Recently Barbara Hewson, the former Human Rights Barrister, was suspended from practising as a barrister for two years. This came at the end of three days where Hewson faced a 5 Person Disciplinary Tribunal hearing. She was charged with Professional Misconduct: “behaving in a way which was seriously offensive and likely to diminish the trust and confidence which the public places in a barrister or in the profession”, as well as failing to be cooperative with the Bar Standards Board: behaving in a way which could be reasonably be seen by the public to undermine her integrity. The hearing, originally set for four days was reduced to three following admissions made by Hewson.
I first came across Hewson in 2015, when I noticed the way she commented to and about people she disagreed with. It was not the fact that she disagreed that caught my attention but the WAY in which she did. It appeared specifically designed to provoke, belittle, mock and humiliate and there was very little regard for how her comments could affect those she targeted. Many of those she targeted could be considered vulnerable and had coped with traumatic experiences, such as a prominent anti-paedophile campaigner Hewson described as “brain damaged”.
Hewson’s engagement always struck me as somewhat sadistic in nature. It therefore came as no surprise that I later found out she was a Spiked contributor.
From what I could tell, Hewson seemed to relish being divisive and provocative, and enjoyed courting controversy – especially over certain topics. Hewson took umbrage with anyone alleging that there was a VIP paedophile ring in Westminster, and she was especially opposed to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) which was set up following serious concerns that some organisations had failed and were continuing to fail to protect children from sexual abuse.
Hewson referred to several people supporting IICSA as ‘ fantasists’ or ‘compo chasers’ and, although she was correct in her view of Carl Beech who was sentenced to 18 years for 12 counts of perverting the course of justice and one count of fraud, I felt the manner in which she expounded her views was degrading, derogatory and disparaging. Hewson failed to understand how abusers are often extremely adept at being able to fool others- especially anyone with empathy, who is willing and able to see good in others.
At the time, Hewson struck me as someone intent on deliberately provoking – to the point of being abusive. Her view seemed to be that her critics stifled her free speech -which she exercised vigorously and, seemingly, with a total absence of responsibility. She had many supporters who shared her view and her standing as a respectable barrister emboldened them to further target mainly survivors of child sexual abuse.
Hewson’s desire to court controversy was furthered by her frequent sharing of tweets by alt-right and anti-feminist polemists such as Milo Yiannopoulos and Carl Benjamin. Yiannopoulos, then a Breitbart editor who, in 2016, was permanently banned from Twitter for harassment, then permanently banned from Facebook in 2019, was forced out of Breitbart following backlash to video clips where he claimed that sexual relationships between 13-year-old boys and adult men and women can be “perfectly consensual” and positive experiences for the boys. Carl Benjamin, also known as Sargon of Akkad, the YouTuber and UKIP candidate was investigated over rape comments he had made concerning the Labour MP Jess Phillips.
I was surprised that a practicing barrister, who seemed highly respected, could mock and taunt in the way that she did, and that her unpleasant online manner was not challenged by her regulatory body. As it turns out, it would get a lot worse.
In May 2016, Hewson published another article for Spiked: “The family courts make a mockery of justice“. In the article she wrote: “the family courts operate a separate system of legal rules unaffected by fundamental legal principles, such as the right to a fair trial and the supremacy of judgements of the Supreme Court (the doctrine of legal precedent). It is perhaps not surprising that many ordinary people view the family courts as inherently unfair.” Unsurprisingly, several family lawyers objected to this and over the next few days there ensued many who tackled Hewson over her views.
This led to several robust twitter exchanges over the course of the weekend in which Hewson referred to several female lawyers, patronisingly, as ‘little lady’.
On the Monday after, Hewson promptly made complaints about several of her critics to either their Chambers or their employers. One by one, those who objected to Hewson’s article dropped away, as they were effectively silenced, until only one remained. This lawyer posted several posts on her blog criticising the approach taken by Hewson. This would be the start of what has been widely reported, in several national newspapers, as a *spat* between lawyers.
During the Disciplinary Tribunal, much has been made of Hewson’s 2013 Spiked article, in which Hewson criticised Operation Yewtree, the post-Savile investigation in sexual abuse and in which she wrote that: “The most remarkable facet of the Savile scandal is how adult complainants are invited to act like children.”
Hewson proposed that the age of consent be lowered to 13 to avoid the “manipulation of the British criminal-justice system to produce scapegoats on demand”. Both this article and her subsequent Channel 4 interview would result in Hewson receiving a slew of online vitriol including being called a ‘paedophile apologist’.
At the disciplinary tribunal, Hewson’s defence claimed that this was the start of when things went wrong for Hewson and whilst it is true that she was the recipient of significant online abuse, I do not believe that this was her undoing. I say this because Hewson was still respected by many, but the article she wrote in 2016, which criticised the family courts, would open up a Pandora’s box that would lead directly to Hewson’s appearance before the Disciplinary Tribunal.
It was around this time that Barbara became acquainted with several Twitter accounts whose modus operandi was to wage a campaign of harassment and smears and create fear and isolation by using anonymous troll accounts. This online, or virtual mobbing consisted of anonymous accounts posting information about a target that the instigator of the smear campaign could then claim had nothing to do with them. Crucially, they would then ‘like’ and ‘share’ the offending posts, thereby endorsing the posts whilst simultaneously being able to claim they were not involved.
In 2017, The Times and Mail Online both published articles claiming that Hewson had made death threats to a student.
