Sunday, November 04, 2012
This post is intended as a short backgrounder on the current situation regarding child abuse in Jersey (CI).
Behind its façade as a British holiday resort with a taste of France and without the hassle of the French language, Jersey is actually a very different place.
It is small (about 46 square miles / 120 km2). It is parochial, not only in the attitudinal sense of the word. Its administration is significantly based on the parish (of which there are 12 on the island). It is a Crown Dependency, which means it is not, strictly speaking, part of the UK or the EU. Technically the Queen is in charge, and is responsible for good governance on the island, but she normally delegates her authority to the UK Justice Minister. Jersey has its own Parliament, called the States.
Some years ago, individuals involved with the Jersey Sea Cadets were investigated in relation to child sex abuse. Despite suspicions of more serious crimes, there was only one arrest linked to child pornography. However, links to other institutions, including Haut de La Garenne, emerged in the course of the investigation and these were followed up leading to the wider abuse investigation.
That investigation was initially covert as the leading policeman did not want to alert the island's political authorities. Given their suspected complicity in what was going on, they might have been tempted to stymie the investigation. At a later stage the investigation had to go very forcibly public. This time to reassure survivors of abuse that it was serious in getting to the bottom of the problem come hell or high water, and that unlike in the past, the survivors would be taken seriously if they came forward with evidence.
The intense publicity for the investigation was also intended by the police to make it harder for the island's ruling elite to interfere with, or stop, the investigation. It was also intended to put pressure on them to follow up with appropriate action themselves, such as prosecutions, which they had previously been reluctant to do.
During the covert stage of the investigation, and not knowing it was in train, the then Health Minister was conducting some research of his own in response to approaches from survivors. This put him in a position that, when he was asked in the island's parliament if he was satisfied with the island's child protection régime (for which he was responsible), he had to admit that he wasn't. This admission set the cat among the pigeons and the ruling elite had him dismissed shortly afterwards.
Much to the dismay of the authorities, the police investigation then went seriously public and despite its public protestations to the contrary, the ruling elite did everything in its power close down that investigation. The Senior Investigating Officer (Lenny Harper) was shortly due to retire and that probably saved him from the fate of his boss the Police Chief (Graham Power) who was suspended (effectively dismissed) for doing his job without fear or favour. Every effort was then made to rubbish the investigation, shut it down, and slur the officers concerned. Combined with a policy of procrastination and petty harassment, this seemed to be succeeding, at least for the moment.
Now the revelations about Jimmy Savile have once more turned the spotlight on Jersey and it will be up to the people of the island, and the justice campaigners in particular, to ensure that this opportunity to rekindle the investigation is not missed.
The original abuse scandal has been enormously complicated by the subsequent cover-up. Many of those in power in Jersey, even where not involved in the abuse itself, have become complicit in covering it up. And some of those still in positions of responsibility are themselves alleged to have been involved in the abuse. This has meant that anyone attempting to get to the bottom of it runs straightaway into a brick wall.
So it is not surprising that there has been a concerted effort by the power elite to suppress any real investigation, slur and harass the investigators, and try and avoid any adverse publicity outside Jersey.
The island is a serious "tax haven", used not only by "foreigners" but also by the UK itself. Reputational damage could have serious financial repercussions for the island and the UK. So it is not hard to understand why it is proving so difficult to get the UK authorities, who are effectively responsible for good governance in Jersey, to take action.
On top of this there are serious allegations of UK celebrities, politicians and other authority figures having availed of the pool of abusable children in Jersey. In a disgusting abuse of language these activities have been referred to as perks. It may turn your stomach but it does reflect an attitude that, to judge from the extent of the abuse, was prevalent in many quarters, in both Jersey and the UK.
The Empire strikes back
The Jersey Oligarchy has made every effort possible to suppress knowledge of the abuse and to thwart any attempt to bring the perpetrators to justice.
A small number of people have, by now, been successfully prosecuted, but these prosecutions were initiated during the earlier investigation where they were aggressively promoted by Graham Power and Lenny Harper. This stream has now dried up.
