Friday, 29 February 2008

Chief Minister's press conference

Some facts about the story below (details below).
a) Stuart Syvret did not "invite himself", or in the phrase of Frank Walker at the conference ("muscle in")
b) As he revealed, he was invited by the press, who knew about the press conference, and thought he should be present, especially if allegations were being made about him.
It is amazing how misinformation can get out, especially in local news reports. The recent Economist noted various problems with media bias in Jersey.
This was very much a case of I will speak, and you can listen. Then you can ask me questions, but not as a response to Stuart Syvret's comments on my allegation. An example of "control issues" also demonstrated by the fact that he did not want Syvret to be present ("he muscled in"), his minder tried to remove Syvret's chair, and he would not budge on allowing Syvret to speak in response to his allocations - I am in control here, not the press! Terry Le Sueur, beside him, like an silent elderly owl, did not help matters with his complete silence. Terry is not the most photogenic of politicians, and the camera lingering on his silent, unexpressive face  did not exactly help.
If Tony Blair can take responsibility - and apologise -  for past crimes committed by the English government against the Irish - which certainly helped lower defensive barriers, can't Mr Walker do the same with respect of past negligence in proper oversight of child care by the Jersey government?
This is the one and only statement on the political wrangle that the Council of Ministers will make, according to Frank Walker. A rash promise, methinks.
Chief Minister's press conference

The Council of Minsters say they wil do everything necessary to support the police in their investigation. But the Chief Minister says one matter needs to be set straight. Senator Frank Walker called a press conference yesterday. He told journalists that there was a misunderstanding about why Senator Syvret was sacked as Health minster last year. He said it wasn't for whistleblowing.
But Senator Syvret - who had invited himself along- said the Chief Minister was making matters worse by calling the press conference.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Not So Sharp

Interesting facts coming out of the Sharp report; note the "spin" in the comment that the "head teacher and deputy had been punished by dismissal". Or, as the story also says "The pair subsequently resigned." There is considerable difference between being allowed to resign and being punished by dismissal. Either one or the other is true.

Further child abuse allegations are emerging from Jersey following the discovery of a child's remains in a former children's home on the island.

Former health and social services minister Stuart Syvret has made public a confidential report detailing abuse allegations at a college in 1992.

The report written in 1999 by Stephen Sharp, the former chief education officer for Buckinghamshire, showed the college failed to act effectively to stop the abuse of pupils by a teacher. 

It said: "The most serious mistake made by the college was the handling of the 1992 disclosure by a pupil of abuse [by the teacher]. The principal responsibility for this lies with the headmaster, but he was not the only member of staff involved."

The handling of the complaint was "more consistent with protecting a member of staff and the college's reputation in the short-term than safeguarding the best interests of the pupil."

Syvret's disclosure came as a number of former children's home residents from the island spoke to the media claiming they were raped, drugged and flogged.

Maths teacher Andrew Jervis-Dykes was jailed in April 1999 for indecently assaulting six pupils at Victoria College where he plied them with alcohol then abused them in their beds during Naval Combined Cadet Force yachting trips between 1984 and 1993.

According to an independent report into the case, allegations about Jervis-Dykes surfaced in 1992 and 1994.

Both times, the school's headmaster Jack Hydes failed to notify the police or investigate further, the report said.

Former chief education officer of Buckinghamshire, Stephen Sharp, who conducted the inquiry, said Mr Hydes instructed his staff not to discuss the allegations.

He accused Mr Hydes and his deputy Piers Bakers -- who was in charge of pupils alongside Jervis-Dykes on one yachting trip -- of putting the interests of the college and supporting a colleague above protecting its pupils. The pair subsequently resigned.


"If the correct procedure had been followed, it is most likely that Jervis-Dykes would have been suspended and perhaps arrested in 1992,'' Mr Sharp said.

The Education Minister, Senator Mike Verbert, said the head teacher and deputy had been punished by dismissal.

EDUCATION Minister Mike Vibert has refuted accusations that the department was involved in covering up child abuse.

Speaking to the media on the steps of the States Chamber yesterday, Senator Mike Vibert said that his department protects children at the highest level.

'I regret that there was a historic case of child abuse at one of the Island's schools 'Victoria College', which was uncovered in the early 1990s before I was elected as a States member.

'Once reported to the Education Department of the day this incidence of abuse was taken seriously. The man responsible was successfully prosecuted and subsequently imprisoned.'