The Mail would later pay libel damages to Hewson, and whilst it had been established that Hewson did not directly threaten the student, her behaviour towards him was such that he feared that his life was in danger. From my understanding, Hewson approached the student seeking ‘dirt’ on another barrister and, when the student failed to comply, she turned her vitriol on him and waged a campaign that had a serious and detrimental effect on his mental health.
I know this because I was in contact with him, and I know he was terrified.
I have had my own run in with Hewson, which has resulted in her trying to discredit what I do and sabotage the way I work. My response has always been to send anyone she complains to copies of the articles that she has written and that have been written about her and the matter has not proceeded further.
Once Hewson had connected with these troll accounts, her behaviour became infinitely more abusive, vitriolic and erratic. She would tweet abuse about someone late at night – often through the night – and would them frantically delete all the offensive tweets in the morning, earning her the unedifying soubriquet ‘Gin Goblin’ which, not surprisingly, served to fuel her anger further.
Hewson became enraged when one of these late night tweets survived the morning cull, in the form of a screenshot, and would set about having the person who shared the screenshot sacked from their job, either by repeatedly tagging in their employer, colleagues or regulatory body and sometimes all three, in an attempt to discredit them, or she would email their workplace or regulatory body in an attempt to conceal her vicious night time excesses. In much of this, she was aided by her new ‘friends’, some of whom have been arrested and charged for various crimes including harassment, stalking and malicious communications. Often there would be pile-ons where several of Hewson’s coterie would complain en-masse to an employer or regulatory body – even the police.
Hewson and her new coterie joined forces to attack all their shared targets and to protect each other – in the form of acting as character witnesses and helping to obtain private information which would be shared prolifically. The targets consisted broadly of survivors of abuse, campaigners, anyone connected to the IICSA independent inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, various journalists, and ultimately anyone who criticised them.
At some point Hewson and her coterie all locked their online accounts to prevent their efforts from being evidenced and reported to the police, but the harassment and smear campaigns continued. Now it was via anonymous troll accounts, specifically set up to continue the abuse and which they would vociferously claim had nothing to do with them. The police suspect that these are multi-user accounts (which would explain the different styles of tweeting) that hide behind VPNs and so identifying their IP addresses requires much more police expertise and expense than many police force budgets will allow.
To further prevent evidence from being made available, Hewson and some of her coterie also drastically culled their followers to reduce the likelihood of screenshots of incriminating posts being taken and passed on to the police. In this way, Hewson has managed to successfully claim, to the Disciplinary Tribunal, that she is no longer active on Twitter and that very few people read her posts. That is partially true, but what she fails to mention is that although few read her tweets and blog posts, they get shared profusely and information vilifying Hewson’s critics is then passed on to the anonymous accounts to be disseminated further.
Examples of personal information that this cohort have shared includes:
- Home addresses.
- Google Map images of home addresses.
- Telephone numbers, postcodes and car registration plates.
- Images of old homes.
- Names of family members including spouses and children.
- Posting photos of relatives – especially spouses – but also children.
- Entries from Companies House and 192.com.
These have been accompanied by misstatements, misrepresentations and distortions and have tagged in numerous other accounts in order to maximise their campaign to discredit anyone they have set their sights on.
In 2017 Hewson was issued with a prevention of harassment letter (PHL) under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. Much in the same way that she tried to appeal her Bar Standards Board sanction, she attempted to judicially review the decision to issue her with the harassment notice by claiming that it had breached her human rights. The judicial review failed, but it is an interesting study in showing Hewson’s resistance to acknowledging culpability and accountability.
One of Hewson’s critics was accused of abducting a girl who had been missing since 1981, when she disappeared at the age of two. Hewson and her coterie reported that he resembled the identikit image of the missing girl’s abductor and took to making comments that the Hewson critic had hidden the girl in his cellar.
Other examples of the kind of behaviour Hewson apparently finds acceptable include: mocking mental health and suicidal ideation as well as copious derogatory posts pertaining to a person’s appearance, calling them ugly, stupid and references to the ‘nutterbus’ amongst others. All this as part of the free speech that Hewson professes is her human right to exercise, but with no regard for the harm that her emotionally and psychologically abusive taunts create.
What has been poorly understood is just how much of Hewson’s behaviour has remained below the radar, yet is a huge part of the course of conduct she was engaged in. Designed to abuse whilst remaining invisible in plain sight.
The intention of the coterie Hewson is part of is to provoke targets into reacting negatively and to use THAT negative reaction to claim that Hewson and her coterie are the victims of harassment and stalking when, in fact, they are the instigators.
It is a fact that Hewson has undoubtedly been at the receiving end of some vicious online abuse for her views, but her own actions are not and should not be seen as a reaction that is understandable, rather an indication of her humiliated rage at being exposed. I say this because Hewson has consistently and reliably shown a lack of contrition and remorse and has continually attempted to justify her actions.
I hope I am wrong and I hope that she uses this suspension to reflect on her culpability and on how she can move on from this, but I suspect that she will, instead, use the anonymous troll accounts to attack each and everyone who has criticised her. We shall see.
I take a risk in writing this. I fully expect to be the subject of an inordinate amount of venom where my family are targeted, names and photos of my family and address are shared, my mental health and appearance mocked, what I do belittled and discredited and misstatements and misrepresentations made. I feel it is important to speak out because, in doing so, others will hopefully come forward. It is important that people understand and recognise how these mobbing campaigns work and how abusive tactics remain undetected because so much of it occurs below the radar.
In closing, I offer this:
With reference to anonymous abuse accounts. Ask yourself the following questions:
Who does the vilification benefit?
Who does it silence?