactly covered itself in glory.
In fact, it has suffered three-and-a-half years of scandal and setbacks.
Professor Alexis Jay, a career social worker, is the fourth person to hold the chairmanship of a clattering gravy train.
In the last financial year it cost the taxpayer £21 million. According to the latest quarterly figures, it is on course to cost more than £24 million this year.
The first two chairs stepped down within the year over possible conflicts of interest.
New Zealand judge Dame Lowell Goddard, was awarded a salary of £360,000 and a number of other financial perks
The third, New Zealand judge Dame Lowell Goddard, was awarded a salary of £360,000 and a number of other financial perks. In the summer of 2016, amid accusations of incompetence, racism and bullying, she returned home, refusing to return to explain her resignation.
Her replacement, Professor Jay, was described by a recent Guardian interviewer thus: ‘I don’t think I have ever met anyone so fluent in the carefully dry register of judicial process.
‘She talks like a transcript of a court document and seldom deviates from the approved vocabulary of statutory services.
‘For example, when I ask about the Muslim men of Pakistani origin in Rotherham who were involved in child sex grooming, she refers to them as “the minority ethnic grouping identified by many victims as part of the exploitation network.” ’
Whether or not she is a politically correct automaton, Prof Jay’s inquiry has reeled from one blow to the next.
In the autumn of 2016, the senior counsel to the inquiry, Ben Emmerson QC — who was paid £1,700 a day by the taxpayer — resigned after being suspended over concerns about his leadership of his team
In the autumn of 2016, the senior counsel to the inquiry, Ben Emmerson QC — who was paid £1,700 a day by the taxpayer —resigned after being suspended over concerns about his leadership of his team.
He was later cleared of separate allegations of sexual assault and sexual harassment involving a female colleague on the inquiry.
More recently, however, it emerged that an inquiry at Mr Emmerson’s Matrix Chambers into the sexual assault claim had ‘found as fact’ that Emmerson had attempted to either put his hand between his colleague’s legs or down her trousers, and that she had pushed him away.
It had described this conduct as ‘unwanted and of a sexual nature’, but concluded that Emmerson (who has always protested his innocence) was not guilty of either harassment or assault, partly because he honestly believed the women would consent.
The lurid case of Mr Emmerson aside, a number of other lawyers for the inquiry have quietly stepped down along the way.
Now, many people will be wondering — after the high-profile police shambles of recent times — why the child sex abuse inquiry should have a Westminster element at all.
Operation Midland, a £2 million police investigation into alleged VIP sex abuse at Westminster, has been exposed as a disaster.
Along the way, the lives and reputations of public figures such as the former Tory minister Leon Brittan and Lord Bramall — a D-Day war hero — and former MP Harvey Proctor were tarnished by unfounded claims from a witness called ‘Nick’ that a VIP ring of paedophile politicians had abused and murdered boys.
The police investigation was closed in March 2016 and later heavily criticised in a report by a retired judge.
Lord Brittan’s widow and Lord Bramall have each received around £100,000 in compensation from the Metropolitan police. Mr Proctor is pursuing a £500,000 civil action.
As Daniel Janner argues: ‘The Westminster strand of the inquiry is not only unfair, but it is designed to trash the reputations of politicians like my father, Ted Heath (pictured)
The Director of Public Prosecutions now has to decide whether ‘Nick’ is charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice and fraud.
Despite all that, the Westminster element of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse will be launched by Professor Jay today — relying in part on Nick’s discredited allegations.
One of the first hurdles will be an ambush by Daniel Janner QC, son of the late Labour grandee Lord Janner of Braunstone.
He will hold a press conference outside the inquiry at 9am today to denounce the proceedings.
The weight of evidence against his father has persuaded many that there was substance to claims that Janner Snr was a paedophile and abuser.
Mr Janner said the a inquiry is also designed to trash the reputations of people like Leon Brittan (pictured)
But Mr Janner, a criminal barrister, argues that his father was never convicted, and a civil claim by some of his alleged victims came to nought at the High Court last year.
Daniel Janner has applied for ‘core participant’ status of the kind already granted to John Hemming’s accuser Esther Baker, and is scathing of Prof Jay’s handling of the inquiry over the past 17 months.
Mr Janner says: ‘They think they are getting a clear run and I am not having it. It has already been proved that there was no VIP paedophile ring.
‘From everything I have seen and heard of her, Alexis Jay is totally out of her depth.
‘She is not a trained lawyer, and I sympathise with her on that, but she is now trying to keep the Titanic afloat.