The Education Minister made the statement after Senator Stuart Syvret gave copies of a leaked report into the Jervis Dykes child abuse scandal to the media yesterday.

Why documents in Jersey remain secret

By Gordon Rayner

Last Updated: 2:39am GMT 27/02/2008


The Freedom of Information Act gives journalists and members of the public the right to demand access to public documents in mainland Britain. Jersey, however, has its own independent legal system, with no such freedom of information laws.

It means the island's government, the States of Jersey, is under no legal obligation to release details relating to the child abuse scandal or any other matter of public concern.

In 2000 the States adopted a voluntary Code of Practice on Public Access to Official Information, which states that the public should be given access, "wherever reasonably possible", to information held by the States.

However, there is no provision under the Code for people to apply for information held by the police, hospitals, or other public bodies (in the UK all publicly-funded bodies, from the BBC to local councils, are bound by the Freedom of Information Act).

The type of information which islanders in Jersey can access is also limited; government committee agendas and minutes should be disclosed, for example, but documents supporting an agenda item do not have to be given out.

And the Code states that whilst information should be given out, "files or documents" are not expected to be made public.

When the Code was revised in 2004, the senator who argued most strongly for its scope to be widened was Stuart Syvret, the man who later lost his job as health minister when he blew the whistle on the island's child abuse scandal.

Jersey has now drafted its own Freedom of Information Act, similar to the UK law, which is due to be debated later this year before it can become law.

As a crown dependency, all of Jersey's laws must be given royal assent by the Queen, though in practice they are ratified by the Privy Council, under the guidance of Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary. The Privy Council is also Jersey's highest court of appeal.

The Channel Islands have never been part of the UK and have no representation in Parliament.

Their connection to Britain dates back to 1066, when the Duke of Normandy (which included the islands) became William I of England. King John lost Normandy in 1204, but the islands decided to remain loyal to him because he agreed to allow them their independence, which they have kept ever since.

The Bailiwick of Guernsey, which comprises the Channel Islands of Guernsey, Alderney, Sark, Herm and several smaller islands, has no freedom of information provision either. Last year Stuart Falla, the Deputy Chief Minister, said there was "not enough of a problem" to warrant a freedom of information act.



Wednesday, 27 February 2008

How Outsiders See Us

In "Yes Prime Minister", Humprey had a radio interview with Ludovic Kennedy. When the interview was over, Sir Humphrey started a callous and supremely indiscrete comment onto government policy on welfare receipients and the like – all totally insensitive, including the phrase "parasites".
His mistake – thinking the radio mike was off when it was in fact left on.
"Always treat every microphone as a live microphone" warned Jim Hacker later on!
It is clear that Frank Walker has yet to learn that lesson. His off the cuff remark, seen by millions, along with his blustering attempt to cover it up, and his later comment that the interview was totally unprofessional, illustrate how it is easy to dig a big whole without trying, and his remarks were probably the most damaging made to Jersey's international reputation made during this time. For a start, he shouldn't have made it, on or off camera, and when he had made it, he should have apologised unreservedly, and said that the stress of the moment, he had come out with a foolish remark - that would have led to far more public sympathy than the bluster and prevarication that occured.
How outsiders see us? The extracts below, show just how badly Mr Walker has damaged Jersey's reputation in the general publics eye. It is still not too late for him to apologise, but in my experience, apart from the late John Rothwell (over the potatoe dumping), politicians rarely admit they are human like the rest of us, and make mistakes.

This story is utterly shocking - and from the news reports what makes it even more outrageous is the fact that the Jersey health minister who tried to bring these kinds of things to light was sacked! I watched newsnight last night on BBC2 and I couldn't believe what was being said - the Jersey Parliament official was more concerned with promoting Jersey as a tourist destination than addressing the issues that this was swept under the carpet - amazing!! it even showed a clip of the former health minister and the Jersey Parliament member on a radio interview, when the radio interview finished the two continued to bicker and the ex-health guy said "we are talking about dead children here" and the Parliament guy responded by saying "your trying to shaft Jersey internationally" when Jeremy Paxman asked him about these comments he denyed making them even though they were there on tape as plain as day!!!

I dont want to trivialise the horror of this story but seeing that man last night it reminded me of the film Jaw's where the mayor was more concerned with the effect a shark attack would have on tourism.

