Crimes against children in Jersey and the investigation
Voice for Children: Jersey
This website covers the latest information about the abuse of children in Jersey. Postings on 22nd and 24th October include important interviews with Lenny Harper former Deputy Chief Officer and Senior Investigating Officer of the Jersey Child Abuse Investigation.
Jersey is 9 miles by 5 miles. It is ruled by an oligarchy voted into the government as independent candidates. A one-party system. It is not part of the UK or the EU. It is a Crown Dependency and UK Ministers have a duty to maintain the rule of law in Jersey. There have been some attempts to enforce the UK’s legal responsibilities in Jersey in relation to the child abuse investigations.
The police investigation into Haut de la Garenne began in April 2006 after an investigation into abuse within the Jersey sea scouts. It was conducted secretly for 12 months. More than 1000 children lived in the home from the 50’s to the 80’s. Roughly between 30 and 60 at one time. It was previously an industrial school since 1867 and then since 1900 Jersey Boys Home. It was called Haut de la Garenne since 1960 and closed in 1986. Police interviewed over 160 witnesses and had over 40 suspects. In the 70’s Edward Paisnel who abducted and abused children and was later convicted of sex offences, visited the home as Father Christmas.
The Jersey police have put forward a number of prosecutions but the police expressed concern. “I can quite clearly say that the investigation is being held up. There are people on the island who just don’t want us going down the route of this inquiry” Lenny Harper – former Deputy Chief Officer Jersey police. Harper has said that the Jersey legal system is held in contempt by the vast majority of the victims.
Care leavers have reported being kept naked in punishment cells, taken to a bath in cold water and through a secret passage to chambers where staff and the guests of staff had drunken parties and sexually abused them. They speak of suicides of their friends (Michael Collins age 14 was found hanging in the 60’s) of children disappearing and of hearing screams and banging. They report being taken to people on boats, celebrities at the Opera House and to people outside the home. The home is in a very isolated situation and overlooks the harbour and the castle.
Yet in May 2008 Jersey’s Bailiff, the island’s Chief Judge wrote about his dismay at journalists continuing to write about the Island’s so called child abuse scandal and subsequently the investigations have been brought to a close.
The police investigation was unprecedented because of police willingness to listen to the accounts of care leavers and survivors and also in the intensity of forensic investigation. The police have spoken about finding the remains of at least 5 children age between 4 and 11 years. There have been over 100 children’s bones found as well as 65 children’s teeth with roots said to have come out after death. Some of the bones had been cut indicating murder. The police are looking at the period of the 60’s and 70’s particularly. The bones had been burnt and attempts made to hide the remains. 4 punishment rooms were found and a concrete blood stained bath with shackles on the wall. The police also found two pits with lime in them known to be used to speed decomposition.
The Jersey Care Leavers Association was set up with the assistance of the UK Care Leavers Association. It has a steady core of members many of whom were in Haut de la Garenne and other Jersey children’s homes. They held a meeting at the House of Commons. The JCLA say it isn’t all about Haut de la Garenne because there were at least 5 other children’s homes on the island.
UK children were placed in Jersey children’s homes. UK children were sent on ‘holiday’ to Haut de la Garenne children’s home. Children from Haut de la Garenne were sent to the UK for holidays.
There should have been a UK joint police/social work organised child abuse investigation.
tasked with finding out what has happened to these children who are now adults.
It is also crucial to know about the circumstances when Jersey children in the care system visited the UK. How were these holidays arranged, financed? Liz Davies spoke with a survivor who had stayed in Islington children’s homes in the 70s as an exchange for Islington children staying in Haut de la Garenne. She still had the photographs from her visit to London.
This information must be then submitted to a joint investigation team to allow for collation of facts and analysis. Any details of adults who are currently untraceable must be collated with any known forensic findings from Jersey.
On 26th July 2008 Liz Davies, Fay Maxtead (Chief Executive of the The Survivor’s Trust) and Valerie Sinason (Director at the Centre for Dissociative Studies) were invited to speak at a meeting entitled ‘ How should Jersey address the past abuse crisis?’ held at the Don Theatre, Fort Regent and organized by the Jersey Care Leaver’s Association.
