- Au Palais de Justice sur Fleet, Deputy High Court Judge Anthony Metzer QC, Court 14, Monday 15 April 2019, 10.30.
The case was Baker v Hemming. Unless you live on a desert island, you cannot have failed to spot the multiplicity of court proceedings involving former Exaro accuser Esther Baker, and her erstwhile promoter Graham Wilmer MBE.
It’s hard keeping up, hence my interest in attending this hearing. I noticed another Esther (the other one is called Esther Grace (EG) https://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/558231/rape-victim-army-abuse-esther-grace ) observing at the back of the court. She is a lady who also claims to have been abused by powerful people.
Although EG’s claims were published a while back by the Express (which has a particular fixation on extreme claims of “ritual” abuse, incidentally), they appear to have gone nowhere. Just like Baker’s.
The hearing was about Hemming’s application to strike out Baker’s libel action, on the basis that she was out of time to sue. The time limit for a libel action is unusually short: twelve months.
Baker sought to counter this by alleging that she lacked mental capacity to sue, and that her mental problems included auditory hallucinations.
What is the underlying litigation about? Baker had sued Hemming over articles in the Mail in which Hemming had attacked her for falsely accusing him of abuse, allegedly as part of some ritual cult. Funny that she didn’t sue the newspaper.
But Baker had also called Hemming her rapist on Twitter, albeit by innuendo, and so he had counterclaimed against her for libel. He had sought further particulars of her case against him, which she had refused to provide, telling the court that as he was “her rapist”, she did not have to respond to such particulars. She claimed that her 100+ hours of police interviews were enough.
Complicated? I’ll say.
The most remarkable part of the mise-en-scene, however, was the sight of Mark Watts, the former Editor-in-Chief of the discredited Exaro, sitting shoulder to shoulder with Baker, in the front row where litigants in person (LIPs) appear.
Baker – like all LIPs – was in possession of a large suitcase on wheels. She was applying to adjourn Hemming’s application for summary judgment. When the judge asked why, she claimed that she was getting pro bono help with her claim. She told the court that “going forward” she would have “full pro bono representation” by Tamsin Allen of Bindmans.
This is extraordinary, not least because Baker has publicly accused Allen’s client Ben Emmerson QC – formerly of Matrix Chambers – of sexual assault (albeit of a third party, not of Baker). I should stress that such an extremely serious allegation has not been proven in court, nor did the accuser seek to pursue it in any civil or criminal proceedings, as far as I am aware. It was rejected by an internal inquiry.
Nevertheless, Allen appears to have a whopping conflict of interest, not least as Baker’s own animosity towards Emmerson is of long-standing. Indeed, Baker is on record as saying on 8 April 2015 that she wished to punch Emmerson “in the f*cking face…most days”. Baker since seems to have got into the arena with [name redacted]. What a rats’ nest.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, after lunch, it appeared that all Allen was, er, offering Baker was to instruct another much more junior barrister in Matrix Chambers to redraft her pleaded case, and her defence to Hemming’s counterclaim.
Thereafter, Baker claimed that Peter Garsden of Simpson Millar (yes, Peter “I believe that child-murdering Satanic Ritual Abuse cults are at work up and down the country” Garsden) would act for her. Garsden already represents Baker before the IICSA.
And what about Watts’ very public alliance with Baker in her courtroom battle against Hemming? Hitherto, Watts has always kept a distance from Exaro accusers. Thus, he always occupied the Press Bench when covering the trial of one Carl Stephen Beech.
Here, anomalously, Watts was seated next to Baker. You could not have slid a page of A4 between them, so close were they sitting. Now, no reporter would dream of sitting next to a litigant in court. You don’t think Mr Watts was suffering from a temporary confusion as to his role, do you?
The judge was very blunt in his opening remarks. This is a case where the stakes could not be higher for both parties, he observed. “Each side asserts that the other is not telling the truth. Therefore, one side is lying.”
He asked Baker what Watts’ role was: an adviser? She replied, “listening”! So the judge made Watts move back a row. Watts (who I can report was wearing a red scarf) made no effort to go into the Press Bench, and from time time whispered to (or prompted?) Baker.
Meanwhile, the judge demanded that Baker provide proof that Bindmans were backing her for the rest of the case. Sadly, such proof was not forthcoming. The judge made clear to Baker that her application to adjourn would have costs consequences (£10, 280, as it turned out).
Hemming’s counsel told the court that Baker had not provided a Statement of Truth, as required by court rules. Baker was seeking to amend her claim to allege a Level 3 meaning (“grounds to investigate”), having previously alleged a defence of Truth. Yet she indicated that she was not resiling from a Truth Defence.
The judge warned her that she was sailing very close to the wind, in terms of having her claim struck out. He repeatedly stressed that Hemming needed to know what case he had to meet. He told Baker that she could not refuse to answer a request for particulars.
He acknowledged that Baker might – hypothetically – allege malice. He noted that if a person’s reputation were attacked “in this criminal way”, he can respond. He questioned the need for a preliminary issue on meaning, given the nature of the issues.
He told Baker she needed a proper psychiatric report. He indicated that Hemming could put questions to any author of such a report, and indicated that, if so advised, Hemming could apply for his own expert at a later date.
Baker sought to play to the gallery, asserting that she could ignore correspondence about the case from the person whom she pejoratively dubbed her “rapist”, and arguing that an adverse costs order would deny her access to justice. Unsurprisingly, the court gave her short shrift.
The court approved a strict timetable for Baker to get her legal tackle in order, including any necessary medical report. The judge ordered her to pay the costs of the adjournment and occasioned by any amended pleadings, to be formally assessed.
Watch this space.