Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Haut de La Garenne – A Retrospective Review Part 1

The historic abuse enquiry that came to be centered on Haut de La Garenne sprung into the public domain, and indeed a worldwide domain, on 23 February 2008. The police had been examining cases of alleged child abuse within the sea cadets and elsewhere since November 2006 in a covert investigation and allegations were also arising about abuse at Haut de La Garenne, a former children's home.


Seventy victims had come forward, most detailing abuse at Haut De La Garenne. Among the victims were a few who said that children had been dragged from their beds at night screaming and had then disappeared. Two others said they had knowledge of human remains at the location but were not specific.


A local advocate also came to police and said he had a client who knew there were human remains buried at the home. The collation of numerous complaints of both sexual and violent abuse of children led to the decision being made to enter the home to carry out a screening search for human remains and evidence in support of the allegations of abuse. The advice and assistance of the NPIA in the deployment of UK specialists was secured.[i]


It was decided to make a preliminary investigation of the Haut de la Garenne site, and it was during this that a fragment which appeared to be bone, and from its size, that of a child, was discovered. This was logged as follows:


"23 February 2008, 09.10 hrs

Examined JAR/6. Recovered from Context 011 Trench 3. Degraded fragment of bone thought to be human skull, probably from a child (see full inventory for details). Associated with mixed debris including animal bone, buttons and a leather "thong". Discussed findings with SIO Lenny HARPER and Forensic Manager Vicky COUPLAND. It was decided that the bone should be sent for C14 dating."[ii]


This fragment, found on the morning of 23 February 2008, would have remained under wraps, was it not for the fact that a "News of the World" reporter had somehow got hold of the story and had been caught with a camera in the bushes outside. Lenny Harper was faced the choice between accusations of a police "cover up" and concealing evidence, or coming out with the evidence to date, even though it still required further work.


The "News of the World" is a United Kingdom newspaper which has often made accusations of police cover-ups – a notable example, and certainly still fresh in the public mind because of an ongoing inquiry –was the in the accidental shooting by police of Mr de Menezes as a terrorist suspect in 2005, where they alleged that police officers had deliberately falsified vital evidence to hide mistakes[iii] They often aim for the biggest front page splash possible in order to sell the paper.


Lenny Harper decided that the best response was to go public:


I knew therefore that someone had leaked our work to the media and I also knew that it would only be a matter of time before the JEP found out about the fragment. Over the previous couple of years we had mounted several enquiries to find the source within the force who kept leaking details to various journalists of the JEP. My view was that if the media reported it before we did we would lose credibility with our vulnerable victims and witnesses.[iv]


It does not appear from that the origin of the leak ever came to light, or that there was any investigation into who could have known about it and informed the newspaper.[v] The circle of those "in the know" could have been quite narrow, or quite wide, if victims were aware that Haut de La Garenne would probably be the focus of attention by the police, but it is interesting to note that a later leak of information to a journalist by a politician was identified very rapidly[vi], despite the fact that more people – including States members – were now "in the loop".


Following Lenny Harper's press release, in which he mentioned a bone fragment which appeared to be part of a young child, the story was reported in the local media – BBC Radio Jersey, Channel Television, and the Jersey Evening Post.


Within a very short space of time, scenting a scoop, the Haut de La Garenne site was besieged by reporters for newspapers and television crews. The reporting was, however, extremely variable, and at this stage, it was not mentioned that the fragment was a small piece which might have been part of a child's skull


Because of the way the media speculated and exaggerate what had been said, Lenny Harper came into criticism for this lack of clarity from local politician Health and Social Services Minister Senator Ben Shenton[vii]. Apart from the frivolous nature of his email, for which he later apologised, he made this point of substance:


One question was about the initial press reporting was handled. "Remains of a child" was very ambiguous, and for most of us who heard that police report, it suggested far more that "fragment of a child's skull"; the issue over whether than pre-dates the inquiry was also not made clear at the time.[viii]


However, the police strategy followed by Lenny Harper was a standard one. In general, the police do not want, if they can help it, to release all the information at one time. That way, any statements by – for example in this instance, people alleging child abuse – can be corroborated. Early release of all the information would contaminate future witness statements.


This is true of police work in practice, and not just for the Haut de La Garenne. Admission of "hidden details" is a fundamental strategy; the more that is in the public domain, the more it can be excused by a potential suspect, and used by a lawyer acting for their defense.


How variable the reporting was can be seen in the following extracts from newspapers


Community Care accurately stated no more than the police press release, and mentioned simply "Jersey Police found what is believed to be partial remains of a child's body at former children's home on the island on Saturday morning"[ix]


The Daily Telegraph mentioned "the discovery of a body at the home at the weekend."[x] There is no indication that these are partial remains – readers would assume a more or less complete skeleton.