Liz Davies’s speech at the JCLA public meeting. July 2008
The perpetrators of these crimes are mainly invisible. They live in a secret, hidden and protected world. There are also those more visible as child abusers, those exposed to view – the invisible ones don’t mind losing a few of those as they can be replaced as long as those at the top remain concealed.
They will feed us misinformation, divert our attention and play games with us to protect their activities. They seep into our academic and political worlds and make theories and policies to persuade us that children and survivors of child abuse invent stories and those professionals whistleblowing are over zealous, hysterical and obsessional.
In England at the moment we are witnessing the destruction of our tried and tested child protection systems in the name of Every Child Matters policies. The child protection register which was the most effective means of protecting children has been abolished and systems of investigating jointly with police have been eroded with little focus now on investigating perpetrators of crimes against children.
There are others of course who collude and knowingly or unknowingly support the activities of these perpetrators through their ignorance, incompetence or fear – but they are also abusers.
Often we don’t know who is who in this world of child abuse. But at every level those responsible by commission or omission must be brought to justice. We are up against the power of the abusers who will go to all lengths to silence us. But I do feel the tide is turning. What you are doing here is such an achievement already. I know you have met many brick walls and obstacles along the way and over a very long time. It is beyond belief that even when an investigation includes allegations or evidence of the deaths of children it is so difficult for us to be heard. The abusers rely on the fact that society neglects children and that no one will notice what they are doing. You are here saying you have noticed and have brought the crimes into the open.
You have moved us from whispering in the shadows to shouting out loud that children have a right to be safe.
The investigation here is unprecedented. To you it probably seems as if it is all very slow but there are major differences between what you are doing here and previous investigations. First you have the powerful combination of survivor’s accounts and a police team willing to be informed by them and also you have the internet and the blogs which are enabling information to be disclosed and shared on a daily basis.
I’m sure a lot of the abusers are now trembling because you have brought these matters into the public eye and the public are now inclined to listen – unlike at the time of Cleveland, Orkneys and North Wales when the world was not ready to hear about these terrible events .
There have been other cases such as in Gloucester in 1995 when the Wests murdered 4 young people from a care home and these children had not even been noted as missing. There was Operation Orchid a police investigation of the murders of numbers of boys in East London and Roger Stoodley the police officer heading up the investigation expressed his disbelief at how little public interest there was in these serious crimes. More has been coming to light recently with the exposure of how trafficked children are going missing from care. In 2007 of 80 trafficked children in the North of England over two thirds had gone missing and not been found in a 3 month period.
A parliamentary question in 2007 gave us information that 160 children remained missing from care at the end of March 2007.
Now let me read you a short extract from the Islington Inquiry report in 1995.
In one of Islington’s offices in reports written over a period of 18 months 61 children were named as possible victims of organised network abuse. Liaison with other professionals led to the names of a large number of children being considered as having possible links or connections. However both Islington police and Scotland Yard reported insufficient evidence to support these allegations of network or ritual abuse. This view was also expressed by SSI led by Herbert Laming. The allegations were investigated but not substantiated.
I know what I witnessed, I know the I heard the children’s accounts I know what adult survivors told me and I know I didn’t make anything up. Why should I invent child abuse? I was a professional being paid to protect children and that was the work I was doing.
When this Inquiry was published I was working with police all over the country to investigate the connections between Islington and other networks. Laming had certainly received my dossier of evidence. This inquiry was plain lies. It was a lie to say that the allegations had been investigated. I will never forget when, in the midst of a murder investigation, the morning when I walked into the office and the assistant director of social services said ‘you won’t have any police to work with you now on that case. The officer has been discredited.’ DCI Laverick hadn’t been discredited at all but all the enquiries were closed down and I was left to use civil proceedings to protect the children as best I could
So of course allegations will not be substantiated if investigations are closed. But there was plenty of work we had completed through excellent joint working by all local professional agencies with the assistance of protective people in the community and the questions remain about in whose interest it was to deny these most serious crimes against children? Why was it so important to them? Why did those of us doing the job that we were being paid to do get threatened or attempts made to discredit us? Who are the people pulling these secret strings and what interests do they have to protect?