Comments picked up after a radio interview between the island's chief minister, Frank Walker, and Mr Syvret highlighted the growing tension on the island. After the end of the interview in their Jersey studios Mr Syvret turned on his former political colleague and exclaimed: "We're talking about children here." Mr Walker responded: "You're trying to shaft Jersey internationally

Off the cuff, Off the record - don't do it!
There's no such thing as an "off the record" comment as Jersey's First Minister Frank Walker found out to his cost last night on
"You're trying to shaft Jersey internationally"
Not only is there no such thing as "off the record" this comment can also be misquoted by Jeremy Paxman several times before being corrected.
Childline's President, Ester Rantzen, as one would expect, is far too  experienced a broadcaster to follow Jeremy's leading question " you heard that didn't you?' but rather bridges neatly with her "what concerns me most" before going straight in with her key bullet points.
When an issue as serious as the Jersey inquiry into child abuse in the former Children's Home is being aired is not the time to try to "promote your reputation internationally". It's time to hold your hands up, recognise that things have gone badly wrong and need to be resolved. Going into denial or dodging the issue is not the response of a caring, responsible organisation, it will only bring further mistrust and a host of hostile questions.
BBC "Newsnight" is a great place to find examples of how to handle or how NOT to handle media interviews.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

A problem with punishment

The Guardian interestingly notes a culture of concern, by also bringing up the subject of the Bull report and Greenfields. If my memory serves me correct it was Stuart Syvret who released the entire Bull report to the media, which is something the education committee under Senator Walker appeared reluctant to do - until perhaps a "press release" could have sanitised the details.

The grim discovery of a child's remains at a former Jersey care home – and the search for further bodies – follows concerns about the level of protection afforded to children on the island that date back years.

Police are investigating allegations of sexual and physical abuse at Jersey institutions since the 1960s.

The discovery of the remains came after two – albeit unrelated - inquiries into children's services last year and a police investigation.

In 2002, an Ofsted report, penned by Kathie Bull, highlighted concerns about children's services and called for the closure of some of the island's childcare homes.

In August last year, Jersey's council of ministers announced an inquiry to be led by another expert, Andrew Williamson, after allegations that the Bull report had failed to bring about change.

One of those pointing the finger was Steve Bellwood, who went public with claims of "abusive practice" at the Greenfields youth detention centre where he had taken over as manager in August 2006.

He told Community Care magazine that he was "criticised for having a problem with punishment" when, in January 2007, he raised concerns about holding children in solitary confinement in a policy then in place known as Grand Prix.

A document laying out the policy was seen by Community Care. According to the magazine it stated that "children were placed in their rooms for 24 hours on arriving at the centre. They were also placed in solitary confinement for 24 hours for repeated bad behaviour".

After being put on gardening leave and then sacked in May last year, Bellwood decided to contest his dismissal at a tribunal. He also took up his case with Stuart Syvret, the island's minister for health and social services.

Syvret supported Bellwood and raised other concerns about child protection, describing the "routine and coercive" solitary confinement of 11 to 16 year-olds as "torture".

"Bare cell with concrete table, concrete bed and a lavatory – that was it," said Syvret. "The children confined to these cells were not permitted to have any pencils or writing material and even their bedding and mattress would be taken out of the cell in daylight hours.

"Twenty-four hours was the minimum punishment, but sometimes it could go on for days. It looked like institutionalised child abuse."

The Howard League for Penal Reform said the system would be "unlikely to be lawful" in England and Wales and contravened the European convention on human rights.

Jersey's chief minister, Frank Walker, said there was "no evidence" to support Syvret's allegations but nevertheless an inquiry was set up, to be run by Williamson, a social work consultant.

Syvret also invited the Howard league to Jersey to examine "the whole sphere" of child and youth custody.

In the meantime Syvret found himself in the middle of a political row as he described the response to his allegations as a "whitewash".

He was dismissed from his post in September over criticism of his conduct towards social services staff, ministers and civil servants but he claimed he had been "sacked for whistleblowing".

"Simon [Bellwood] and I sacrificed our jobs but it was worthwhile because now hopefully the system will get fixed," Syvret told Community Care.

Two months later, in November, Jersey police said they were investigating "a number of allegations of historical sexual and physical abuse of children".

They revealed that the main focus was on the Haute de la Garenne care home – where the child's remains were discovered – and the Jersey Sea Cadets.

Police said the investigation was looking at allegations going back to the 1960s but mainly relating to the 1970s and 1980s, predating the concerns raised by Bellwood and Syvret by some years.

Nevertheless, the police investigation and the discovery of the remains will undoubtedly raise new questions about the treatment of the pair.

