Belfast Telegraph

£180k legal bill to defend depraved Bakers who imprisoned woman in 'House of Horrors'

By Adrian Rutherford

A depraved couple who imprisoned a disabled woman for eight years and kept her as their sex slave received more than £180,000 in legal aid, it can be revealed.

Keith and Caroline Baker were jailed last April for a crime which shocked Northern Ireland.

They detained their victim, who had severe learning difficulties, in a squalid room at their Craigavon home.

She weighed just 6st (38kg) when she was found by police in early 2013.

Now it can be revealed that the couple, who took four years to admit their guilt, received £182,562 in legal aid to fund their defence.

Keith Baker - branded a "Svengali-type figure" by a judge - had a bill of up to £112,028.

His wife, who was described as a "pawn doing his bidding", received a further £70,534 towards her defence.

The payments were revealed after a Freedom of Information request by the Belfast Telegraph.

Under legal aid, the Government pays the cost of lawyers for those who cannot afford legal representation.

It has long been a source of controversy because of the huge sums handed out.

Last year, Stormont's public spending watchdog criticised the failure to address the cost of legal aid in Northern Ireland.

The annual cost has been running at more than £100m on average since 2011.

DUP MLA Edwin Poots said the Bakers' case was another example of our "massive" expenditure.

"No one doubts anyone's right to legal aid, or the need to spend money on it, but our legal aid bill is a third more than what it probably should be," he said.

Mr Poots added: "I was on the justice committee which looked at legal aid, and it's clear our spending is very heavy.

"However, we met huge resistance from the legal system in our attempts to reduce spending."

Mr Poots said he believed people would be "shocked" by the Bakers' legal aid bill.

Expenditure for the case was released by the Legal Services Agency.

It shows Keith Baker's £112,028 legal aid costs included £93,151 for Crown Court representation and £12,026 in respect of his initial appearances in the magistrates court.

Some of his bill includes fees for work carried out representing Caroline Baker in the Crown Court before she transferred to a new solicitor.

The couple's overall bill includes VAT and disbursements. These are costs incurred during the course of the trial by the instructing solicitor, such as fees for expert witnesses and other professional or specialist reports.

The Legal Services Agency said: "The fees payable in the Crown Court are standard fees set out in legislation: these are the Legal Aid for Crown Court Proceedings (Costs) Rules."

The PSNI stumbled upon the Bakers' house of horrors case when officers were called to investigate a "domestic row" in January 2013.

The couple kept their victim in squalid conditions, forcing her to use a toilet overflowing with human waste, and preventing her from leaving her tiny room by removing the inside door handle.

When she was rescued she had only one sound tooth and was "severely emaciated".

The Bakers confessed to the three charges they jointly faced - two of engaging in sexual activity with a mentally disabled person and one of inciting such a person to engage in sexual activity knowing she had such a disorder and "knowing that because of it she was unlikely to refuse".

Keith Baker admitted a further six counts of rape of the same woman and a final count of indecently assaulting the woman.

Caroline Baker pleaded guilty to three offences of "aiding and abetting, counselling and procuring" her husband to rape their victim and a single count of indecent assault.

Keith Baker was sentenced to 20 years, 15 of which he must serve in jail. His wife was sentenced to three years with 18 months to be spent in jail.

In a report from last January, Stormont's Public Accounts Committee said expenditure on legal aid was still "unacceptably high".

It previously examined Northern Ireland's legal aid spending in 2011, calling on the Department of Justice and Legal Services Agency to urgently reform the system and to establish effective financial controls over cost.

However, last January's report said minimal progress has been made. At the time, committee chair Robin Swann said: "We are seeing average annual costs of £102m per year since 2011 - this is simply unacceptable."

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