Islington, North Wales and other large inquiries did expose the involvement of high profile people in child abuse. You may remember the MP who was going to name 52 high profile names in the House of Commons linked with North Wales enquiry but he didn’t do it. The Scotland Yard team (who were supposed to have denied to the Inquiry that the abuse was happening) were quoted in the Sunday Times as saying that Islington was the largest child sex abuse network they had dealt with and that wealthy businessmen were involved.
How the Islington story began…
I was working in Islington in 1990 and noticed a number of young people coming into the office at 9 in the morning with a number of problems – petty crime, drug and alcohol misuse, mental health problems, homelessness, family problems etc. It was a puzzle to me as to why these teenagers were queuing up at this time and I got my team of 6 social workers to find out what was going on by prioritising the young people and their needs.
I reported to a local political forum as I was required to do – that I was worried that an organised network of child sexual abuse was preying on vulnerable and neglected local children. Margaret Hodge was the local councillor and she went to the Director of Social Services and complained that what I was doing was inappropriate given a time of budget cuts. I wasn’t asking for extra resources just a youth worker to be reallocated to be around when our office was shut at night and weekends to help us understand what was happening. The police then informed me that they knew of a number of convicted child sex abusers in the area and local community representatives began to provide information about people procuring children, vans coming in the night collecting groups of children and returning them in the morning. A small park behind the office was a meeting place and the young people would be wanting breakfast from us after their secret nightly activities.
Myself and a child protection police officer began to interview children and collate information also mapping all the small clues about where they went, when and who with. We were called to the town hall for an urgent meeting. Both our managers literally shouted at us to stop interviewing children and stop investigating and a few weeks later we learnt that this senior police officer and the senior social worker were married.
The child protection police officer said to me – how far will you go Liz because this is very big.
Yes – we agreed – we will go as far as we have to go…
We continued covertly and managed to gain the conviction of one abuser from outside London who had sexually abused children in my area. His attic full of abusive images of children was found just as the boys had described. We thought now we will have to be heard. But in fact attempts were made to silence us further. I wrote 15 reports for management and local professionals form all agencies working with us wrote reports for their managers and the Child Protection Committee met and decided there was no evidence.
Meanwhile I was providing some of the young people with places in the care system and unwittingly I was extending the abuse network to abusers within the system. I will not forget a boy who came to see me who told his mate, ‘you can talk to her – she’s not one of them’. A chill went through me when I realised that the abuse system was within my department.
One former residential care worker tried to foster a child in care and I was very suspicious of his motives. I realised that he had been given full access to this child within a children’s home, that they had their own abusive plans for him and when I tried to speak with the boy I had to have an advocate present from a group which this man was involved with. Eventually I saw the boy alone in a police cell and he asked if I could get him right away to a safe place. He said the place would have to be paid for outside the council systems or they would know where he was. Once safe, he slowly disclosed sexual abuse and the case went to court but the judge brought the trial to a close because Islington had not investigated the boy’s allegations of institutional abuse and therefore it wasn’t fair to expect the jury to make a decision in the case. I tell you this story because this man had close links with Alderney and also sea cadets. This boy told me this man had links in care homes all over the country. Who are these people? … as professionals we only get small glimpses of their crimes.
A local woman came to see me to say she knew I was trying to help children and she wanted to help me. She each week told me the next child they group was going to target. I would run around like crazy trying to identify the child from her blurred descriptions. Sometimes I got there in time and other times I was too late and the child would come to my notice following an abuse incident. This woman was a member of a cult. She had been involved since childhood and she spoke of children abducted, bought, sold and murdered. She named many adults involved as well as the scenes of crime including a caravan site where Islington foster carers and childminders took children.
I filed reports about my concern at the involvement of a foster carer and shortly after was instructed to place a child in her care. This is when I left that authority and went to report these crimes to the Paedophile Unit. Superintendent Michael Hames said I had uncovered a massive network.
I worked with him and journalist Eileen Fairweather for several months before we exposed the story in the Evening Standard in October 1992 when quite a few Islington managers and staff fled their jobs and vanished from view. I knew I hadn’t got it wrong.
