It has been 6 months since Barker was jailed for for two counts of sexual assault and one charge of fraud. Channel 4's documentary The Girl Who Became Three Boys charts Barker's deception of then 15 year old best friends Jess and Alice. Jess is endearingly candid about the whole affair, although it is clear the girls were deeply upset.
The Girl Who Became Three Boys is primarily interested in the girls' story, experts are entirely absent from the investigation – unless you count the self-confessed tabloid expert Ryan Sabey. The Sun writer commented that this was a story made for the red tops: “In terms of a tabloid story this really had everything.”
The ruse began on the online chat tool MSN. Alice got talking to a boy called Aaron, “He always used to be like 'Hi Babe'.” She was smitten before the pair even met. 'Babe' it seems is the Open Sesame to a teenage girl's heart. The pair met and Alice reasoned that “you just don't think when you meet a person, oh that's my friend dressed up.” Which is very true. I suspect it is also true that the idea of having a boyfriend was at the forefront of Alice's mind rather than any suspicions.
Alice's best friend Jess noted a physical resemblance between Gemma and Aaron. Aaron's soap opera life was enough to distract from any scrutiny and Alice was the epitome of the understanding girlfriend: “I never saw any family pictures, but most of them were all dying so...” So you wouldn't be so base as to ask.
Alice certainly didn't ask about Aaron's ever present hat, pulled low. When Gemma decided Jess should also have a boyfriend and Luke entered on to the scene (also via MSN) he too wore a hat. Perhaps alopecia was widespread among the boys of Epsom, so the girls didn't ask why they were never privy to half of their boyfriend's heads.
Jess notes that the characters of Aaron and Luke were very studied and different. Aaron, apparently, typed in sentences. Luke, who appeared “very chavvy” typed in text speak, abbreviating everything. He would “talk like an absolute idiot.”
Court Reporter Olly Hemans remarked that Gemma had quizzed Jess and Alice about boyfriends and created alter-egos to fit the types described, Gemma “feared that she was going to lose them as friends. And by creating this boyfriends she would still be friends with them.”
The character of Luke was not quite suitable though, a little too handsy for Jess who describes herself as “frigid as a teenager” though as she goes on to say really she was inexperienced and embarrassed – like any normal 15 year old and she wouldn't be pushed. Luke had to go.
Here's where it gets complicated (more so) and the teenage story-telling device of 'he said, she said' reaches new heights of wonder. Jess describes how, when she was on holiday over the new year, Luke started a relationship with another girl. An acquaintance of Jess's. As Jess described her feelings of betrayal the interviewer had to cut in. “Hang on, is she real?” “Yes.” “But Luke isn't?” (exasperated because DUH!) “No!”
So Luke disappeared into the internet with another girl to be replaced with Connor McCormack. Or Cona, as Jess spelled his name. Connor was a mutual friend of Luke and Aaron and told Jess on MSN that Luke had described his aggressive sexual advances and Connor felt sorry for Jess. But most importantly Connor had Justin Bieber hair in his Facebook pictures.
Unlike Luke and Aaron, Connor explained his hat was to conceal his alopecia (not conducive to Bieber hair) he also said he was very shy and didn't want to ruin things. “And that's what girls want, a nice boyfriend.”
So there they are, best friends who have boyfriends with hats. Boyfriends who know each other but are never in the same room together. Which perhaps shows how incredibly undemanding Alice and Jess were as girlfriends. Because all they wanted was a nice boyfriend. Each.
Connor McCormack is the most baffling of the 3 boyfriend characters. Jess describes a sweet, sensitive boy. Her description of the day he presented her with a necklace and a text “'cos obviously, Connor don't talk”, is delivered in a babbling brook of words it causes the interviewer and audience to pause – did she just say he gave her a necklace, then texted her asking her to be his girlfriend? “I'm just struggling with something here,, so he was there in person?” “Yeah.” “In the flesh?” “Yeah.” “And he's texting you?” “Yeah – he did that all the time. Never spoke.”
For all that is said about teenage bullying they are also a very accepting demographic. This makes them kind, darling and extremely vulnerable.
Connor and Aaron had their girlfriends wait in vain for over 7 hours for them once, until 4am outside the gated community they claimed to live in. A friend of Jess and Alice, Leanne Barry scolded them: “multiple times I said to Jess, you and Alice are idiots. I was constantly saying, why are you even talking to them? You met them through MSN and Facebook and things. You shouldn't be talking to them in the first place.”
But these boyfriends needed them. Never under-estimate the loneliness of a teenage girl (or boy). Alice and Aaron decided to take their relationship to the next level and sleep together. Teenage shyness made Aaron's insistence on darkness and keeping shirt and hat on seem normal. It was later Alice found a pink dildo in Aaron's bag.
Around this time (though of course not at the same time) Connor was getting more sexually aggressive. He sexually assaulted Jess and as he slept beside her she noticed something. This wasn't Connor, but Aaron. Jess went to the police and reported Aaron for sexual assault.
Gemma Barker's behaviour wasn't peculiar to you before it should be now. For, as the Court reporter Hemans notes, why not now just drop the characters of Connor and Aaron? Barker instead resurrected Luke, who confessed on Facebook that he had disguised himself as Connor to assault Jess.
In fact, at the end of the documentary Jess is filmed discussing the entire incident with a mutual friend of Jess, Alice and Gemma's. Jess explains Connor would often assault her, then Luke would come back on the scene to confess. Barker was therefore doing what she usually did, however when the police are involved it is not a case of convincing a teenager her life is akin to a particularly dark French farce.
Aaron was caught and it was in custody the police realised Aaron did not exist. In his place was a 19 year old Gemma Barker. When Alice and Jess learned of the deception Alice asked her parents: “Does this make me a lesbian? Am I still a virgin?”
In addition to the betrayal and violation Alice seems to have felt particularly alone in this unusual occurrence. As The Sun writer should know this is not an isolated incident. Alison Oram's book Her Husband Was A Woman! tracks various women of the past 2 centuries who masqueraded as men and went as far as marriage with unsuspecting women. On the occasions these scandals broke The News of the World and other tabloids lapped them up.
Gemma Barker was diagnosed with borderline learning disabilities, a difficulty understanding social situations and Autistic Spectrum Disorder. No evidence of a personality disorder was found.
*Alice chose not to be identified.
You can watch The Girl Who Became Three Boys on 4OD