Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Watching from the Sidelines

It was not Zeus who gave the order,
And Justice living with the dead below
Has never given men a law like this.
Nor did I think that your pronouncements were
So powerful that mere man could override
The unwritten and unfailing laws of heaven.
These live, not for today and yesterday
But for all time; they came, no man knows whence.
-Sophocles, Antigone
Listening to Gavin Ashenden on BBC Radio Jersey this morning, and hearing of the two adverts placed in the JEP by the Bishop, and by Anglicans in Jersey, I was struck by how much the whole issue has veered away from HG.
This is a statement by the Diocese issued recently:
 "It is very clear that HG's experience in Jersey was a deeply upsetting one and that she feels that her complaint at the time was not properly handled.  Safeguarding the vulnerable is one of the key responsibilities of the Church and we must ensure that we have the right policies and processes in place to handle such matters sensitively. Undertaking these independently led inquiries now is absolutely about ensuring that the Diocese and the Church fully understands HG's case, informing what we can do in the future to help vulnerable people feel protected.  I recognize that this has been a difficult process, for HG above all else, but the safeguarding of the vulnerable is too important a duty for this Diocese and the wider Church of England to ignore."
And this is Peter Ould's incisive commentary:
 "The interesting part of this statement is that it doesn't engage with any of the allegations HG makes against people in the Diocese. It doesn't refute them or confirm them, it simply ignores them."
It reminds me to some extent of a domestic argument, where the original cause was only a pretext which triggered the dispute between the two sides, but had been simmering in the background for some time, waiting for a suitable excuse.
As Peter Ould remarks "The whole affair has become less about safeguarding and much more about truth telling (or the lack of it)."
Bob Hill, in an excellent blog posting notes how little has been done to address the "arrest, detention and deportation" of HG. That's an area that has concerned me from the start, when she was swiftly bound over and effectively deported from Jersey, with no attempt to address the fact that she was a vulnerable individual, probably confused by the rapid escalation of events - taken from her home into prison, and then offered (it appears) a choice between a return to prison, or being bound over to leave Jersey for three years by the Acting Magistrate Richard Falle.
It's unclear how she was advised, what  medical advice given or not on her state of mind (we are told there was some), whether sufficient evidence was given to the Acting Magistrate to make a referral on medical grounds, but what is clear was that she was dumped into the UK, with no provision for her welfare, just left homeless to manage as best she could.
Sir Philip Bailhache said that "the Magistrate had psychiatric and other reports. The binding over order with a condition that she left the lsland for 3 years was made at the request of her counsel and with HG's consent.". Who knows why she gave consent, or what duress was placed upon her - a return to prison hanging over someone was one option, but how clearly was it explained to her that she would shortly be homeless in the UK, and that was the other alternative? Should those have been the alternatives? Hobson's Choice! Some price freedom!
And should the Island have just sent someone vulnerable, clearly in need of support, to the UK without ensuring that proper provisions had been made to help her get back on her feet there? And notice the legal jargon creeping in - she was not "deported" but "bound over to leave the Island for three years". The result was an effective deportation, nonetheless. There's a certain economy with the truth here that I find misleading.
Sir Philip thinks it clear that the "Magistrate acted with appropriate care and compassion throughout.". I'm not sure that a disinterested outside observer would come to the same conclusions. I find myself thinking that G.K. Chesterton's comment on a legal case he observed fits well - "tame in spirit, wild in result, blank in realisation; a thing without the light of mind in it."
That eventuality - of effective deportation to homelessness, with no support - does no credit to any of the parties involved, and I would surmise that there must be lessons to be learnt . However, no one seems to want to address that. Instead the  whole matter is being sidelined and forgotten. There's a lot of talk about "disproportionate response", but reducing a vulnerable woman to sleeping on the streets doesn't seem to feature on that agenda. I would have thought that was a rather disproportionate response, to reduce someone to vagrancy. The "care and compassion" we hear so much about seems to have been limited in scope to the geographical boundaries of our Island.
What we now is "shadow boxing", where Winchester seems to make statements filtered through a PR firm (the curiously named Luther Pendragon), and Jersey accuses Winchester of having a hidden agenda. Look at the way Winchester has behaved, I should not be at all surprised if there is a hidden agenda, in particular to bring Jersey Canon Law more in line with the UK, and possibly force a reduction in clergy numbers.  I find it understandable that Jersey's Anglicans are concerned with this.
But should Jersey's Anglicans be wholly concerned with this, to the exclusion of HG? It seems the official line (as mediated by Sir Philip Bailhache and Gavin Ashenden) is that her testimony is not to be trusted. That said, they can concentrate on other matters, such as Canon Law.
As things stand, the situation seems (to the outsider) rather like the father and the elder brother having a quarrel which veers off into many points which have rankled for ages, particularly regarding demarcations of rights and duties. But in the meantime, the prodigal daughter, far from being welcomed in any way, is quietly forgotten and left to forage lonely and homeless for scraps of food.

1 comment:

James said...

Karl Marx famously asserted (in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon) that history has a habit of repeating itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.

Why does that come to mind when I read about l'affaire HG, I wonder?