In the latest move in a long running saga over the reporting of child sex abuse allegations made by Esther Baker to journalists, former Liberal Democrat MP, John Hemming lost a case for a summary judgement giving him aggravated damages against journalist, Sonia Poulton. The case will now go to a full trial.
Hemming was also unable to strike out most of her defence and the judge ruled that a counterclaim by her for damages for harassment and injunctive relief, pursuant to the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 could go ahead. The latter counter claim was also against Sam Collingwood Smith and Darren Laverty, whom the judge said with the MP ” have been in some communication with one another, and have to some extent supported and assisted one another in various activities, not least litigation.”
The judge also allowed Sonia Poulton to amend her defence when the case goes to a full trial. There is a separate case for damages being pursued by Darren Laverty.
The full judgement can be read here. It includes the history of a previous case between John Hemming and Esther Baker and the circumstances that surrounded a film interview Sonia Poulton gave which went on YouTube.
Changes proposed after two peers in their 70s and 80s were found to have bullied and sexually harassed women
A new report from the House of Lords says all 798 peers must undergo training courses in ” Valuing People” or face sanctions including the withdrawal of services.
And former MPs who become peers will face fresh investigations by the authorities if they face complaints about bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct while they were a Member of Parliament. At present a loophole means if peers are accused of anything while they were an MP they can escape investigation.
These tough new rules from the House of Lords conduct committee come into force next week if the peers vote for the changes. The full report is here. Members have until next April to complete the training. Those who refuse after that date will be referred to the Commissioner of Standards for breaching the code of conduct.
It is against a background of growing number of complaints about the treatment of staff by both MPs and peers. One former Tory MP and minister is under investigation by the Met Police for alleged rape of a staff member at the moment.
In the last year two Labour peers have been investigated by the Lords Commissioner for Standards, Lucy Scott-Moncrieff TWICE for breaching standards.
Lord Lea of Crondall, 82, as David Lea, a former TUC assistant general secretary, had two reports whose findings were upheld. Altogether it was revealed that since 2011 no fewer than 18 complaints were made against him.
The report said: “They included one instance involving a racially offensive remark, 15 complaints involving shouting at staff, being aggressive and making unreasonable demands, and one occasion where a woman had been made to feel uncomfortable by Lord Lea’s alleged behaviour.”
champagne and silver gilt framed photo
The complaint from the woman followed a time she accompanied him on a Parliamentary delegation. According to the report :
” Lord Lea made her very uncomfortable by his behaviour towards her, which included inviting her to his room to share a bottle of champagne that he had been given. “
He followed it up later when she had left Parliament for a new job . Then “she received a package from Lord Lea at her place of work that contained a silver-framed photograph of her taken on the official visit. It also contained a letter from Lord Lea explaining, amongst other things, that he keeps a copy of the photo on his piano at his home. He also invited me to visit him at home and referred to finishing “that bottle of champagne.’’
Lord Lea told the Commissioner: “I think she is egging the pudding in some way. I can’t think of any reason why she should, if she didn’t have some feelings for me or some other reason to be disturbed.”
The commissioner decided his behaviour did not amount to sexual misconduct or bullying but harassment.
He agreed to take up voluntary a bespoke behaviour management course but immediately ran into trouble when he forgot to inform the security staff that his coach was coming to Parliament so they could let the person in. He took it out on his staff leading to a fresh complaint of bullying which was upheld.
Lord Lea was asked to apologise to the member of staff :
He wrote: “I am not known for being a bully: I acknowledge having been very argumentative— highly audibly so—on that fateful day, concerning the predicament I found myself in regarding the apparent disappearance of my newly appointed trainer and you said you had felt ‘belittled’ as a consequence.”
Sexist and transphobic remarks
Lord Stone of Blackheath,78, a former managing director of Marks and Spencer, has also TWICE been found by the Commissioner to have breached the code of conduct. Complaints by four women were upheld only to be followed by a complaint from a fifth woman about being harassed.
In the first case it included allegations of sexist and transphobic remarks as well as unwanted touching.
Among several alleged incidents recorded by the Commissioner, he told a colleague that she was beautiful “to boost her self-esteem” and grabbed her arm.
He also allegedly stroked another staff member’s arm and said to her that he hoped a document on the bill to outlaw upskirting came with photos.
The second case involved two more complaints from women. He met one young woman at a dinner party and offered her a private tour of Parliament. She came with her cousin. He told her she was ” young and beautiful”.
“Lord Stone greeted her in an overfamiliar manner, kissing her on both cheeks near her mouth, and repeatedly touched her arms and her waist during the tour and while having tea in one of the House’s restaurants.”
Lord Stone told the commissioner that: “He was “upset by the inference that [his] behaviour toward… was anything other than to try and assist”. He accepted that “her account is factually accurate” but insisted that “the connotations of inappropriate behaviour that she makes are wholly inaccurate and seem to me be the product of her imagination.”
He was found to have broken the code by harassment and has taken a bespoke course in behaviour management.
Labour Party suspension
Both peers have been suspended from the Labour Party. Half the members of the House of Lords have voluntarily attended the course already. The full list is here.
It is an extraordinary situation that in the times we live that such courses are needed, let alone deemed compulsory. One would have thought that people when they join the House of Lords would know that bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct are out of order. But perhaps not.