Only through the media were abusers exposed one by one and the government forced to act. I gave evidence at 4 inquiries and most of my evidence on the files had gone missing. Fortunately I had copies. One girl had come to see me with a knife wound on her neck from the abusers who came into her children’s home at night. She was terrified. She and her mother both told the inquiry it never happened. Fortunately I had kept a photograph of the injury.
When Margaret Hodge was made Minister for Children by Tony Blair in 2003 the Islington survivors, now aged 25, said it was a very wrong decision and I supported them.
My identity as a whistleblower protected for my safety for 12 years was made public. It took a big campaign to get her out of that job. The Islington survivor Demetrius Panton stood against her for parliament and she was unable to make her election speech because of the noise from the chants of care leavers and survivors. 3 days later she was out of the post.
I offered my archive of evidence to the lawyer representing some Islington survivors. But my lawyer has lost the entire archive of my evidence.
Neville Mighty was a residential care worker in Islington who whistleblew. He was accused by Islington of sexual abuse of children. It took 10 years to clear his name and remove it from the Protection of Children Act list. It became possible to appeal legally and after submitting his list of witnesses including police officers, journalists and professionals, Neville got a letter from the Minister advising him his name was off the list. The Inquiry named 32 people whose names should have been on the list and were not – who should never work with children yet Neville who was protecting children was prohibited from work with children for 10 years.
One manager of an Islington home, Nick Rabet, was never properly investigated by Islington and went on to abuse 300 children in Thailand. He committed suicide but came from Jersey originally. I don’t know yet if there are links between the investigations.
Some information I heard at that time remains on my mind. One girl spoke to me of her and her sister being sold from Islington to a millionaire and the parties that took place there when older children from care homes were gathered at their mansion and these returned each month but younger children were not seen again. A children’s home manager who disclosed corroborative evidence to me about this was sacked and the whole situation was never investigated.
We get tired and weary on this difficult journey but we won’t stop. We carry on through supporting each other through thick and thin. The bonds made between us are strong and precious. We share a commitment to truth and justice on behalf of the children.
A professor at the University recently said to me, ‘what you do for children – is it a movement’ or an organisation ?’. I explained that it is trusted person to trusted person but there are a lot of us – more people want to protect children than harm them. We have our own effective and powerful networks. We must be proud when we disrupt their activities and make it hard for them to abuse children, when we cut off some of the tentacles of their operations.
The frontline changes but now it is here. The battle for children is now being fought here. You are the frontline. Please don’t underestimate your achievements so far. In effect what is happening here is that you are forming a barricade and saying enough is enough – this can’t go on any longer. The abusers and their retinue shall not pass.
But you need to take care of yourselves and be kind to yourselves to maintain your strength and at times you will need rest.
We want to help however we can and give from our experience but first and foremost this weekend we are here to listen and to learn.
Media coverage by Liz Davies and Eileen Fairweather about the Jersey investigations
Davies L (2008) We must support the Jersey survivors. Society Guardian online 1st August
Davies L (2008) Jersey must learn lessons from the UK. Social care experts blog. Community Care. 22nd August
Fairweather E (2008) I have known about Jersey paedophiles for 15 years. I had so not wanted to be right. London. Mail on Sunday. 2nd March
Fairweather E (2008) Birmingham council sent children to Jersey. London. Mail on Sunday. 3rd August.
Fairweather E (2009) The alleged victims of the Jersey Child abuse Inquiry cannot expect justice reveals the detective at the centre of the case. April 19th Mail online.
Various statements from the Survivors to Liz Davies in 2008
I was in Haut de la Garenne at the time of the Nazi occupation. That was the best time of my childhood
That’s where I ran away – not for long – we had to hand ourselves in as we had no clothes , socks or shoes.. We escaped through the toilet window.
The bunker was where we hid. Other children would take food to the ones in the bunker – we had a competition to see who could hide for the longest time.
That’s the tree where I saw my friend hanging
I have no idea why I was taken away from my family in the first place. If I saw my mother in the street I was made to look away.