One of the first people, in recent times, to fall foul of the régime was the then Senator Stuart Syvret. The doyen of the States (Jersey Parliament) he was effectively the Health Minister and, as such, responsible for the child protection service. His refusal to sign a blank cheque endorsing the service led to his dismissal from the States and a subsequent campaign of harassment, including an illegal police raid on his house, which has not abated. He was jailed twice in circumstances where others would have been given a slap on the wrist or not even prosecuted in the first place.
He has purposely contested to the limit any court action taken against him with a view to drawing wider attention to the operation of the system of "justice" on the island, including the misuse of the data protection legislation.
He is currently working on a legal case against the authorities to take to Europe. This will have to have gone through the Jersey and UK systems first, and this is taking huge time and effort on his part. At one stage he "escaped" to London but is now back in Jersey, and, as far as I know, living on social welfare. Major elements in the case he is preparing are the lack of separation of powers in Jersey, the extreme conflicts of interest within the justice system and the sheer perversity with which the law is applied to opponents of the régime.
Then there was Lenny Harper, Senior Investigating Officer in the child abuse investigation. Lenny is something else. A Northern Irish Protestant married to a Roman Catholic, with a previous career in the RUC and the Met, he was originally recruited to clean up the island. Well, at least I think that's what he thought at the time. When he set about his job with objective enthusiasm, all hell broke loose. He conducted arms raids across the island, revealing large firearms stashes rising in seriousness right up to the level of a rocket launcher.
When he got to the abuse investigation he set to it with a will. Initially the investigation itself was not revealed even to the authorities, for the very good reason that many of them were implicated, or at least complicit in the cover-up. When it had gained enough momentum the investigation was revealed in the full glare of publicity. This had two main aims: first, to thwart any effort by the administration to wind it up or suppress it, and, equally important, to convince survivors that, this time, it was for real. They would be listened to and their complaints would be pursued no matter where they led. The strategy was a good one and Lenny gained the trust of all of those who were genuinely concerned to see justice done. Lenny retired before the investigation was fully completed and the authorities have persistently attempted to slur him ever since. Anyone who has read his published commentaries or seen him on video or read the exposés of what is going on, will have no difficulty in concluding that he was an exceptional police officer doing a magnificent job in the teeth of vicious and unrelenting opposition from the island's political elite
Lenny's boss, the Chief of Police, Graham Power, backed him all the way. Graham had also come from the "mainland", and again from reading his affidavits and commentaries, it is clear that he was an exemplary officer. Not exactly what the régime had in mind, however, and when he refused to become involved in the administration's attempt to sack the Health Minister, he was himself sacked (suspended) soon afterwards. Both he and Lenny were replaced by officers who immediately set about rubbishing the abuse enquiry.
One of them even resorted to leaking information, designed to undermine that enquiry, to a hostile mainland journalist. This is a crime without any public interest defence. I mention this because Stuart Syret has been prosecuted for leaking material for which there was a self-evident public interest defence which was refused by the local judicial system. This ended in Stuart going to prison while no action was taken in the case of the police officer.
Just so you get the atmosphere in which a lot of this was taking place, Frank Walker, then Chief Minister, accused Stuart Syvret, on a BBC Panorama programme, of "shafting Jersey" by his revelations. Clearly, avoiding reputational damage took precedence over any idea of justice or compassion. This seems to be a standard institutional response in such cases (vide the Vatican and the RCC hierarchy throughout the world).
Separation of Powers
Jersey probably has more in common with a feudal state than with a modern democratic one. Particular families have long wielded effective power. There is no formal separation of powers such as one might expect in a modern democratic state. The executive, parliament, judicial system, and public prosecutor are all part of the same amorphous mass. This makes for a highly politicised justice system, and it explains much of the tension between the police and the prosecution service during the tenure of Power and Harper, officers who were attuned to the UK system and who were taken aback at the extent of political interference in the judicial and policing areas in Jersey.
It is against this background that Stuart Syvret is attempting to involve Europe in the Jersey scene and that Power and Harper had to resort to stratagems to secure the prosecution of sex abuse offenders.