The press regulator, Impress, has refused a request for arbitration and compensation from former Liberal Democrat MP, John Hemming, over an article published on this blog last September when the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to issue criminal proceedings against the ex MP and two other people over allegations of child sex abuse from Esther Baker.
The article reported, almost in full, statements issued by Staffordshire Police and the ex MP after the decision was announced by the CPS. The CPS concluded there was ” insufficient evidence ” to proceed, the ex MP said he had been the subject of false allegations.
Since then Esther Baker has appealed the CPS decision and a ruling is expected some time in the autumn.
This blog is not directly covered by the regulator, IMPRESS, but because I cross post articles on the independent platform, Byline, it is indirectly covered since Byline has agreed to be regulated by IMPRESS.
IMPRESS’S regulatory committee ruled that the article on its own could not been seen as Mr Hemming claimed as ” harassment”. And it dismissed his claim for compensation by saying that any alleged harm caused to Mr Hemming by this article was ” trivial ” and ” too insignificant to meet the test ” for a claim.
For the record and to prevent other people putting any spin on this decision this is the text of the ruling sent to Byline:
“I am writing to advise you that an IMPRESS Regulatory Committee recently met to consider John Hemming’s request for arbitration. Having carefully considered his request in accordance with the IMPRESS procedures they have decided that the request is not suitable for arbitration under the CIArb/IMPRESS Arbitration Scheme. The reasons for their decision are set out below.
Reasons for Board arbitration suitability decision:
Rule 8.3 of the IMPRESS Regulatory Scheme requires the Board to make an administrative assessment of whether a claim is covered by the scheme. For the avoidance of doubt, this decision is not based on an assessment of the merits of a claim.
Rule 46 of the Regulatory Scheme Procedures provides six administrative criteria that need to be satisfied before a claim can be accepted under the scheme.
The Board considered each of these in turn:
(i) The claim is made against a publisher regulated by IMPRESS.
The Committee was satisfied that the claim was made against a publisher (Byline) that was regulated by IMPRESS at the time of the act complained of (6 September 2017).
(ii) The claim is related to one of the areas of law covered by the scheme.
The Committee was satisfied that the claim related to an area of law covered by the scheme, namely defamation and harassment. With regards to the claim for harassment however, though this related to one of the areas covered by the scheme, the Committee determined that the claim for harassment did not satisfy the relevant test. This was because, under a claim for harassment, a ‘course of conduct’ required two or more events to be characterised as such. The claimant therefore could not bring a claim against the publisher for the publication of one article.
(iii) The claim is not a pre-publication matter where it is appropriate for it to be directed to the courts.
The Committee was satisfied that the claim did not relate to a pre-publication matter where it was appropriate for it to be directed to the courts.
(iv) The claim provides a clear statement setting out the harm or financial loss suffered by the claimant.
The Committee was not satisfied that the claim clearly set out the harm or financial loss that the claimant had suffered as a result of the published article. It noted that the claimant largely relied on the fact that the article was part of a wider campaign against him which he accepted that Byline was not a party to.
(v) The claim describes a specific action or activity of a publisher that has caused the alleged harm or financial loss.
The Committee was not satisfied that the claimant adequately described how it was the article published by Byline that caused the alleged harm and loss to the claimant. This is because, although the claimant identified specific harm and loss caused by the ‘wider campaign’, the claimant failed to specify any harm or loss which arose as a direct result of the article published by Byline. The Committee determined that any harm or loss caused to the claimant by the publisher was trivial or incidental in conjunction with the remainder, and was thus too insignificant to meet the test.
(vi) The claimant explains why the complaint is not suitable for resolution by the IMPRESS complaints procedure.
The Committee accepted that given that (i) the complaint did not, on the face of it, appear to engage the Standards Code and (ii) the claimant sought financial compensation as a remedy, it was not suitable for resolution by the IMPRESS complaints procedure.
In conclusion, the Committee decided that the claimant’s request for arbitration should be refused on the grounds that parts (iv) and (v) of the test were not met.
UPDATED: The Met Police today ( May 23) dropped charges against Darren Laverty for stalking Esther Baker and a woman journalist and abandoned the case against Simon Just who was arrested on suspicion of stalking following advice from the Crown Prosecution Service.
A statement from the CPS said: “Following a review of additional evidence received from the police, we have concluded that there is no longer a realistic prospect of conviction, and will not be pursuing the case. The court and the parties involved have been informed.”
The Met Police this morning arrested a 51 year old man in Kendal after obtaining a warrant to search his property under the Harassment Act.
A statement from the Met Police said : “Officers from the Metropolitan Police Service carried out a warrant under the harassment act at an address in Kendal, Cumbria, on the morning of Wednesday, 4 January.
Police arrested a 51-year-old man on suspicion of stalking.
He was taken to a police station in Cumbria for questioning.
He has been bailed to return on a date in mid-May.”
I understand the man arrested was Simon Just and the person who was being allegedly stalked was Esther Baker, who has publicly disclosed that she is an abuse survivor.
The arrest comes while there is a separate police investigation by Staffordshire Police into historic child sex abuse allegations involving the abuse of Esther Baker and other people. Staffordshire Police have referred the investigation to the Crown Prosecution Service.
In a separate move earlier another man – understood to be Darren Laverty – has also been arrested and charged with stalking Esther Baker and another woman, a journalist.