Saturday, 26 July 2014

Do not blame the victims

Public sessions of the Committee of Inquiry have started. What is clear to me is that a number of potential witnesses have not made submissions. This is a difficult problem. In a detached , logical analysis one would argue that witnesses should make submissions. The only way the COI can get to the whole truth is to have all the facts, and to do that they need the witness testimony. However we are here dealing with people, moreover people who have been in care and abused. The trust issues care leavers have with authorities are well known. One top of that there are various reasons I have come across for non participation in the COI. Some are simply disillusioned with the whole protracted proceedings, others fear that in our small island there will be reprisals and repercussions for them and their families if they tell what they know. Some think the set up is biased and just another level of cover up, while some simply cannot face going through it all again having already recounted their abuse to the police, and then again to the compensation scheme.

Unless you have been in care, suffered abuse or been on the receiving end of an establishment vendetta I dare say those objections might sound far fetched. However evidence that they are not has been in the UK press just this week. It is not comforting reading. I'll start with the death of Frances Andrade, who had given evidence about the abuse she suffered as a teenager at a music school. See The coroner criticised mental health services for failing to provide proper care to her and he demanded that new rules are put in place to ensure that vulnerable witnesses are given better support when they face often traumatic trials. If the recent scrutiny report on CAMHS is any guide, the support here isn't great. See The answer to a question asked April 1st is also revealing. See , where the minister does not refute that there is a significant waiting list for PATS.

We also had a critical report this week on the actions of the police in secretly gathering intelligence on justice campaigners. It wont surprise anybody that the UK police were engaged in this activity. The investigating officer said "I cannot justify the way this information was subsequently handled. Quite simply put, unless the information could have prevented crime or disorder, it should not have been retained and certainly not for the period it has been.” It reminded me of Operation Blast where Jersey police were keeping secret files on States members. Is it so incredible to think that witnesses whose testimony reflects badly on the police would be worried?

What of the political angle? Again just this week we have a national paper story “ Cover-up to protect politicians after abuse claims” see Nigel Goldie, former assistant director of social services at Lambeth Council, said it appeared "high level decisions" were made not to explore allegations against public figures. Where have we heard that before? 11 cases prepared by police that were not prosecuted by the unchallengeable decision of the AG. We also had an sight into just how brazenly and unabashed the UK can be in looking after its own establishment interests. Baroness Butler-Sloss was eventually forced to step down from chairing the UK CSA inquiry. It is claimed she kept allegations about a Bishop out of an abuse report. The coup de grace however came when it emerged she might have to investigate decisions of her late brother, Sir Michael Havers, who was attorney general in the 1980s. It is widely reported that he actively limited the investigation into sex abuse at Kincora Boys' home. See Siblings of a judicial dynasty covering the tracks of one of them covering up abuse couldn't possibly happen in Jersey , could it?

That UK inquiry isn't quite the same as ours in that it is focussed on child sexual abuse, rather than all abuse in care. Clearly though there is some significant overlap. If the UK inquiry were to encompass Jersey too some of those witnesses who have not come forward locally might feel more inclined to do so to the UK inquiry. I don't think there would be any problem having Jersey included in the UK inquiry, after all the UK government is responsible ultimately for Justice and good governance of the Island. And there most certainly are links between Jersey and the UK relating to child abuse. We know 5 children were sent here from Birmingham, one of whom has never subsequently been traced. We know that children from Islington, itself mired in abuse, were brought here by Rabet. Jersey born Rabet was charged in Thailand in 2006 with abusing 30 local boys. Jimmy Savile was a regular visitor here, and we know accusations were made concerning Wilfred Brambell while he performed here. When you see headlines like: “ David Cameron's historic sex abuse inquiries must find out if former prime ministers were involved” ,( ) you have to think that other frequent visitor to Jersey, a former UK prime minster, is another link.

When the scale of Savile's abuse finally emerged (perhaps 1,000 victims, ) it must have been quite apparent than a widespread and systematic cover up was happening over decades. That sort of thing does not happen unless it is sanctioned by very influential and powerful people. That's where the real blame lies. Perpetrators are of course the source of evil, but those who turned a blind eye, ignored or covered up the evidence or had investigations stifled and trashed are no less culpable. Had they acted properly the criminals would have been outed and jailed and there would have been far fewer victims. However these inquiries turn out it is not the victims who are to blame in any way.