This is a post by Sarah Phillimore
Too long didn’t read: there is a problem what I shall call the ‘DV Sector’, for want of a better title. There are a number of individual women and organisations who garner a lot of media attention, who have books and talks to promote and apparently the ear of credible and influential law and policy makers, including serving MPs. The narrative that some of them promote I think is actively harmful to reasonable debate and the rule of law. Their reaction when challenged is alarming. More people in the sector need to have the courage to speak up about this.
This is part 3 of what is sadly highly likely to be a continuing series. If you are interested you can read Part 1 here from January 8 2019 and Part 2 from guest blogger Emma Sutcliffe from February 6th 2019. This is an issue which has troubled and preoccupied me for some time now. I will let my previous words speak for themselves – if you are determined to see me as a ‘shill’ for a corrupt system, or biased against men, or hateful towards women etc, etc, then no doubt you will see what you want to see and no words of mine will persuade you otherwise.
However, the fact that I have been accused of all these things simultaneously (which I suggest is unlikely to be possible) reassures me that I am succeeding in my aim to be as fair and balanced as I can. Because I make people from very different ends of the argument equally angry.
I write this post because I think it is important to share with you something that happened to me recently. I will avoid using names, unless it is central to the point I need to make, as I don’t want this to appear a ‘front’ for any kind of personal vendetta. It isn’t. What I describe here is an illustration of a much wider and general issue which has really serious implications for us all. Because I believe it strikes at the heart of the rule of law, and the trust in which we can place in our court system.
My concerns escalated over the last few days with the publication via social media of a distressing video of a child being removed. This was strongly promoted by these ‘people of prominence’ and apparently taken up immediately without question or thought by a number of influential people such as the MP Jess Phillips and Clare Waxman, the Victim’s Commissioner for London. The reasons why such knee jerk response to one video in isolation can be harmful, and the legal implications of sharing it, have been set out fairly and comprehensively by Lucy Reed on Pink Tape.
I will go into more detail below about my concerns below.
Giving child abusers moral authority.
I wrote about this on February 4th 2019, outlining my concerns that Victoria Haigh was setting herself up to gather ‘victims’ of the family court system to investigate why so many children were ‘given’ to fathers who perpetrated abuse. Why I was worried will be immediately obvious when you read the published judgments about what she did. I called her a ‘child abuser’ because that is what she has been found to be. I wondered aloud why ‘prominent members of the DV sector’ supported her. The reaction was swift and fierce. I was immediately blocked on Twitter by a number of such members of prominence. Fair enough. You don’t have to engage with me if you don’t want.
However, I then discovered that I now had a lengthy post on a website dedicated to me and my ‘hatred’ for trans women and homosexuals, together wth a lovely photograph of me and speculation about where I got my nice big house as a legal aid lawyer. (From a massive critical illness insurance payout if you are interested, but don’t let that get in the way of insinuations about my corruption). So far, so internet. What was disappointing albeit interesting was to note that a number of Haigh’s supporters had contacted the author. I think I can reasonably assume this because the author of the website has a twitter account with only six followers last time I looked. And one of them was a women ‘prominent in the DV Sector’.
So I think it must have been a person of prominence in the DV Sector who made this comment:
She’s a bully. She was trolling a woman who’s heading a domestic violence campaign, repeating what the family court judgement said about her when the whole idea of transparency is to question these.
And that’s a very revealing comment indeed. The ‘whole idea’ of transparency in the family court system – which I wholeheartedly agree with and campaign to achieve – is not to question court judgments. It is rather to know that they have been made and how they have been made. If you disagree with the judgment, you must appeal against it.
There are several court judgments against Haigh. She did not appeal. These judgments stand as the truth. This is the operation of the rule of law. It is not for any person, no matter how prominent they believe themselves to be in the DV Sector, to simply declare that they will not accept or believe a court judgment and that they can rewrite history if they wish.
Then matters took an even more sinister turn.
Vivien Hobbs and The Legal UK Partnership LLP
On 8th March 2019 I received an interesting email from Ms Hobbs from ‘the Legal UK Partnership LLP’ which had an address in Hatton Garden but no web presence at all from what I could find, other than a listing at Companies House. Nor did Ms Hobbs appear registered as a practising solicitor with the Law Society when i checked their website.
Her emails were all headed ‘private and confidential’ but as I do not think you can assert confidentiality over a potentially criminal attempt to extort money, I am going to ignore that. If I am wrong to do so, no doubt Ms Hobbs will take legal action against me.
Dear Ms Phillimore
We represent Victoria Haigh, a racehorse trainer and former model. You will be familiar with our client from your online postings via Twitter and your blog.