Jersey's government is aware it urgently needs to address not only possible past problems but concerns that widespread abuse in care homes on the picturesque island is a modern day problem.


Monday, 25 February 2008

Child's body found at care home

BBC reports on police finding a body hidden at children's home in Jersey, possibly dating back to the 1980s.

This recent news highlights the following questions:

  • Who was in charge of the home at the time?
  • How did this happen?
  • What happened to records? Can we tell if anyone went missing?
  • What politicians were supposed to be overseeing this, and what civil servants?
  • To what degree were they negligent by today's standards?
  • Could it happen today? If not, why did it happen then, and what has been rectified today?
  • Are there weaknesses like this in today's system?
"There's no suggestion that this is a current problem whatsoever, and I do believe that children today in Jersey are safe from this type of abuse." said the Chief Minister.

His words would carry more weight if we knew the answers to those questions. Until then, it is just reassuring PR.

Friday, 22 February 2008

Deluded Dawkins - Survival Machines

We are survival machines , robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes. This is a truth which still fills me with astonishment. Though I have known it for years, I never seem to get fully used to it. One of my hopes is that I may have some success in astonishing others.

What I have always found astonishing about this paragraph is the way in which it brings in metaphors - most notably the idea of the machine - and treats it as an exact simplification of the complexity of living creatures. The use of "selfish" at this stage - before he has even explained what he means (or thinks he means) is also a very poor metaphor, especially as later on in the book, he sloppily uses it in various senses, mixing them all up. Just look at this sentence!

I shall argue that a predominant quality to be expected in a successful gene is ruthless selfishness. This gene selfishness will usually give rise to selfishness in individual behaviour. However, as we shall see, there are special circumstances in which a gene can achieve its own selfish goals best by fostering a limited form of altruism at the level of individual animals. 'Special' and 'limited' are important words in the last sentence. Much as we might wish to believe otherwise, universal love and the welfare of the species as a whole are concepts that simply do not make evolutionary sense.

Later, when taken to pieces by Mary Midgeley for such a sloppy piece of writing, he would say that he was using "selfish" in a purely technical sense; Dawkins, in his response to her review, claimed that she "no good point to make" and argued that the details of her criticisms were incorrect because they were based on a misunderstanding and misapplication of a technical language! That has to be a most pathetic piece of avoidance strategy when a thinker is caught out using sloppy language. What is purely technical about the phrase "ruthless selfishness"?

Deluded Dawkins - The Case of the Suicide Bombers

In "The God Delusion", Dawkins asks:
Why did these cricket-loving young men do it? Unlike their Palestinian counterparts, or their kamikaze counterparts in Japan, or their Tamil Tiger counterparts in Sri Lanka, these human bombs had no expectation that their bereaved families would be lionized, looked after or supported on martyrs' pensions. On the contrary, their relatives in some cases had to go into hiding. One of the men wantonly widowed his pregnant wife and orphaned his toddler. The action of these four young men has been nothing short of a disaster not just for themselves and their victims, but for their families and for the whole Muslim community in Britain, which now faces a backlash. Only religious faith is a strong enough force to motivate such utter madness in otherwise sane and decent people.
Note the rhetorical trick of the last sentence, which tries to argue that if we have excluded every other option, only religion could produce such an effect. Actually, I'm not really sure that the Palestinian bombers, or the Basque seperatists, or the Japanese pilots on suicide missions (for the honour of their country) had at the front of their minds that their families would be looked after or lionised; that may have been known to be the case, but surely was of marginal import - a comfort, but not a necessary one. Or does Dawkins seriously think that if that was not the case, they would have said "no!"?
February 12, 1894. Emile Henry set a bomb in Café Terminus, killing one and injuring twenty. During his trial, he declares: "There is no innocent bourgeois".
September 16, 1920. The Wall Street bombing kills 38 and wounds 400 in Manhattan's Financial District. Anarchists associated with Luigi Galleani are widely believed responsible although the crime remains officially unsolved.
What have these in common with Georges Sorel's "Reflections on Violence" (1908), which remains a controversial text to this day. It unashamedly advocates the use of violence as a means of putting an end to the corrupt politics of bourgeois democracy and of bringing down capitalism.
They have to do with the "deed of propoganda" advocated by some branches of the anarchist movement. They are not religious motivations, but ideological ones. Contrary to Dawkins, history shows that ideology is a strong enough force to motivate such utter madness in otherwise sane and decent people.