‘It is veering between a bloated, expensive irrelevance, and a vindictive witch-hunt which will be condemned by history.’
Certainly, the inquiry soon became impossibly unwieldy. Because of its sheer scale, when it began, 155 staff were employed in dedicated offices around the country, and dozens of lawyers — each costing hundreds of pounds an hour — were engaged, while hundreds of new allegations arrived each month.
At one point, the counsel to the inquiry, Ben Emmerson, revealed: ‘There are 100,000 items in the archive, which mostly comprises individual children’s files, and some 26,000 boxes of material held in locations around the country.’
Such vast amounts of information seem to make the chances of discovering what is true, and what is not, less rather than more likely.
As Daniel Janner argues: ‘The Westminster strand of the inquiry is not only unfair, but it is designed to trash the reputations of politicians like my father, Ted Heath and Leon Brittan, who have given a lifetime of service to this country.
‘Many of them are dead and cannot answer back. This is an invitation for fantasists, fraudsters and nutters to play out their fantasies and lies in public and to do so under the cloak of anonymity in many cases, mollycoddled by the inquiry.
‘My late father cannot answer back from his grave. This element [of the inquiry] continues on the assumption of guilt rather than the presumption of innocence. It is a stain on British justice.’
Ms Baker has been supported in her campaign against Mr Hemming by the vociferous Labour MP Jess Phillips (pictured), who won Mr Hemming’s Birmingham Yardley seat in the 2015 general election
Whatever you might feel about his father, Mr Janner has a point.
Prof Jay told the Guardian: ‘I don’t know yet about the scale of false allegations. When we are due to address that, we will look in much more detail . . . nevertheless, the secrecy that has surrounded children and their experiences of abuse is overwhelming. So I start from that point.’
None of which is likely to offer much comfort to former MP John Hemming, whose accuser Esther Baker — who’s waived her legal right to anonymity — has been granted such a close involvement in the child sex abuse inquiry.
After she made allegations of rape against him, he volunteered to be interviewed under caution, and told detectives that the first he knew of Ms Baker was in January 2015 when she emailed him to complain that she had been abused as a child by a faith-related paedophile ring.
He advised her to go to the police, he says. She did so, but then made a similar abuse complaint against him. Mr Hemming alleges that prior to accusing him, she tweeted that she had ‘never’ met an MP.
‘Yet only a few weeks later,’ Hemming said, ‘Baker claimed to have met two politicians — one [of whom was] myself . . . whom she claimed to have identified as the man who both raped and sexually assaulted her.’
Ms Baker has been supported in her campaign against Mr Hemming by the vociferous Labour MP Jess Phillips, who won Mr Hemming’s Birmingham Yardley seat in the 2015 general election.
During that year, she tweeted a number of messages of support to Ms Baker, describing her as an ‘amazingly brave woman’.
In the month of the election, Ms Phillips declared in a tweet to Ms Baker: ‘It is my pleasure to stand shoulder to shoulder with those who are so brave.’
Yet in September last year, the Crown Prosecution Service decided that there was insufficient evidence to pursue any kind of case against Mr Hemming over Ms Baker’s allegations.
Despite this, she stands by her story, and vehemently denies claims she has lied. She pointed out to the Mail: ‘Consider the motives of those questioning the legitimacy of my status as a core participant and of my evidence.’
Ms Baker has appealed against the decision not to charge him, and the CPS has afforded her what is called a Victims’ Right to Review — which is an official reassessment of a CPS decision not to bring charges.
Nevertheless, the CPS ruling has left her vulnerable to accusations — not least by Mr Hemming himself — that she is a ‘fantasist’ who jumped on the VIP abuse bandwagon and, backed by Ms Phillips and a host of vicious internet trolls, set out to ‘maliciously’ ruin innocent lives and reputations.
Regarding the Baker/Hemming affair, a Staffordshire Police spokeswoman said: ‘Any outstanding complaints or inquiries are pending the outcome of a file currently with the CPS.’
A Crown Prosecution Service spokesman confirmed the initial decision on Esther Baker’s file had been to take no further action.
However, since she enforced her Victims’ Right to Review, the matter is now being considered by an independent prosecutor.
Last week, Mr Hemming wrote to the inquiry’s chair Professor Jay demanding that she reverse her decision on Ms Baker’s core participation in the inquiry.
He then made this observation: ‘There will always be lunatics making allegations of cults or aliens to police.
‘The problem is those respectable bodies that give them credence.’
He is presumably referring to Professor Jay’s inquiry which, you might be interested to learn, is spending £1 million of public money on an advertising campaign . . . to find more alleged victims.