We write in respect to certain false claims and allegations made against our client, those being widely published using your barrister profile via Twitter and your blog as the source of such.
Your false claims and allegations include, where you falsely state and insinuate that our client has been convicted of crimes of which she has never been convicted, including, the attempted abduction of a child and child abuse.
Our client is deeply concerned and distressed concerning these false claims. Please therefore in the first instance provide the source of your information to enable these matters to be promptly dealt with.
In the circumstances, it is only sensible that you immediately remove any claim which cannot legally be supported, where we should advise that the continued presence of these false and highly defamatory allegations is causing significant damage to our client’s reputation.
Should we not gain your co-operation by close of business today, we will immediately submit a formal complaint to your regulator and escalate matters otherwise. Please note that a copy of this correspondence is simultaneously being submitted to your regulator anyway to ensure there is no loss of time in dealing with the fallout from this defamation.
We await your urgent reply, however, in the meantime, you may wish to pass a copy of this notice to your insurer.
I found this quite an odd email and immediately doubted its provenance. However, I appreciated that I referred to Ms Haigh as having committed the offence of attempted child abduction when in fact she received a 3 year prison term (later reduced on appeal) for breach of a non molestation order. She approached her child who was sitting in a car on a petrol station forecourt despite knowing that she was prohibited from doing so. The serious nature of that breach was no doubt reflected in the initial prison term of 3 years.
I accept it is always important to be clear and accurate, so I edited my blog post to be clear about the precise nature of Ms Haigh’s criminality, and I made it clear I had done so.
Unfortunately Ms Hobbs was not happy. She replied on March 14th to say
In the circumstances, we are providing a further twenty-four hours for you to remove all remaining offending material and for you to submit an offer of settlement with respect to the damages due to our client. Should matters proceed to court, our client has been advised that the court would consider the sum of £300,000 as just and reasonable compensation for what she has suffered and continues to suffer. This sum does not take into account any loss of licence which would bring to an end our client’s substantial racehorse training business. We further believe that you have brought your profession into disrepute and acted without integrity, where accordingly, you may be subject to disciplinary proceedings and be disbarred. It is therefore hoped that you act reasonably where we await your urgent reply.
I replied in the following terms. I had previously asked Ms Hobbs to confirm her professional status and give me details of her firm’s insurer, but received no reply to those queries.
I am disappointed but – given the bizarre tone and contents of your emails – not really surprised, to receive no information about your professional status by 4pm today as requested.
Let me be frank. I consider what you are doing is verging on a criminal attempt to extort money with menaces. Your claims and assertions are absurd.
Please do think very long and hard about what you are doing….[redacted]
I do not expect to hear any more from you but please do not doubt my willingness to engage if you do not immediately desist.
It is now April 3rd and I have yet to hear further from Ms Hobbs. I find it very odd that any kind of venture that purports to be in a position to secure payouts of £300K for their client has no web presence at all. I remain of the view that this was some kind of attempted extortion and I can imagine many people receiving this kind of correspondence would have been extremely frightened. As no doubt was the intent.
So in just a very short space of time I have seen some clear examples of really abusive and frightening behaviour from those who claim that they are speaking for the voiceless victims of the evil, secret family courts. To claim that such people cannot be challenged because they are ‘prominent’ in their field is getting things back to front. You earn prominence and respect because of your words and deeds. Your prominence does not insulate you from reasonable criticism of your words and deeds.
To be blunt – as I know no other way to be – am very worried about what is happening in the ‘DV Sector’ and this relentless narrative that the family courts are designed as deliberate tools of oppression against women. As my experiences show, women can be every bit as abusive, manipulative and dangerous as men. It is naive to claim otherwise. Not everyone who seeks to identify as a victim actually IS a victim.
Distinct binary divisions between ‘perp’ and ‘victim’ are rare. The truth is often much messier than that. Those who seek to deny this obvious truth should not be allowed to hijack a very necessary and serious debate about how to make the family justice system better.
However, sadly it looks as if there will be many more videos to come.
EDIT APRIL 4th 2019
I am pleased to note that Clare Waxman has deleted her original tweet sharing the video. What is less happy is that my various questions to her went and continued to go unanswered.
Warning. Deciding you know everything about a case on a video is deeply dangerous. Particularly when many of those 'highlighting' this also promote such as Victoria Haigh as 'victims' of the system. I agree we need to open the courts, if only to put a stop to naive campaigning. https://t.co/JMcq5SjewT
— Sarah Phillimore (@SVPhillimore) March 31, 2019
Edit April 4th 2019 a bit later
I have had more emails from Ms Hobbs who seems even more displeased.
