Thursday, 26 August 2010

They went to sea in a Sieve

They went to sea in a Sieve, they did,
In a Sieve they went to sea:
In spite of all their friends could say,
On a winter's morn, on a stormy day,
In a Sieve they went to sea!

(Edward Lear)

A lot of ink has been spilled writing and commenting on the investigations into Haut de La Garenne. I had resolved not to write on the subject again, unless I had something new to comment. It is not that I have lost interest; it is simply that there is no point doing a "groundhog" day, as Senator Le Marquand out it, and going over old ground. [Incidentally, there could be a different moral to be taken from that film, for it is only after he has learned something important about himself from the endless repeated time that Bill Murray eventually finds his way out.]

So the different matters that I want to examine here are (1) when did leaks to the public domain begin? (2) why was Wiltshire released so precipitously, when it was patently obvious that it had been given such a rough redaction, and a less redacted copy was promised later?

With regard to the release of documents such as the Wiltshire report, Senator Ian Le Marquand has given as a justification that the supporters of suspended chief of police Graham Power had already leaked a lot of material to the public domain supporting Mr Powers case. However if you go back to 4 October 2009, which is long before either the ACPO reports, the minutes of the suspension review meetings or even Lenny Harper's guest posting one month later [on Stuart Syvret's blog], there was an article in the Daily Mail entitled "Bungled Jersey child abuse probe branded a '£20 million shambles", in which it was noted that:

"A leaked report by financial auditors into the investigation shows Grime received £750 a day for the first seven days' work his dog did and £650 a day for 136 days thereafter."

So one of the first leaks clearly came not from the supporters of Graham Power but from those who criticised him. Where did this leak originate? It either came from the financial auditors themselves, or from someone in government who had seen the report, and I would suggest the balance of probabilities would favour the latter. It is very much like the position as portrayed in "Yes, Minister" that the ship of state is the only ship which leaks from the top. No one seems to be that bothered by the fact that confidentiality was being broken by someone who must have been in a fairly senior position. The Minister? The Chief Advisor, Bill Ogley? Someone else?

I suspect that we never will find out who leaked this report but the fact that it predated leaks from Mr Power's supporters demonstrates that the process of putting information into the public domain did not, as Senator Le Marquand suggests (and very probably believes), start with Mr Power's supporters. What they did and where that differs from the Daily Mail was to disseminate wholly complete primary source documents, of which there are, unfortunately, a scarcity.

Hacker: They'd have to have another leak enquiry.
Bernard: Will they really set up an enquiry?
Hacker: Bound to.
Bernard: Won't that be embarrassing?
Hacker: No, no, no. That's what leak enquiries are for. Setting up... They never report. If the culprit is a civil servant, it'd be unfair to publish. Politicians take the rap. If it's a politician, you can't publish or he'll disclose other leaks by his colleagues.
(Yes Minister, The Bed of Nails)

However, there is some good news on the way for historians - in that more of the Wiltshire report will see the light of day. A second redacted version with considerably more material has been promised by the end of September 2010, as well as a version of PDF files that is searchable. As even what is there in the "cut price" version jumps about in a sometimes quite at hazard manner, it will be useful for tying up the various chronologies.

It is questionable, however, why the first severe redaction was released in the first place, when something much more detailed was possible. Senator Le Marquand has stated (this is one version, but they all use much the same words):

It was imperative that I inform States members and the general public of the conclusions of these four reports as soon as possible. What was produced was the best which could be achieved within the short period of time available for the redaction process.

With the greatest of respect to the Senator, this begs the question of why it should be deemed "imperative" to release the information as soon as possible in such an incomplete form. The passive voice conceals the active motive, and is well known as a literary device for ambiguity and hedging. But I can think of two good reasons - even though they are not stated explicitly by the Senator.

The first is that the disciplinary process had collapsed because of a lack of time and given Mr Power's statement on the matter, the release of these parts of the Wiltshire report would effectively put the lid on the matter at least as far as the general public were concerned. This certainly seems to have been the case because apart from some members of the blogging community the matter has sunk without trace.

The public are notoriously fickle with regard to news stories, and journalists based in Jersey and in the UK always chase the latest story. At the present, the focus is very much on the floods in Pakistan in the national media, and Haiti, although still struggling severely with the problems of the earthquake is now no longer newsworthy. The only newsworthy item locally regarding Graham Power is the report from Brian Napier, hugely delayed, and when that is released, we can expect to see the matter appear, albeit briefly, in the public media. Being a professional cynic in these matters, I cannot help feeling that the Napier report will play like a provincial version of the Hutton report and leave the critics dissatisfied.

The second is that the appointment of David Warcup had been shifting further and further into the future, partly because it was clear that a letter from Mr Warcup was instrumental in initiating the process which led to Mr Power being suspended. It was therefore necessary to show States members the outcome of the Wiltshire report as a means of showing that Mr Warcup's actions had been justified. Indeed Senator Le Marquand had stated that he wanted to place as much information as possible before the States prior to that debate.

With the lack of information, a question mark hung over Mr Warcup, and the appointment debate had now shifted to September and the new session of the States. It was therefore critical to release the information before the summer recess, however rushed and redacted that version might have been, because it meant that States members would be ready for the debate in September. This second reason for the release of Wiltshire being " imperative" collapsed of course when Mr Warcup decided to hand in his own resignation for the end of the year. But at the time of release, Senator Le Marquand, not being clairvoyant, had no idea this was going to happen, and it would have been eminently rational to release as much of the report as he could even if it had been severely butchered; otherwise, he would have faced a difficult debate in September.

What is certainly the case is that Senator Le Marquand wishes to move on to the appointment of a new Chief of Police and leave behind what he regards as a matter which has now become a waste of time, regarding its consumption of States time and resources well beyond its significance.

Whether he will be successful in that respect is another matter. In England, yet another enquiry into Iraq war is taking place as well as further controversy over the death of Dr David Kelly. Some matters do not go away, but in the small backwater of Jersey where limited points of view received Islandwide coverage there is a strong likelihood that the whole question of the suspension will fade away.

The only way in which it would probably receive greater publicity would be any actions taken by Graham Power or Lenny Harper, either by legal challenge or by writing their own version of the events in which they played a part. It is also very likely that if the matter was featured in any memoir by Dr Brain, it would certainly be most critical of the handling of the suspension process, as indeed Dr Brain was at the time, I think justifiably.

But none of that is on the agenda at the moment, so I suspect that the JEP / Wiltshire version of history will remain, for the time being, the one most commonly perceived by the general public as "the truth". That's not to say that it may not contain elements that are true, but a proper history would also try to assess how much weight to give different sources, and why, and state where ambiguity still remains.

The deepest, the only theme of human history, compared to which all others are of subordinate importance, is the conflict of skepticism with faith. (Goethe)


rico sorda said...

What reports do you think Graham Power leaked Tony. My guess would be the suspension reviews. Did GP even have copies of the ACPO reports?.

All the rest was his like the Affidavit, letter to PPC.

What happened was ILM got shown up by the suspension reviews and spat the dummy big time he hated it when he found out they were online I know because i told him.

He still thinks his word is god

He will be remembered for this dark chapter know matter what.

Good Post


TonyTheProf said...

Yes the suspension reviews. The ACPO came via Stuart, and I'll guess they came via Lenny.