In April I wrote about John Hemming’s use of Parliamentary privilege to name a woman involved in a family law dispute with a local authority. I concluded:
since this appears to be a family case involving a local authority, it’s reasonable to suspect it’s a child care case in which section 1(1) of the Children Act 1989 applies. The court probably therefore had the welfare of a child at the front of its mind when making that order. That’s why, in spite of John Hemming’s view, I’m not sure it’s actually in the public interest to name either her or the council involved.
I’m not sure either that it’s in the public interest for an MP, in his self-imposed role as a critic of the family justice system (as Lord Justice Wall put it), to use Parliamentary privilege in this way.
At the time I decided it was not in public interest to name her, or the council involved; I more than once had to redact comments from John Hemming in which he tried to name her, in spite of my asking commenters, and again asking him specifically, not to.
But earlier this week the President of the Family Division of the High Court, Sir Nicholas Wall, named her publicly in court.
According to this Mirror report:
The judge ruled Ms Haigh, Mr Tune and the local authority could be identified. But he said the child – referred to in court as X – should not be named. He said: “Allegations of sexual abuse were first made by the mother and not by X. These were false and the mother knew them to be false. X was coached by the mother to make allegations of sexual abuse against the father.
“These proceedings have had a serious effect on the life of the father and have threatened the stability of the child.
“Her mother’s actions are wholly contrary to her interests.
“The father is entitled to tell the world, and the world is entitled to know, that he is not a paedophile, that he has not sexually abused his daughter and that the allegations made against him are false.”
The court heard how Ms Haigh never had a “scintilla of evidence” against her ex but enlisted the help of newspapers and MPs.
Ms Haigh, who is now a racehorse trainer, received support from Daily Telegraph columnist Christopher Booker, and Labour [in fact he’s a Liberal Democrat – Carl] MP John Hemming even brought up the case in Parliament.
And according to this Daily Mail report:
Sir Nicholas Wall, the country’s most senior family judge, said that Miss Haigh should be named and shamed and her former partner, David Tune, freed from the false smear that he is a child abuser.
He made the damning remarks as he jailed another woman, Elizabeth Watson, who acted as an ‘investigator’ on Miss Haigh’s behalf, sending ‘aggressive and intimidating’ e-mails and internet postings about social workers involved in the case.
Watson was given a nine-month sentence for contempt of court. The ruling was the culmination of a long-running row involving Miss Haigh which started with her allegations about her boyfriend and social workers.
Unity has written an excellent blogpost about all this at Ministry of Truth, and rightly feels vindicated for his criticism of Hemming (and Watson) at the time. But John Hemming continues to defend what he did. According to the Guardian
Hemming told the Guardian on Wednesday that, when he raised Haigh’s case in the Commons in April, he was not referring to the rights and wrongs of the custody battle.
Instead, Hemming said, he spoke out because he thought Doncaster council was wrong to threaten Haigh with jail for revealing confidential details of the custody case at a meeting in the Commons that he was chairing. Hemming said he was particularly concerned because in cases of this kind, involving contempt proceedings in the family courts, people have been jailed without the details being made public.
On his own blog, John Hemming maintains the line that
I am not making any statement as to the details of the underlying care issue … It remains that I am making no public comment about the underlying care case in respect of Ms Haigh.
while also going on to say
1. Even if the court’s decision is 100% accurate – does that warrant the removal at birth of Ms Haigh’s baby. I don’t think so.
Can we take at face value Hemming’s implication that he’s only ever been interested in the free speech aspect of this, and not in giving oxygen to the complaints of Vicky Haigh and her supporters about the care case?
First, the remarks Haigh made, for which she was threatened with court proceedings, were made at a meeting Hemming chaired about transparency in the family court system.
And second, the comments he made on this blog in response to my April post seem to contradict the idea of his interest being limited to free speech. He explained that
the point about her name being known publicly is that those people who know here (which is a lot) can then check whether they think the state is at fault or not.
This relates to potential future care proceedings rather than historic care proceedings.
Anyone who provides any details in public of the initial care proceedings is in contempt of court. Hence I cannot sensibly discuss them nor can anyone else come to a sufficiently evidenced conclusion to have any merit.
I am, however, interested in that issue and some associated issues.
I will not say any more.
I pressed him further on what he’d meant about people being able to check whether they think the state is at fault or not – except that his naming Vicky Haigh meant people could now search for any “information” about her case on the internet. He never answered.
A commenter at John Hemming’s blog has said – and, if I understand his comments right, John Hemming has apparently admitted – that Elizabeth Watson has published somewhere (I can’t find it) an e-mail exchange she had at some point with Hemming. John Hemming says none of his e-mails encouraged Watson:
although I do not think it is my responsibility to discourage her I have in fact discouraged her. Very explicitly.
However strongly he discouraged her, I think many people will be amazed that Hemming was engaging in e-mail correspondence with Watson at all. The fact that a “chronology” of the Vicky Haigh case published by or for Elizabeth Watson appears according to Unity at Ministry of Truth to have been finally amended for publication only very shortly before Hemming’s naming of Vicky Haigh raises, for him,
an interesting question about the possibility of a degree of co-ordination between Hemming and Haigh and her supporters. Hemming may well have been unaware of the fact that Haigh’s supporters intended to publish this document, but the timings do at least suggest that Haigh and her supporters may well have been aware, within a matter of minutes, of precisely when Hemming intended to make his move in the House and raise his point of order. It, therefore, seems to me that there are serious questions to be asked as to whether Hemming was in contact with Haigh or any of her supporters on the day that he made his statement in the House and that this a matter that the House of Commons’ authorities should investigate as, whether he realised it or not at the time, Hemming’s statement appears to have helped to facilitate the actions for which Elizabeth Watson has no been committed to prison for nine months.
Watson isn’t the only one of Vicky Haigh’s supporters that John Hemming has had contact with, either: here he is speaking about “secret prisoners” at a meeting in Parliament in January chaired by Sabine K. O’Neill, another Haigh supporter (sitting immediately to Hemming’s right).
In the past Ms. O’Neill published on one of her websites the “chronology” written about Vicky Haigh’s case by Watson. She’s also commented recently on John Hemming’s blog, where she’s posted the URL of that website and of her newer, dedicated Vicky Haigh campaign website, where only today she has again republished Elizabeth Watson’s “chronology”. I hope John Hemming at least redacts those comments soon.
John Hemming’s conduct in this matter, and the extent of his apparent contacts with those who’ve campaigned on the internet about Vicky Haigh, need to be scrutinised by his Parliamentary colleagues. John Mann MP is right to call for him to be held to account.