Esther Baker case: How the child sex abuse inquiry itself abused survivors' trust and privacy
UPDATE: Since the publication of this blog the Crown Prosecution Service have responded to my questions. A spokesman said the CPS does not investigate allegations of a crime, including perverting the course of justice. Any allegations coming to them would be referred back to the relevant police force. In this case this would appear to be Staffordshire police.
Esther Baker is one of the few child sex abuse survivors who went public about her allegations that she was abused by her father and other people.
The only other case I can think of recently is 46 year old Andi Lavery who went public to the Scottish Sun but that followed a trial in Glasgow which led to the conviction of paedophile Father Francis Moore after Lavery gave evidence anonymously.
Therefore it is rather surprising that independent child sex abuse inquiry should publish considerable detail naming Esther Baker in an adjudication in a case they themselves decided was " highly contentious". Even more given she had not asked them to re-investigate the case which has already been investigated by Staffordshire Police and could lead to separate civil proceedings. And then publish a statement they had to retract.
The ruling by Alexis Jay is worth quoting in some detail: This is what she said :
"On behalf of Esther Baker, it was submitted that the allegations which she has made should form part of the Westminster investigation. 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. She says that at various times she tried to report the abuse but was not believed, or the complaints were not effectively dealt with by the authorities, and as such there were institutional failings."
" I have decided that the Inquiry will not investigate the issues that Ms Baker has raised that relate to her own alleged experiences of child sexual abuse...
"Ms Baker’s allegations are highly contentious. They are the subject of both contested civil proceedings and an ongoing police investigation. I am also aware that Mr Hemming ( former Liberal Democrat MP for Birmingham, Yardley) is reported to have made a complaint to the CPS that the allegations that MsBaker has made about him amount to perverting the course of justice.
"The fact that both the police investigation and the civil proceedings are ongoing is a factor that weighs strongly against the Inquiry attempting to investigate these matters. Even if it were appropriate for the Inquiry to investigate these matters before the conclusion of the other proceedings, such an investigation would be extremely resource intensive and would be likely to distract the Inquiry’s attention from the six core issues set out above."
Now this statement has led Graham Wilmer, himself a former member of the first child sex abuse inquiry, to lodge a complaint which is now being investigated.
He wrote to them"Your decision to publish incorrect information about Esther Baker requires a robust independent investigation. The very idea that the IICSA would publish such incorrect information about a vulnerable victim of child sexual abuse is incomprehensible, and I am now asking you to investigate how this can about under your policies to protect vulnerable witnesses who come forward to the IICSA, regardless of the route.
"The below article in the Daily Mail is yet another example of why vulnerable victims of CSA/CSE should NOT come forward to the IICSA, without absolute assurance that they will be protected at all costs, which in the case of Esther Baker, you have failed completely so to do. As you are well aware, there are ongoing proceedings involving Esther, myself and others, and we will endeavour to expose the truth behind the lies, smears and malicious campaigns that have been waged against us, simply because we spoke out and disclosed what we had suffered. "
An inquiry spokesperson did not want to comment.""The Inquiry does not comment on private correspondence it receives, nor on ongoing investigations."
Now apart from releasing this information involving a named person - in other cases the person would have been anonymous -there is a serious flaw in the information that has been released. It implies that she could be investigated for perverting the course of justice for being as the Daily Mail put it " a fantasist". Worse their original public statement which was put up without Esther Baker's knowledge stated " I understand that the police inquiries are now focused on whether Ms Baker should be charged with perverting the course of justice."
I am told this was withdrawn after Staffordshire Police contacted them to tell them it was untrue and defamatory and it is now deleted from the website. The inquiry have confirmed they deleted it. Instead there is a reference to a complaint by Mr Hemming to the CPS.
There is NO investigation into Esther Baker about her perverting the course of justice. It is itself a fantasy. Staffordshire Police in a carefully crafted statement said she was a " victim of crime " and they are still supporting her. When I asked the police force whether there were further investigations into Esther Baker - after Mr Hemming is said to have complained about the " false accusations" against him - they made it clear there are none.
The reason why this is important is that the inquiry is already not trusted by a number of survivors who don't believe they will get justice. Part of the reason is that survivors think the inquiry will provide definite proof of sexual abuse against them. But that is not the purpose of the inquiry - which is instead concentrating on the institutional failures of people not acting when they were told about sexual abuse. The inquiry in the Rochdale case was not afraid to pin people down for not doing their duty but they did not list or name fresh perpetrators.
In these circumstances you would expect the inquiry to be very sensitive about handling vulnerable survivors. Alexis Jay has already - rightly in my view - asked both survivors and those representing people who have been accused - to tone down their language.
Her previous ruling ends: " I would ...make a final plea that all those who report on the issues with which this Inquiry is concerned, and all those who comment on those issues using social media, should do so exercising a level of restraint and respect that is commensurate with the sensitivity of those issues, and the vulnerability of many of the individuals involved."
Sound advice. She needs to take it herself.