My files have nothing in them
We were drugged with valium, benolyn and morphine
BLOGS which provide a great deal of information about events in Jersey
Simon Bellwood’s blog. http://simonbellwood.blogspot.com/
Simon, a Jersey social worker, whistleblew on the ‘Grande Prix’ system of torture at Greenfields secure centre and was sacked. For, ‘concerns about his performance’ . In fact he had raised serious child abuse issues and challenged policy which had enabled children to be locked in a room for 36 hours. He gained a settlement at Employment Tribunal in June 2008 after a very brief hearing closed before witnesses could be called. There is currently a police investigation into certain aspects of the tribunal hearing. As part of the settlement, an independent inquiry into the circumstances of his sacking was commissioned by the States of Jersey employment board. The inquiry by UK employment law specialist Robert Upex, concluded that it was very likely to be that Mr Bellwood’s dismissal would in all the circumstances be considered unfair. It found that Bellwood’s employers failed to follow appropriate procedures. Upex also said that no individual involved in Bellwood’s case, “should be made a scapegoat for what was in effect a systemic failure.”
Senator Stuart Syvret supported Simon and was sacked from his government post in June 2007 as Minister for Health and Social Affairs. He had questioned the government as to why the Sharp Report of 1992 had not been published. This was about sexual crime against children in Victoria college Jersey, resulting in one perpetrator getting a 4 year prison sentence having pleaded guilty to charges of indecent assault. This abuser had taken boys on boating trips even as far as Greece. Also an Ofsted report in 2002 had raised serious concerns and recommended closure of all the Island’s children’s homes. As a former senator he is continually raised the child abuse issues and supporting the Jersey Care Leavers. His blog contains a wealth of information including details of his arrest, imprisonment and period of exile in London.
Stuart Syvret’s blog http://stuartsyvret.blogspot.com/
Extract from Stuarts blog
What we are dealing with isn’t just Haut de la Garenne – the abuse and torture of vulnerable children didn’t end at that place. Child abuse was prevalent at many other Jersey run institutions. Both during the same era as Haut de la Garenne and most definitely after that place was closed in 1986.
What we are dealing with is a continuum of abuse;
A culture of comtempt
A culture of disregard
A culture of abuse
A culture of concealment
And it didn’t end with Haut de la Garenne
It continues to this day
Stuart recently interviewed 19 young people in custody who had been in the care system.
‘Dragged into a cell- stripped naked – left on a bare cold floor – not as much as a mattress – left for hours before being given any clothes – alone and bruised and distressed and then kept in the cell for 23 hours a day for three weeks, 1 hour out for exercise but still in isolation, no mixing with other kids – 23 hours a day in a bare cement cell which didn’t even have a window only a skylight in the ceiling.
And you know what?
This child was one of the lucky ones. One was kept in these conditions for 9 months.
You took away my freedom
When I was a child
Then wonder why I’m like I am
From innocence to wild
You took away my sanity
And left me fend alone
You took away my childhood
And left me without a home.
Is this what you wanted
Clap your hands you have achieved
Destruction of a young man’s mind
Who never was believed.
Its hard for those who suffered
At the hands of those who hide
Who denounce responsibility
To the police they all have lied.
Now we are the ones
Who control your destiny
We’re stronger, older, smarter
You were wrong to damage me.
James (Care leaver from children’s home)
You tube film of when the Jersey Care Leavers visited London on 24th June 2009. They presented their case to parliament
Stuart Syvret’s speech to the States Assembly Christmas 2007
FATHER OF THE HOUSE SPEECH
TO THE STATES ASSEMBLY
SENATOR STUART SYVRET
Sir, Your Excellency, fellow members – but especially the people we are here to represent,
As Father of the House, it is customary for the senior Senator to lead the seasonal exchange of greetings with which we end the year.
In these addresses, it is common to reflect upon the year past – and to contemplate the coming year. And it is the birth of Christ that we mark with these reflections and which we celebrate in this season of goodwill.
Christ taught many things in the course of His life. Amongst His teachings was the virtue of honesty.
