Monday, 9 June 2008

A redress board for Jersey?

SOME TWO WEEKS have elapsed since my last post about the Haut de la Garenne inquiry. During this time there have been a number of developments in the story, none of which has led to any dramatic change in the overall situation.

Those who have followed the news coverage of the Jersey inquiry would not necessarily be aware of this. A week ago, on the evening of Sunday 1 June, the BBC Radio 4 news bulletin broadcast as its lead item the news that another suspect had been arrested in relation to allegations of abuse at Haut de la Garenne.

News of the cyclone in Burma and the earthquakes in China was evidently considered less important than the latest twist in the Jersey story.

What the BBC did not tell us, and what practically no other newspaper drew attention to in the following days, was that the man who had been arrested was aged between 14 and 17 at the time of the alleged offences.

In other words these allegations did not point , as most reports implied, to a breach of trust by a care worker, but to sexual offences carried out by one child on three younger children at a time when all were in care at Haut de la Garenne.

The failure of the British media to report this salient fact is merely the latest example of a saga of misrepresentation and shallow or misleading coverage which most editors appear to have no desire to correct. This kind of reporting, consisting largely in the suppression of significant facts, might be thought to be more appropriate to a totalitarian regime than to a democracy with an allegedly free press.

There have also been a number of other developments. More than a week ago the Jersey Evening Post reported that calls had been made by victims' advocates for Jersey to set up a 'Redress Board'. In practice this would mean that compensation could be awarded to alleged victims without the the need for allegations to be tested in a criminal court. In support of this move Fay Maxted, chief executive of the Survivors' Trust, actually cited the examples provided by compensation schemes set up both in the Republic of Ireland and in Nova Scotia:

"The redress boards set up in Nova Scotia and Ontario in the 1990s, and in Ireland in 2002, have been able to allow victims the opportunity to be heard and recompensed in some way and given communities the opportunity to challenge the silence and secrecy that concealed the abuse in the past."

Today almost exactly the same story appears in the Guardian. What neither the Jersey Evening Post nor the Guardian pointed out was that there is a significant amount of evidence that both in Ireland and Nova Scotia these schemes have in practice functioned almost as a compensation-on-demand scheme for anyone who has made allegations of abuse, whether or not there is any evidence to support these allegations.

In both cases there have been well-informed claims that the creation of such redress schemes has led to, or intensified, a veritable culture of false allegations. This is the argument put forward by Herman Kelly in the closing sections of his book Kathy's Real Story: A Culture of False Allegations Exposed. The same argument was also implicit in the conclusions of the Canadian judge Fred Kaufman when he was commissioned by the Nova Scotia government to conduct an inquiry into the compensation scheme there.

For my own comment on the workings of the Irish redress board, click here.

If the Jersey parliament were to act on the ill-judged recommendations reported today by the Guardian, they would be committing an act of the grossest kind of folly.

Meanwhile Jersey's chief minister, Frank Walker, has called on elected representatives in Jersey to 'stay silent' and refrain from passing any comments on the conduct of the police investigation. 'Our major concern,' he has said, 'is that nothing should undermine the fairness of the judicial process in the interests both of the complainants and those charged.'

The sentiments which the chief minister expresses in these words are admirable. Prejudicial publicity about alleged crimes in advance of criminal trials taking place does indeed pose a threat to justice. This is the principal reason why senior police officers usually refrain from making any comment about the evidence they have gathered in advance of a criminal trial taking place.

Unfortunately, although the minister has imposed a duty of silence on Jersey's elected representatives, he has imposed no such duty on Lenny Harper, the deputy chief officer of the Jersey police. Indeed it may well be that he is quite powerless to do so.

It is precisely because Harper has been systematically undermining the fairness of the judicial process from the day in February when he told the press that '
We have never doubted that the people who contacted us are telling the truth' until now, that he has been criticised so severely by so many people.

Since justice and fairness are indeed vital it would seem to be extremely important that Jersey's politicians should feel free to speak out if they genuinely believe that principles of justice are being violated.


  1. I'd just like to thank Richard for his full and frank comments on the Jersey child abuse investigation - he writes what so many of us here on the island have been saying in private yet are afraid to speak out in public because we would appear to be against the inquiry. Effectively we have been silenced by political correctness gone mad. The saddest thing is that on a small island it is very easy to identify people even if they aren't named in the press. The recent incident of a former child care officer being taken in for questioning and later released but remaining suspended from work is desperately sad - this man is a father of school aged children who was taken from home by the police in the morning before breakfast.......... need I say more. This investigation has and will ruin many lives.

  2. Many, very belated thanks for this Louise. Sorry it's taken me three months to say this but I'm still a novice when it comes to the comment sections on blogs! - Richard