Thursday, 13 December 2012

Misleading News

"Jersey torchbearer Ralph Mauger, 77, guilty of child abuse"

You'd be forgiven for thinking from that headline that he was chosen to carry the Olympic torch and ran with it. In fact, once the allegations were made, as the BBC story goes on to say "Mauger had been chosen as an Olympic torch bearer in Jersey but pulled out following the charges being laid in March." But the headline gives the impression that he was a torchbearer - anyone just glancing fleetingly at headlines, or looking at a news aggregator, will have taken that as fact.

Ralph Cyril Mauger is frequently described as a "former Centenier", which can also be misleading. The JEP headline has "Ex-Centenier faces jail for abuse"

And this has led to some comments (as on the JEP Facebook page) such as "another pedo-centenier'; "islands full of them"; and, "Which Centenier is that they caught? - We know  there is more than one".

Now in the case of Roger Holland, he was serving in the Honorary Police, and abused his position. Three assaults took place during his time as an honorary officer between 1992 and 1999, although if the Attorney General [Philip Bailhache] had acted more prudently, that this might not have happened.

In the case of Ralph Mauger, however, he was an ex-Centenier, over two decades out of office, and his crimes were perpetrated sometime after that - so not as a serving Centenier. But like the Olympic Torchbearer - also misleading, the media seem to be obsessed with "former honorary" as part of the description of an offender when ever these cases break.

So let's look at the statistics, to gauge the kind of probability involved. 

The Honorary  Police have something in the order of 300 members with a turnover rate of half of that every three years. So, since 1991 approximately 2000 (or more)  citizens have held rank in the Honorary Police. The odds that one or  two of them will at some later stage be charged with a crime - has no  more incidence than you might find in any other organisation  (including the States) where a former member of staff held a position  of trust is brought before a court.

Don't get me wrong - Mr Mauger deserves everything coming to him and can be excused of nothing. But to label him as "former Centenier" in such a way as to suggest that the crimes were an abuse of his office is as misleading as "Jersey Torchbearer", and it also suggests that it was another Roger Holland case, which it was not.

That's not to say that a Centenier might not be found guilty of child abuse at some time in the future, but the vetting process is much more stringent today. Lessons have been learnt, and today's Attorney-General certainly would not have made the mistakes of the past, even in "good faith".

Attorney General Sir Philip Bailhache, allowed Roger Holland to remain in the service, despite a 1986 conviction for indecent assault against a young girl. That would not happen today.

It should also be noted that before Roger Holland's crimes came to Court, when a fellow Centenier heard of his previous conviction, she wrote to the Attorney General on 29th July 1999 expressing her concern that a person with such a conviction could be a member of the Honorary Police. Pressure was mounting for Holland to resign because of his past record coming to light, which in fact he did.

Since Roger Holland's conviction, Mitch Couriard, of the Jersey Honorary Police Association, said: "The process has tightened up and I can reassure you that, providing someone has got a record, we can produce it."

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