The Times said "After the discovery of the skull buried in a Victorian-built institution used as a location for the television series Bergerac, officers searched the area with sniffer dogs. They have identified six more sites of interest at the hostel and say they cannot rule out the discovery of more bodies."[xi]  The fact that it was just a fragment, and not a complete skull is lost in the Times reporting.


The Mirror reported that: "Police investigating allegations of child abuse said on Monday their search of a former children's home in the Channel Islands where a body was found at the weekend was now focused on a bricked-up cellar. A child's body parts, thought to date from the early 1980s, were unearthed at the Haut de la Garenne house in Jersey on Saturday after a sniffer dog detected them through several inches of concrete"[xii] The Mirror suggests more than one part of a child's body, and not just one fragment.


The Guardian led with: "The body of a child is found at the home after a sniffer dog detects remains through several inches of concrete. It will take several weeks for the gender of the body, and how long it had been there, to be established"[xiii] The Guardian has a complete body, and the possibility of establishing gender!


It is clear that "partial remains of a child's body" was quite ambiguous, and the noun "remains" can indicate either a singular or a plural. Given only the scantest information, it can be seen how the press assumed a greater amount of remains than was, in fact, the case – I remember myself, on hearing the news, assuming it was at least several bone fragments.


Lenny Harper undoubtedly also wanted to grab a lot of media attention in order to get as large a field of publicity as possible, and spread the net widely.


This was so that former residents or staff of Haut De La Garenne, who had left Jersey, and might have pertinent information, would be more likely to come forward. Indeed, some people came forward from as far as Australia. He also wanted to get the respect of those who had been abused, who would feel confident that this was a policeman who would listen seriously to what they said.


In this respect the attendant publicity was a success, but in terms of the exaggerations caused by the ambiguity of the statement to the press about "partial remains of a child's body", it caused some lurid speculations and exaggerations even at the outset, even among normally fairly sober newspapers.


This publicity was to have far reaching implications, as two of the Island's politicians became entangled in the media spotlight.

[i] States of Jersey Press Release, 28 May 2008

[ii] Lenny Harper, Guest posting on Stuart Syvrel's Blog

[iii] Police 'faked Tube death log', The Independent, 29 January 2006, report by Sophie Goodchild

[iv] Lenny Harper, Guest posting on Stuart Syvrel's Blog

[v] It is a significant omission from the first "ACPO" report – "Report of the Association of Chief Police Officers, prepared for the States of Jersey Police in respect of the Historical Child Abuse Investigation." Even if it was deemed unlikely that the suspect would be found, one might expect to see consideration that a "leak inquiry" would be a waste of resources.

[vi] The politician was identified as Senator Jim Perchard by the Guernsey Press. On September 20, 2008, Senator Perchard wrote to the paper, "This letter alleged that I leaked an official email to a national newspaper journalist. Not only is this untrue, as confirmed to you by the journalist in question, but you printed the allegation without checking your facts and without offering me a right to reply." Lenny Harper noted that "Perchard e mailed Graham Power (I believe on the instigation of [Peter] Rose[Daily Mail journalist]) and challenged the origins of the original fragment. Mr Power, believing that the e mail had been sent by Perchard in his capacity as a minister, replied to him giving him a full briefing of the situation to date. This reply was passed to Rose….On 23rd May Rose, (a journalist with a history of seeking to undermine paedophile investigations) telephoned Graham (the call which was taped on our routine business call system) and during the call said he had been given the e mail by Perchard. Graham said that a simple technical audit would show if this was true."

[vii] "Health and social services minister Ben Shenton wrote to his colleagues comparing Jersey's deputy police chief Lenny Harper to comedian Lenny Henry.", BBC News, 6 March 2008

[viii] Ben Shenton to Jersey Evening Post, March 2008

[ix] Community Care, Maria Ahmed, 27 February 2008

[x] The Telegraph, 25 February 2008

[xi] The Times, February 25, 2008

[xii] Daily Mirror, February 25, 2008

[xiii] The Guardian, February 25, 2008



Anonymous said...

Just looked at your link to

It was a good laugh.

Rob Kent said...

Although Lenny Harper's use of the word 'partial remains' instead of something less alarming - 'small fragment of bone' (for example) - may have helped trigger the media frenzy on that day, the media frenzy would have happened anyway and probably with a lot more speculation.

They could not have excavated the cellars and gardens, also using a blood-sniffing dog, without causing lurid speculation.

And after reading the ACPO reports and Lenny's postings on Stuart's blog, there is no doubt that the police had to do what they did.

So the police investigation was correct and so was their media strategy - also approved by ACPO.

Ben Shenton and the Jersey government's strategy of trying to undermine the whole investigation by seizing on one tiny fragment of it (pun intended) is insulting to the victims and damaging to what should have been a non-political investigation into decades of abuse.

But I guess that when you have 'senior figures in the establishment' (according to the police reports), as suspects in that investigation, it couldn't help but be political.