On 26 April 2011, on a point of order but in apparent breach of a High Court injunction, Mr John Hemming MP claimed that Vicky Haigh, a horse trainer and former jockey, “was the subject of an attempt by Doncaster council to imprison her for speaking at a meeting in Parliament“. A number of Twitter accounts subsequently disclosed that the injunction had been granted in family proceedings in which Ms Haigh had claimed that her former partner, David Tune, was a paedophile who had abused their daughter for some years.
This allegation became common currency on the internet and was used as an example of the abuse of “super-injunctions”. Other serious allegations were made against Mr Tune and members of his family. Ms Haigh was supported by a substantial internet campaign and by some parts of the mainstream media. A number of sympathetic newspaper stories – in particular by Christopher Booker in the “Daily Telegraph” on 30 April 2011 – described how Ms Haigh had fled to Ireland when pregnant to avoid her child being taken into care.
However, the true factual position – as found by the courts – is very different. This can now be disclosed as a result of a judgment given by the President of the Family Division, Sir Nicholas Wall, on 22 August 2011. The judgment was delivered orally but we understand that a full transcript will be available shortly, along with the judgments in the earlier cases.
The judgment was given on an application to commit a private investigator, Elizabeth Watson – who had assisted Ms Haigh in preparing her case – for contempt of court. Ms Watson had sent “aggressive, intimidating” e-mails to council staff involved in the case which also found their way on to websites, and “compromised the well-being” of a child. An order was made committing her to prison for a period of 9 months.
In the course of his judgment the President said that he had decided that all the adults involved in the case should be named but that the child should continue to be known as “X”. He said that Ms Haigh had “manufactured” claims that the child’s father had sexually abused her, then “coached” X, now aged seven, to repeat the allegations. Ms Haigh and Ms Watson had put the “scandalous allegations” about Mr Tune into the public domain “via e-mail and the internet” in breach of court orders.
The President said that the allegations against Mr Tune were untrue and Ms Haigh’s actions were “wholly contrary” to her daughter’s interests. He said that judges had previously heard evidence about the case at private hearings, but he had decided to sit in open court so that the public could be told that Mr Tune was “not a paedophile”. He ordered that Ms Haigh could not make any application in relation to her daughter without his permission for two years.
In the course of his judgment the President 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.”
He went on to note that two judges examined the case at previous High Court hearings and both found that Mr Tune was not a paedophile and had not sexually abused his daughter:
“The first judge found that allegations of sexual abuse made against the father of a young child were not just untrue but manufactured by the child’s mother, who then caused her daughter to repeat them. Because the mother was wholly incapable of fostering a relationship between her daughter and the child’s father, refused to accept the judge’s findings and continued to assert that the father was a paedophile, a second judge found that her mother had caused the child significant harm. The child’s mother is wholly unable to accept the court’s verdict and, with the misguided assistance of Elizabeth Watson has unlawfully and in breach of court orders put into the public domain via e-mail and the internet a series of unwarranted and scandalous allegations about the father and others. She has repeated the untruth that the father is a paedophile and – without a scintilla of evidence – has attacked the good faith of all the professionals who had had any contact with the case”.
The President said
“I have come to the conclusion that … I should … give a public judgment in which I explain, having read all the papers in the case, that I have reached the same conclusion as the two previous judges. 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.“
Ms Watson had sent emails which identified parties in the case and criticised social workers and police. She had referred to “social disservices” and “abductees” who “snatched children” and “tortured innocent parents” and written about “nationwide child snatching reaching epidemic proportions”. The President said he had considered an option of ruling that Ms Watson was “mentally ill” but had decided against that and concluded that he had “no alternative” but to jail her.
The case has attracted comment in the “Daily Telegraph“, the “Daily Mail” and the “Daily Mirror“. There is also a fuller report in the “Press Gazette“. As a result of the judgment Labour MP John Mann has written to the Speaker stating that Mr Hemming has abused parliamentary privilege and should resign. Mr Hemming has said on his blog that he is “making no public comment about the underlying care case in respect of Ms Haigh” but offering no explanation or apology for his conduct.
This case seems a particularly clear example of the dangers of a politician – who knows only part of a story – second guessing a judge who has heard all the evidence. An injunction which was designed to protect the interest of a child was repeatedly breached by the losing party in litigation, encouraged and assisted by a number of websites and by Mr Hemming’s abuse of parliamentary privilege.