09 December 2012

Questions without Answers: Jersey's Child Abuse Saga Continues

Jersey's Chief Minister, Senator Ian Gorst

States Question Time hit a new low last Tuesday, with the Chief Minister, Ian Gorst refusing to give a straight answer to a very simple (and very serious) question:

“Will the Chief Minister explain why the Verita recommendation (agreed by the States in 2011) to ‘review what actions the government took when concerns came to light in 2008 and what, if any, lessons there are to be learned’ has been omitted from the Council of Ministers’ proposition ‘Committee of Inquiry – Historical Child Abuse’ P.118/2012?”
To put this in context, the Verita Report, which was commissioned by the previous Council of Ministers and presented to them in November 2011, said in its preface:
'Operation Rectangle and recent criminal prosecutions involving the physical, mental and sexual abuse of children in residential care in Jersey have raised serious concerns. A total of 533 alleged offences were reported and recorded by the States of Jersey Police Operation Rectangle between September 2007 and December 2010. Of these 315 were reported as being committed at Haut de la Garenne children’s home.'

It seems quite clear to me (and to any reasonable and informed listner) that what the question is referring to is 'how did the Council of Ministers (re)act when they found out about operation rectangle' (the police investigation into 'historic' child abuse)? 

This is an important question, and one that Verita also thought important enough to include in their 27 page report to the Council of Ministers, because in the last 4 years, there has been much speculation as to whether there was any political conspiracy to oust Graham Power (who was suspended) and Lenny Harper (who retired). Former St Martin Deputy, Bob Hill, summarises in his recent blog

Former Deputy, Bob Hill

'Given [...] the criticism of the Deputy Police Chief and his Chief who was subsequently suspended and in all reality dismissed by stealth one can understand why Verita included the matter in its recommendations.'

So what was the Chief Minister's response, to why this recommendation had been omitted? You can listen here:

You will note that in his first response, the Chief Minister, rather than admit that Verita's question has been left out and explain why, he says:

'It is considered that the ToR referred to by the Deputy is covered by the other proposed terms.' 

The Chief Minister does not tell me which terms it is covered by, so I use my next question to find out where exactly in the other Terms of Reference he thinks Verita's missing question can be found.

The Chief Minister then refers to ToR 3, 5 and 7.

For reference, readers can see these terms for themsleves:

'3. Examine the political oversight of children’s homes and fostering services by
the various Education Committees between 1960 and 1995, by the various
Health and Social Services Committees between 1996 and 2005, and by
ministerial government from 2006 to the current day.'
'5. Take into account the independent investigations and reports conducted in
response to the concerns raised in 2007 and any relevant information that has
come to light during the development and progression of the Redress Scheme.'
'7. Identify how and by what means concerns about abuse were raised and how,
and to whom, they were reported. Establish whether systems existed to allow
children and others to raise concerns and safeguard their wellbeing.'
The ToR that the Chief Minister refers to can be seen in their entirity here. These represent the Terms of Reference proposed by the Council of Ministers, as they currently stand, before amendment.

As you will see, none of these Terms of Reference refer to the points addressed by Verita:
'review what actions the government took when concerns came to light in 2008 and what, if any, lessons there are to be learned.'

Yet, the Chief Minister continues to avoid the question and mislead listners. So just what is the Chief Minister playing at?

Maybe a clue can be found by looking at the minutes of the States meeting of 2 March 2011, which shows who voted for and agaist having a CoI. It is clear that the Chief Minister (both Terry Le Sueur and Ian Gorst) and the majority of CoM did not even want a Committee of Inquiry. Of the current 10 Ministers, 6 were voted against.

These six are:

1:Senator Gorst  - Chief Minister
2: Senator Ozouf- Treasury Minister
3: Senator Maclean- Economic Development
4: Senator Le Marquand - Home Affairs (!)
5: Deputy Pryke - Health and Social Services (!)
6: Deputy DuHamel - Planning & Environment

This may explain, in part, why it has been such an uphill struggle trying to get a meaningful inquiry.

It should be remembered, that every step closer we have come to finally having a meaningful Committee of Inquiry has been fought for tirelessly, by abuse survivors, care leavers and their supporters,  investigative bloggers and a handful of States Members. These steps have always been met with resistance, whether it was getting the Chief Minister agree to let Verita present their report to States Members (which only happened after it was suggested that Ian Gorst might otherwise face a vote of no confidence), getting him to publish the Verita and Williamson reports in a timely manner (Verita's report was sat on for a year),  basing the ToR on Verita's report, rather than Mr Williamson's, or getting honest answers to oral questions.

We continue to press on. But one has to wonder: why the resistance?