Friday 28 April 2017

Unmasked: the woman who kept sex slave in home with husband

  • Reporting restrictions lifted after joint challenge by media groups
  • Caroline and Keith Baker pleaded guilty to repeated rape and sexual abuse of victim
  • Woman with mental disability kept prisoner in filthy room for years
Caroline Baker unmasked after a legal challenge by media organisations in Ireland and the UK.
Caroline Baker unmasked after a legal challenge by media organisations in Ireland and the UK.
Caroline Baker in a PSNI-issued photograph (Picture: PSNI)
A CCTV camera in the room where the woman was imprisoned Picture: PA
Keith Baker was jailed for 15 years Photo: PSNI/PA Wire
Handle missing on a door in the home of Keith and Caroline Baker. Photo: PSNI/PA Wire
A light fitting in the home of Keith and Caroline Baker who have been sentenced to a total of 18 years in prison after they sexually abused a mentally-disordered woman and held her prisoner for six years. Photo: PSNI/PA Wire
The bedroom where the victim was kept in the Armagh ‘House of Horrors’ Picture: PA

Adrian Rutherford

This is the face of the woman behind one of Northern Ireland's most shocking sex abuse cases.

Caroline Baker was unmasked yesterday after a legal challenge by media organisations in Ireland and the UK.

Earlier this week the 54-year-old was handed a three-year sentence for her part in subjecting a disabled woman to horrific sexual assaults.

Baker and her husband Keith abused their victim, who had severe learning difficulties, keeping her prisoner in a filthy room for years. Until yesterday a court order banned the media from publishing Caroline Baker's face.

Caroline Baker in a PSNI-issued photograph (Picture: PSNI)
Caroline Baker in a PSNI-issued photograph (Picture: PSNI)

But reporting restrictions were lifted after a joint challenge by the 'Belfast Telegraph', the BBC, UTV and the 'Sunday World'.

Olivia O'Kane from Carson McDowell solicitors, who led the challenge, welcomed the ruling.

Keith Baker and his wife kept a young woman a prisoner in this room for over a decade.
Keith Baker and his wife kept a young woman a prisoner in this room for over a decade.

"The notion that justice must be seen to be done is of significant importance, and the media in acting as the public watchdog, took a media application in this case to ensure that the public could be fully informed," she said.

"The role of the media has particular importance in ensuring the administration of justice is transparent and publicly administered."

Keith Baker
Keith Baker

It has emerged the PSNI may have stumbled upon the shocking case almost by accident when they were called out to a "domestic row" back in January 2013.

House of Horrors

The woman, who suffered from learning difficulties, endured eight years of sexual abuse at the hands of vile couple Keith and Caroline Baker, who imprisoned her in their outwardly mundane terraced home.

Today, the house in Drumellan Mews is occupied by new owners who have no connection to the Baker family.

Target marks have been drawn on the side of the house, which has also been partially repainted after the words 'house of horrors' were scrawled on the side.

Shocked neighbours said they believed that Keith Baker was the leader of a polygamous cult that treated the two women in the house - wife Caroline Baker and Mandy Highfield, who would later report the Bakers to the police - as servants.

"We have lived here for decades and we only saw the third woman a handful of times in all those years," explained one local mother, who wished to remain anonymous.

"Even now I can see her wee face. I remember her standing at the window staring straight ahead - it gave me goosebumps.

"You could only see her head and she just stood there looking without turning or moving a muscle. She was like a ghost.

"It seemed like lots of people went to the house. We saw a car load of men and we thought it was relatives of his from Guernsey. Now it's horrifying to think what might have been happening."

The house of horrors was actually two homes knocked into one property - controlling Baker kept girls in one, and boys lived in the other. "My daughter went into the boys' section of the house once and she said it was really, really dirty - full of junk," the woman added.

Locals said Keith Baker and his eccentric extended family "kept themselves to themselves", and neighbours in turn left the family alone, believing their unconventional living arrangements were the result of religious beliefs.

"We thought Keith Baker was running a cult or a commune as he had a couple of 'wives' and he seemed to be treated like their god," said another woman.

"I saw the victim outside once with Mandy Highfield, his 'second wife', and I asked who she was. She looked like she was about 13. She was very childlike and she didn't speak.

"Mandy said she was her sister from England, but when I looked up Keith was standing with his arms folded in the doorway of his house staring over, so I left. Keith Baker always seemed to be very controlling - he was like their guard.

"I remember another time he had two women outside of his house washing the wheels of his car while he stood in the doorway kissing another woman. They were his skivvies.

"Caroline Baker worked as a dinner lady at a local primary school and I remember laughing after I saw her one Sunday as it looked like he had made her dress up in her uniform and hairnet to make the Sunday dinner. But there was never any indication that anyone in the house was being abused or held against their will.

"When we found out, we were disgusted. God help that woman.

"It just goes to show that you don't know what's going on in anybody's home.

"The jail terms were a disgrace. I think Caroline should have got 15 years and he should have got life after what they put that woman through."

Another neighbour on the daffodil-lined estate said that she had heard "banging and shouting" emanating from the house, but assumed that it was "kids messing about". "I did see the second 'wife' and she seemed to be a bit scared of Keith," she explained.

"This is quite a quiet place, but there were a few men who came to the house.

"I think it's disgusting what they did to that woman. I don't know how anybody could do that to a vulnerable person."

A local shop worker said that to her the Bakers "seemed like normal people," and recalled seeing them baking and selling buns in aid of Children in Need.

"When I first heard what had happened, I just thought that it was rumours, a load of rubbish," she added.

"Then I felt sick. There's a general feeling of shock in the community. The kids on the estate would have played together with their kids.

"Everyone is shocked to the core. We can't believe this has happened here."

While normal life is continuing on the estate, which is popular with families, local people are visibly shocked and upset at the horror that occurred just a few hundred yards away.

Another woman echoed the view that the eccentric Baker family had been given a wide berth as the community "thought they were from a different culture, or it was some sort of religious thing".

"Apart from that, the house was in good order on the outside and the kids were fed and clothed," she said.

"There was no indication of what was going on inside, so how could social services have known? There was nothing to suggest that anything out of the ordinary was going on.

"I've been here for over a decade and I didn't see the victim once and never had any indication she existed."

As local people came to terms with the evil that flourished unseen in their community, a group of children played innocently on a nearby grassy area.

Parents arrived at the gates of Drumellan Community Association to collect their youngsters from the youth centre.

The organisation, which houses a Family Learning Complex and Children and Young People's Centre, issued a statement expressing its committee members' "utmost disgust at the sickening and horrific details that emerged from the court."

It said: "We are deeply shocked that these awful crimes, inflicted on a defenceless, vulnerable lady, happened on our doorstep. Many residents have approached the association clearly upset and equally horrified at what has taken place.

"Drumellan Community Association for many years has worked tirelessly to improve this estate, creating an environment where families feel safe and this we will continue to do."

While the court case may now be over, it seems that the trauma which the Bakers' evil actions inflicted on this quiet community will take some time to heal.

Irish Independent

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