For even though I am an ordinary, fallible person, with no particular religious convictions, still, I could not stand here and falsely claim that the past year has been an episode upon which we, as an assembly, could look back upon with satisfaction – or even self-respect. This has not been a year in which we have displayed wisdom, compassion or even basic common sense.
As is now public knowledge, we as a society – Jersey – this community – have begun the awful task of facing up to decades – at least – of disgraceful failure – and worse – towards children.
I will not refer to my personal experiences of 2007; perhaps I will speak of such things on another occasion.
Instead, I wish to speak of the children, the victims, the innocent – the many – who have been catastrophically failed by the edifice of public administration in Jersey – year in and year out. Decade after decade.
We like to imagine ourselves as being some kind of model community; a safe, well-governed and happy group of people. Whilst I cannot speak in detail of individual sufferings now; nor of the many betrayals – I can say this: that as far as I am aware the coming months and years are going to require the most painful reconsideration of our communal values, our competence – and our collective ethics.
Indeed, I am not aware of a more wretched and shocking example of communal failure in the entire 800 year history of Jersey as a self-governing jurisdiction.
How much worse could things be than the systemic decades-long betrayal of the innocents?
As we approach the birthday of Christ, we should reflect upon his words. When on an occasion, some little children were brought to Jesus, Jesus’ disciples became angry and rebuked those who had brought the children into Christ‘s presence. Scriptures then tell us, “But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them “ Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.”
Jesus is also recorded as saying, “And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name received me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea”
I would hope that these simple words – that place children and their welfare at the heart of human values – could be accepted by any decent person – regardless of their particular religious thoughts or beliefs.
Greater minds than mine have said that we may gauge the quality of a society by how it treats its children. Having learnt what I have learnt in the course of this year I have to say that our smug self-satisfaction as a charitable and civilised community in fact conceals a festering canker. For though it would be bad enough for us to have amongst our midst’s the abusers that are to be found in all societies – the victims in Jersey have been doubly betrayed – betrayed with indifference, betrayed with contempt, betrayed with the naked and idle self-interest of an administration that should have been protecting these – the most vulnerable of the vulnerable.
Sir, some people seem to enjoy being politicians. This is not a view I ever understood. My 17 years as a States member have, to me, been a fairly consistent period of struggle; on some occasions so Kafkaesque, so dispiriting that many times I just wished to cast it all aside and seek a civilised occupation instead. But nothing – nothing – nothing in those 17 years even begins to approach the sheer existential bleakness of this year; of trying to contact, to listen to, to help so many people whose childhoods and lives were wrecked by abuse – often abuse at the hands of the States of Jersey and its employees – and doubly wrecked by the conspiracy of cover-ups engaged in by public administration.
A few brave people – front-line staff, victims, and whistle-blowers began to bring these failings to my attention. As my understanding developed, I took extremely high-powered specialist advice on child protection issues – and I think this assembly should acknowledge with gratitude the involvement of Chris Callender, Andrew Nielson and their leader, Frances Crook of the Howard League for Penal Reform. The support and guidance of the Howard League was a great source of strength to me and those whom I was working with in Jersey.
Likewise Professor June Thoburn, who agreed to bring her world-renowned expertise to the post of Chair of the Jersey Child Protection Committee.
In particular I believe we should acknowledge the bravery, integrity and unshakeable commitment to child welfare exhibited by Simon Bellwood. He alone – amongst the entire panoply of the child “protection” apparatus in Jersey – said that the way we were treating children in custody was simply wrong. He alone took a stand against the appalling ill-treatment of children who needed care – not abuse. That he was sacked for his efforts really speaks volumes, and illustrates well the ethical void within the system we are responsible for.
Sir, I repeat, we must focus upon the victims – and the friends and families who suffered along with them.
For a period of many months, I investigated these issues – and the more I investigated – the greater became my alarm and anger at what I was learning from people throughout our society. Jersey being the kind of place where many people know other people, the chains of contacts which developed – the networks of victims and witnesses simply grew and grew. Sometimes new revelations occurred – almost by the hour.