The media in Jersey is a sort of unfunny joke. The Jersey Evening Post, the island's only newpaper, is a creature of the establishment. Full stop. Surprisingly, so is BBC Jersey. The local station seems to have the same relationship with Auntie that Stormont had with Westminster in the bad old days: do what you like as long as you don't rock the mainland boat. Channel TV, part of the ITV network, seems no better.
The extent to which the Jersey authorities take for granted their right to control the mainstream media was thrown into sharp relief recently. They contrived to get the UK authorities to deny access to the UK (and Jersey) to a US financial journalist in good standing, Leah McGrath Goodman. She was beginning to turn her attention to the sex-abuse cover-up. This has seriously backfired as her disgraceful detention at Heathrow airport, and subsequent expulsion from the UK, has only drawn serious international attention to the strange goings-on on the island.
The lack of proper media has led to the rise of the Jersey bloggers. They are now many but three in particular merit mention.
Ex-Senator Stuart Syvret, mentioned also above, has been blogging since 2008. His blog is a commentary on the current state of affairs in Jersey with particular reference to the sex-abuse cover-up. He occasionally has a go at other scandals as well. He is well informed and has the confidence of the survivors. He tilts outrageously at the establishment including at individuals, safe (so far) in the knowledge that he is right and that any effort to sue him would do more damage to the complainant than to him. One of his campaigns relates to a nurse who is alleged to have murdered a number of people in a Jersey hospital and who is now in the UK, apparently still operating as a nurse. It is thought that Stuart is currently subject to a supergag order in relation to this case.
Voice for Children has been blogging since 2007 and in recent times has had a serious impact with high quality video interviews with people in power in Jersey (those willing to participate) and others, such as Graham Power and Lenny Harper, currently outside the island. In a fascinating development, VFC has also succeeded in covering sessions of relevant parliamentary committees, such as Scrutiny (the equivalent of our powerful Public Accounts Committee). These videos have been first class and would be a credit to any professional TV station. But of course the Jersey mainstram media run a mile from this sort of stuff. VFC also developed a style in doorstepping which is very effective. The videos are all preceded by a short station identification animation, which equates Jersey with North Korea, and which has yet to fail to make me smile.
Rico Sorda has reluctantly become an investigative journalist and has broken a number of stories, involving leaked documents or the assiduous marshalling of known facts. He has also been doing some live video transmissions including taking text questions from viewers in real time.
The bloggers have the administration worried as hell. They are pounding away on the home front, being leaked material which leakers will not entrust to the compromised mainstream media, and they are building up an international following. They are really bringing home to the administration that "no man is an island", particularly in this internet age. They are engaged in a cooperative rather than a competitive exercise and are quite happy to refer readers to each other or to other local blogs, such as, for example, that of States member Trevor Pitman.
The Savile case
Up to very recently, there seemed to have been a prospect that, despite the efforts of the bloggers and the survivors, the whole thing might just go away. The administration introduced a compensation scheme which they hoped would put the survivors to bed, so to speak, and they have been dithering about a Commission of Inquiry, all the while attempting to dilute its terms of reference to keep it out of harm's way.
Now, hopefully, as a result of the Savile revelations, all this is changing. The UK and international media are once again taking a close look at Jersey. Savile was a frequent visitor to the island. His mother is said to have lived there. He is now beginning to be named in individual complaints and those in which he had been named previously are now being taken more seriously.
The aim now should be not just to document Savile's activities and bring some sort of closure to his victims, but to use this opportunity to root out those, still living and in positions of power, who are guilty of abuse or complicit in covering it up.
I'll end on a personal note.
I worked in Jersey during the Summer of 1961 and fell in love with the place - more with the north than with the south, but however. I took the night shot below of Gorey Castle (Mont Orgeuil as it is appropriately known). I was proud of the shot and produced it a few years ago in a comment on a Jersey blog. For me it symbolised a majestic and romantic vision of this beautiful island.
It wasn't long before another contributor to the blog revealed that for her the picture had no such benign connotations. She had been an inmate in Haut de la Garenne, a short distance away, and that was the sight that confronted the children as they made their way to get the bus into St. Helier.
A seriously conflicted symbol then.