The failings that left children in care open to abuse in Jersey went right to the top of the political system, an inquiry has found. It added that children there “may still be at risk”.
The report looked at the operation of a number of children’s homes spanning 70 years. It heard evidence that children suffered physical, sexual and emotional abuse that was covered up or ignored by the authorities.
Some said they were beaten with nettles for wetting the bed. Others described suffering electric shocks and beatings. The inquiry heard that some children were locked in small spaces as a punishment or had food withheld.
Many said they didn’t report abuse for fear they would not be believed.
The report said, “Failings were at all levels. There was no political interest in defining and promoting standards of care and performance in residential care and no will to invest the resources required in child care services.”
It describes the “Jersey Way” which, at worst, “is said to involve the protection of powerful interests”.
Trevor Pitman is a former Deputy of the States of Jersey Police (SOJP). He said the Jersey Way was “the powerful, the establishment protecting the guilty and ensuring that those who probably should be held to account will not be held to account.”
There is evidence that the authorities knew of allegations of abuse and did nothing. For instance, there were “significant allegations of abuse in three different children’s homes between 1989 and 1991 that were known to Children’s Services”.
“There was no review and no inspection, and no difficult questions were asked.”
In fact, “There was no external inspection of children’s homes or children’s services for approximately 20 years, between 1981 and 2001.”
The inquiry heard evidence of a powerful political clique operating in Jersey. Ben Shenton, a former minister, told the inquiry, “Progress in Jersey depends on moving within establishment circles”.
There were “recurring examples of the overseeing political committee preferring to recruit inexperienced people from within the island than outsiders who may have been better qualified”.
People were appointed managers in homes “often on the basis of local connections”.
The report said, “Attitudes in Jersey towards vulnerable children influenced how children in the care system were treated. Children in care were marginalised. Such attitudes contributed to their fear of coming forward.”
SOJP Deputy Bob Hill said a “culture of fear” in Jersey stopped people criticising those who may have influence over their job or family.
The report said that children in care were treated as “low priorities” and that “insufficient effort” was made to prevent abuse. It concluded, “A justice system in which insufficient steps are taken to investigate and punish such abuse where it occurs is indefensible.”
The inquiry concluded that ministers did not consciously try to cover up the abuse or prevent an investigation into it.
Yet it found “disquiet among Jersey’s politicians, up to and including the Chief Minister” about negative publicity.
Former minister Wendy Kinnard told the inquiry that ministers wanted “to minimise” the issue of abuse. In May 2008 Jersey’s Bailiff, Sir Philip Bailhache, made a speech saying, “All child abuse is scandalous. But it is the unjustified and remorseless denigration of Jersey that is the real scandal.”
He told the inquiry this was an “unfortunate juxtaposition” of words. The inquiry concluded that this was a “grave political error, rather than a considered attempt to influence the course of the police investigation”.
A former director of education in Jersey, Mario Lundy, was suspected of physically abusing children. Former chief officer of SOJP Graham Power told the inquiry that “at a meeting attended by himself, Bill Ogley [chief executive] and Mario Lundy, Mr Ogley said: ‘If anyone wants to get Mario they will have to get me first’.”
Power told the inquiry that the statement “was met with applause by some of those present and he took this incident as indicating the closing of ranks by the ‘in crowd’”.
“His view was that politicians and those in government were willing to cover up child abuse in order to protect Jersey’s reputation.”
Over 200 witnesses gave evidence to the inquiry directly. It also considered the evidence of more than 450 former residents of, and others connected to, Jersey’s care system.
The report looked at a number of children’s homes that have operated in Jersey over seven decades. They include the Jersey Home for Boys and Jersey Home for Girls, which merged to create the Haut de la Garenne in 1959.
It also looked at La Preference, Heathfield and Sacre Coeur. The report said, “There was only ever one external inspection of La Preference, in 1981.” Sacre Coeur “ran for nearly 70 years before there was any form of inspection by the state”.
Those who lived in Jersey’s children’s homes between the 1940s and 2000s described suffering and witnessing abuse.
Several accounts refer to the victims reporting the abuse to other adults—including teachers, medical staff, children’s officers and police. One former resident said eight boys absconded and told police about their abuse “but nothing was done”.
One man told the inquiry that his mother “pleaded with police” not to take him back to his home because he had bruising from beatings. “But she was ignored.”
Many said they didn’t know why they were in care. The report said children were sometimes removed from their families for being “rude and cheeky”. It said during the 1940s and 1950s “there was no real expectation that a child in Jersey, once admitted into care, would ever leave the care system”.
When they grew older and did leave “they were often again abandoned without adequate aftercare”. “In such circumstances, young people succumbed to exploitation, addiction, crime and depression.
“The consequences for the children were, in many instances, lifelong.”
Jersey is a crown dependency of Britain and the island is the largest of the Channel Islands. It is a tax haven for the rich.
The maximum income tax is 20 percent, compared to 45 percent in Britain. There is no corporation tax for most companies or inheritance tax – which protects the wealth of the super-rich.
This cushy set-up has attracted firms across the globe to register their firms in Jersey.
In March last year London’s Supreme Court found that one financial structure set up 12 years previously in Jersey was illegal. It had helped bankers to avoid paying tax and national insurance on their bonuses.
The parliament in Jersey is known as the States of Jersey. It includes elected members, senators, deputies and Connetables, or heads of parishes. The executive government is a Council of Ministers and Jersey is divided into 12 parishes.
Former minister Ian Le Marquand told the report that the States’ priority was “the maintenance of the low tax status on the island”.
The report said that “budgetary pressures” on those providing for children in care “have been almost constant”.
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