As I met, and spoke with people of all ages – young teenagers to retired people – it became clear to me that what we were facing was something far worse than occasional, isolated instances of abuse. What Jersey had tolerated in its midst was a culture of disregard, abandonment and contempt for children – especially those children in need; the vulnerable; the defenceless. During these dark days, when I contemplated how people could treat children in these ways, I was often reminded of the words of Sartre, when he said “hell is other people”.
But, the strength and bravery of the many victims was a source of strength to me as I contemplated several years of bitter struggle against the Establishment, who were clearly going to use the predictable range of oppressions against me in an effort to keep the truth concealed.
So when the States of Jersey Police Force took me into their confidence and gave me a comprehensive briefing about the work they were doing – it was as though a great burden had been lifted from my shoulders. I had been steeling myself for years of struggle to expose the truth and to seek justice for the victims. The realisation that I was not going down this road alone was a tremendous release – to me – and to the victims. So I must pay tribute to the leadership of the Police Force. This time – finally – there is no hiding place.
During my work I have had conversations with people – teenagers, parents, young adults and older people. People from all parts of society and all backgrounds. Many of these people – victims and witnesses – naturally enough found speaking about their experiences extremely difficult; and many of them were, and are, reluctant to become identified. Likewise the many brave front-line staff who still contact me regularly – notwithstanding the blocking by management of e-mails sent to me by Health & Social Services staff from their work computers.
Such is the climate of fear that victims, witnesses and decent staff experience, that very many of the meetings I have taken part in – have had to be arranged in great secrecy. For example, one brave employee who gave me very important information, made initial contact with me via a text-message sent from her daughter’s mobile phone.
I went about the back-streets, the housing estates, the tenement blocks, the foul, overcrowded and exploitative “lodging houses” in which the poor in Jersey often dwell. And I listened to people opening up; often for the first time in their lives speaking of what they experienced – what they saw – and how they had been failed by everyone. For many of these people, I was the first person in authority they felt able to speak to about what happened to them.
I listened to things – things sometimes said through tears – that I hope never to have to hear again.
As time passed, I found myself moving from these dark rendezvous with witnesses – going amongst the soaked and blackened streets – experiencing encounters with victims – and clandestine meetings with brave whistle-blowing front-line staff.
In the early stages of this odyssey – this drizzle-soaked sodium-lit quest amongst the night roads and back alleys of St. Helier – in the unspoken underbelly of Jersey – I realised what I was seeking – and finding – were ghosts.
Shades and spectres – the vaporous trails of long-departed children – still haunting the outer shells of people I met. Sometimes you catch a glimpse of these ghost children – in eye – or word – or gesture – and you want to reach out to them – but these burnt and vanished phantoms disappear into the scars, the tattoos, the needle marks, the self-harm lacerations, the haunted faces and the wrecked lives.
Although many of the people I met are in their twenties, thirties, forties, fifties and sixties – I cannot but see them as children still. And many of these children have passed through the hands of the States of Jersey ‘system’ – I cannot bring myself to use the phrase “care”. Some of these children ended in custody for minor offences – and such was the cruelty, abuse, neglect and violence they suffered – many went on to become habitual criminals. When many of these people explained their criminal life-styles, they did so with humility, many candidly use the phrase ‘we were no angels’, and they have said they were not proud of the things they have done. But as a States member – I cannot look at these people – these victims – and not ask myself the awful question: “had these vulnerable, confused and angry children been treated with love and respect and care by the States, perhaps they would have avoided criminal life-styles; perhaps they would not be – in many cases – alcoholics, drug addicts – often broken and shattered beings, wrestling with mental health issues.”
Could I – could any of us – say with confidence that our failures have not contributed to, or led to, such tragic outcomes for so many people?
No, we cannot say that. We must, at the last, admit the awful truth that many of our regular inmates at La Moye Prison are there because of what we – the States of Jersey – did to them as vulnerable children – in the time in their lives when they most needed love, care, support & nurturing.
Amongst our victims have been many many children who had not misbehaved; children who had to be taken into “care” for their protection; or children who had to be taken into the States-run institutions because of the death of their parent. I have met with siblings who’s mother died of cancer when they were little children. I have met with several of the victims of this particular States-run institution. But when I met with the brother & sister – now adults – and listened to their experiences – all I could feel were two things: shame – that the States of Jersey allowed these things to be done to them – and anger that upon the tragedy of the death of these young children’s mother from cancer – we – the States – heaped violence, cruelty, battery and abuse upon these already bereaved children who needed our care, support & love.
