Friday, 27 June 2008

Once bitten, twice shy...

Two people arrested in connection with the investigation into child abuse at a former children's home in Jersey have been released without charge. A 70-year-old man and a 69-year-old woman were arrested yesterday in relation to three "grave and criminal assaults".

The Times had a detailed report on the release of two couples, in which it noted that "Detectives said that there was sufficient evidence to charge the couple with serious sexual and physical assaults within the childcare system during the 1960s and 1970s. A member of the island's volunteer police force refused to do so after seeking legal advice from the office of Jersey's Attorney-General." Yet, in a seemly contradictory statement, it also reported that "William Bailhache said: "When all the evidence has been received and assessed, the decision on whether or not to charge will be made. This case is being handled by an independent Crown Advocate with advice from a barrister from London and there has been no interference by me or anybody else in the Law Officer's Department."" The key phrase is obviously "from the office", but it doesn't say who the "independent" Crown Advocate is, or what the advice was.

The Guardian had a quotation, apparently verbatim, from the police:

An investigating officer invited a Centenier, an elected senior police officer with the power to charge suspects, to police headquarters yesterday. "Despite stating that the evidence was present, the Centenier declined to charge," said a police spokeswoman. "The States of Jersey police have no alternative, therefore, but to release the two suspects without charge."

Channel Television actually quotes from Lenny Harper

Lenny Harper from States of Jersey Police told Channel Online: "At five o'clock last night as a result of some communication with the Lawyer whose acting on behalf of the Attorney General's office and working with us there was some delay. After the discussion we decided to get the Centenier in to charge. The Centenier came in and although he said there was sufficient evidence to change he declined to do so at that time."

The Telegraph gives a slightly different story, and notes that:

Detectives had initially been told by a legal adviser that they had sufficient evidence to charge a 70-year-old man and his 69-year-old wife with serious sexual and physical assaults, but the legal adviser, a barrister appointed by the island's Attorney General, then changed his mind and police had to let the couple go free's-home-abuse-case.html

The States of Jersey Police press office released this official statement:

RELEASED TO MEDIA AT 10.50 PM: After consultation with their lawyer appointed by the Attorney-General, two people were arrested today (Tues 24 June) in connection with three grave and criminal assaults by the historical abuse team. At about 5 pm today (Tues 24 June) the lawyer revised his advice to the investigating officers. Following discussion, the investigating officers requested a Centenier to attend Police Headquarters to charge the suspects. Despite stating that the evidence was present, the Centenier declined to charge. The States of Jersey Police have no alternative, therefore, but to release the two suspects without charge. Louise Nibbs, Press Officer, The States of Jersey Police

So far it seems that explanation has been given why the honorary officer, Centenier Danny Scaife declined to charge, although clearly it was on the basis of as yet unknown legal advice. Conspiracies flourish in such a climate, and suggestions that people might have friends in high places (or play at the same golf club) have been made.

I'm not sure whether there is another explanation. I'm not saying it is the right one - we won't know that unless we know the legal advice - but back in 1987 (I remember it being at the time of the hurricane in October), there was a Court case against three former police offices (one a senior detective inspector, one a sergeant) charged with conspiring to pervert the course of justice - one part of the case involved them falsifying their notebooks.

The Attorney General of the day, a certain Philip Bailhache, failed to make his prosecution stick despite a considerable amount of work, and what seemed at the time to be a watertight case - and the case collapsed. This must have been discussed by Crown lawyers since, and be at the back of their minds when it comes to any prosecution, especially where there is a chance of those charged getting off. So it could be a case of treading extremely carefully - probably over carefully - because once bitten, twice shy.

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