Despite formal notice and your legal and professional obligations, it has come to our attention that you have further fallen in default of those by committing to yet more defamation and breach of duty of confidentiality with respect to recent posts on your website. Unless all reference to our private and confidential communication and ourselves is removed with immediate effect, these further breaches will be added to the Notice of Claim which is now being prepared by counsel following receipt of your BSB disciplinary record.
We note that your past professional misconduct history falls directly line with your current demonstrating extreme recklessness and abandonment of duty in relation to family proceedings. Your behaviour is reprehensible, where it is absolutely clear you are unfit to practice let alone family law. This notice is being copied directly to your regulator which has been made aware of what is in transition, including, where we are seeking disciplinary action and draconian sanctions. We understand that you have also been reported to the police for similar breaches and acts of malice.
And Ms Haigh has begun tweeting.
Do those tagged into this post endorse this kind of intimidation and harassment by Ms Haigh? I would be grateful if they could make it publicly known if this is the kind of behaviour they endorse or they are embarrassed by. https://t.co/rJrUKNAmGZ
— Sarah Phillimore (@SVPhillimore) April 4, 2019
I have replied to Ms Hobbs
Dear Ms Hobbs
I stand by everything I have said and will willingly repeat all and any of my allegations in any arena.
I have asked you repeatedly for confirmation of your professional status and your firm’s insurance details.
You have failed to provide those details. I draw from that certain conclusions.
Any further emails from you will be deleted unread.
I suggest you get on with issuing your claim, but maybe consider with your client how well her public attempts at intimidation and harassment of me via Twitter this afternoon will play before a court. I confess I find it rather an odd strategy but no doubt your counsel can advise.
I do not resile from anything I have written here. I will not remove it unless I am ordered to do so by a person or organisation with rather more authority than Ms Haigh or Ms Hobbs. I shall look forward to defending myself in an open court.
EDIT APRIL 9th 2019
I am grateful to be alerted to the following judgments on BAILII which provide further interesting insights into the operation of the ‘Legal Uk Partnership’.
First we see the case of Welch v Welch  EWFC B32 (19 June 2017) which has this interesting paragraph – emphasis added. The applicant in this case is one Vivien Welch, who I shall assume is now calling herself Vivien Hobbs
It is perfectly clear that the wife’s obsessive behaviour in relation to these matters has continued, arguably worsened. Becoming aware of their identity from the sale documentation, the wife has bombarded the prospective purchaser (Mr Davis) and his solicitors (Hadfields, Butt & Bowyer) with barrages of misinformation and invective deliberately and maliciously designed to frighten them off from the transaction. In these communications she has wilfully misinterpreted the court process and mischievously misrepresented the facts. In a deliberate attempt to add authority to the bombardment she has misrepresented herself as a legal representative of herself practising under the title “Legal UK Partnership” (as far as I am aware she has no legal qualifications whatsoever). Perhaps not surprisingly, Mr Davis has been frightened off – no doubt it was easier to seek a property which did not have these conveyancing complications – and the wife has, once again, frustrated the husband’s legitimate desire to enforce my order of 9th September 2014. The wife is utterly unrepentant about all of this, believing her steps to be wholly justified. There is every reason to believe that, given the chance, she will do exactly the same thing again. One aspect of all this, which makes the wife’s behaviour all the more extraordinary, is that on completion of the sale, she will only receive 1% of the proceeds, and whatever she may receive is already subject to charges which outweigh its value.
Going back a few years to Welch v Welch  EWHC 2622 (Fam) (31 July 2015) we see the same Ms Welch, this time described at paragraph 3 of that judgment:
n judgments in the present proceedings District Judge Hess has, in a number of places, described the approach of the wife both to that litigation against her first husband and this litigation against her second husband as obsessive, or obsessional, and indeed irrational. By way of example only, District Judge Hess said at paragraph 87 of his judgment dated 9 September 2014 that ‘…in this litigation, and in the previous litigation, the wife has…been obstinate, unrealistic and obsessive’. I stress that those are his words after hearing evidence over several days. They are not my choice of words; I merely repeat as part of the background what that judge concluded.
On one level this is funny. I now await the writ of libel being prepared by Ms Hobbs and her mysteriously as yet unnamed counsel with anticipation boardering on the gleeful.
But on the other hand it is not funny at all. Ms Haigh is being promoted and supported by some ‘big names’ in the DV sector. And this is how she operates. Are those promoting her aware of this. I am very afraid that the answer to this question is ‘yes’. The implications for the progress of any meaningful discussion about this area of law and practice are pretty stark. If your campaign is fuelled by the obsessive and irrational – where do you think it is going to end up?