Towards the end of my conversation with them – they embraced tearfully, and the brother repeated a vow that no one would ever harm his sister again.
That meeting took place in a room in this building. And I confess at that moment I seriously considered walking from the door and never setting foot in this place again.
Another, older, man I met explained his experiences of being a resident in Haute de la Garenne in the mid-nineteen sixties. Even for the “standards” of the day, the treatment of the children there was barbaric & cruel – at best; for worse things happened.
What really struck me about my meeting with this man was that he was not especially bothered at the treatment he received. I was touched and moved that his overriding concern was – and still is to this day – the fate of his best friend in that institution. He gave me the name, and some details, such as he could recall, from these days far ago in his childhood.
I was able to look into what happened to this boy who was in our care in Haute de la Garenne in the mid-sixties. Little information was available, but the Office of the Deputy Viscount was able to supply me with the following facts:
Michael Bernard O’CONNELL
- Aged 14 years
- Died on 7th or 8th October 1966, by hanging from a tree, off Rue des Haies in Trinity.
- Inquest held on 17th October 1966.
The memory of this young man is kept alive by his friends – children – people who had similar experiences and who – in the midst of their own struggles with their lives – keep the flame of their friend burning.
But let no one imagine that the things of which we speak are confined to the past; an age of dark and sick attitudes. No – today we have the very same problems.
Recently, I made the appointment and accompanied a young man to the police station so he could add his experiences to the present investigations. This young man had fallen foul of the law in some very minor ways as a young child – and thus he suffered the awful fate of falling into the maw of the so-called youth “justice” system of Jersey. Such was the counter-productive barbarity of the treatment meted out to him – and others like him – that his behaviour became more angry, bitter and lawless. At various stages he passed through Les Chenes and then Greenfields. This young man was, at one stage, held in near complete isolation for two months – passages of solitary confinement which went on for weeks. Having induced – unsurprisingly – a complete mental collapse in this child through this solitary confinement – the response of the institution to his needs was to send a “councillor” from CAMHS to speak with him – for half-an-hour – once-a-week.
As I listened to him recount his experiences over about 2 hours to the police officers who were conducting the initial interview, I kept looking at the vast cross-hatchings of self-harm scars which make his left arm look like a road map of New York, and I listened to him explain how he lay bleeding from these wounds alone in his cell and untended – as a child – I looked at him and I thought “we have done this to him”; “we have wrecked his life”.
It is striking just how many people who passed through the hands of the States of Jersey as innocent children emerged from the other side of that experience, bitter, angry, contemptuous and lawless. Former inmates – current inmates – and those about to become inmates – many many of them are our victims.
Society has a low regard for those who break the law, and that view is routinely echoed in this chamber. So it is not often a member asks us to reflect upon those who have crossed the law and to consider that amongst these people are many – far too many – children who were broken and betrayed in so many ways – especially by the States.
For amongst these people who find themselves imprisoned, these adults cast adrift – within them linger still the ghosts of the children they were – and the spectres of what they should have been.
So Sir – today – the expression of seasonal goodwill, the greeting, the recognition and the charity I stand to offer goes, from me at least, to all the victims of abuse, all those who have suffered – and all those whose childhood experiences have led them to become prisoners. Those who have languished in La Moye – or who are still there now – I want them to know that if their lives are wrecked, their actions driven by the nightmares of their childhoods – some of us understand. Some of us recognise them as victims – tragically and shamefully – often victims of the States of Jersey.
I wish to finish by quoting the final verse of a song by Mary Chapin Carpenter:
Somewhere in a dream like this
The light of love leads us home
Broken worlds will not be fixed if
Vengeance take us as thy own
We’re just like beggars now
On our knees we hear our names
God forgives somehow
We have yet to learn the same.
Excerpt from Dead Man Walking by
Mary Chapin Carpenter
Senator Stuart Syvret
Christmas address to States of Jersey