Friday, 22 May 2015

A Mid-Term Look at The Jersey Care Inquiry

A few questions and answers about the broader historical picture as the inquiry recommences.

The word “historic” is applied to the inquiry but is that appropriate?

The inquiry is actually termed the “Independent Jersey Care Inquiry” and it is” investigating the abuse of children in Jersey's care system over many years.”. Nowhere in the terms of reference does it use the term “historic”, and in fact the term 3 of the terms reference sets out the scope at looking at governance of child care by the States from the post-war period to the present day, but with a special emphasis on the 1960s to the 1980s.

The website does use the term “historical” as many of the abuse cases predate the present, and seem to be clustered but not exclusive to Haut de La Garenne,

The inquiry is an offshoot from the original police investigation Operation Rectangle into Haut de La Garenne, and various other care homes which had closed some time ago. That really was “historical” as Haut de La Garenne had closed in 1986, and other “family group homes” were no longer open by the time the police inquiry started.

The term “historic” and “historical” are often muddled – historical is something from the past, and historic is something of significance from the past. Channel TV and the BBC have generally used the term “historical child care abuse” while the JEP have used the term “historic child abuse”.

However, the events are historic in the sense of significance.

What “historic” significance does the inquiry – or the whole care scandal - have, if any?

I think we have to look at Jersey’s historical abuse as part of a wider trend against burying the past. In Ireland and across the UK, evidence has come to light that institutional child abuse has taken place across decades, blighting the lives of children.

There has been at least one case of abuse has been reported in Guernsey, by a man who had been in care homes in both Islands, and it also was physical rather than sexual abuse. That doesn’t mean there could not be any further abuse cases that haven’t come to light. But there have been cases reported and at least one person sent to prison in the Isle of Man for sexual abuse of children at a boarding school in the 1970s.

What we can see in Jersey is part of a trend worldwide to expose the child abuse which took place in the past. Jersey was not immune to the same pattern which we see elsewhere in other jurisdictions, in which children’s lives were blighted by individuals in the past, most notably in the 1960s and 1970s.

What is important is what happens now: are sufficient safeguards in place to prevent that happening again in institutions. No safeguards can be perfect, but the lessons of the past can inform the best practice of the future. That is what is important.

What impact has it had?

The impact has been two fold.

It has opened people’s eyes to the fact that Jersey was not immune to the same kind of abuse taking place in institutions elsewhere, and that a number of children’s lives have been blighted as a result.

There has been a media impact to the wider world, but this has taken the form of confused and muddled reporting. There are several competing historical narratives which give differing impacts on Jersey. What impact it has on outsiders depends on what narrative they encounter, and what they believe after reading it..

The primary narrative begins with the finding of what was initially considered to be a portion of a child’s skull, and led to some very exaggerated headlines about paedophile rings in the more lurid tabloid press – News of the World etc. Yet at exactly the same time as the tabloids were talking homicide, and some were even talking about satanic ritual abuse - the BBC was reporting that Lenny Harper had ruled out homicide. That was not often picked up.

The skull fragment became a problem because it was, for the media, a fact about the case, and the way the tabloids picked up the case, when the skull fragment was discounted as a fragment of coconut, this meant the rest of the stories about Haut de La Garenne suffered by proxy in how the national media dealt with them.

Another narrative stems from a ramshackle press conference in 2008, in which Mick Gradwell and David Warcup effectively criticised the interpretation of some of the artefacts – such as items identified as shackles – and also said that homicides had been ruled out, contrary to.what Lenny Harper had said, although he hadn’t said that at all. It has been  damaging to the credibility of survivors as this was widely reported effectively as a trashing of the previous investigation.

This secondary narrative has problems because the BBC had already reported Lenny Harper ruling out homicide. The best interpretation that can be put upon it was that it was responding to the statements in the tabloids about the investigation considering homicides but not checking the facts – i.e. in this case, what Lenny had told the BBC as opposed to the lurid tabloid speculations in 31st July 2008 and on the BBC website that there would be no homicide enquiry. But it is difficult from a historical perspective not to see it also as an attempt to rewrite history, something historians are well aware of in looking at any historical narratives.

But to some extent that is a sideshow. The work done by Operation Rectangle in taking statements from victims was actually more important that the physical investigations at Haut de La Garenne. The press tended to focus on the latter – searching the House of Horror – which seemed to have only been marginally related to the survivors. None of the prosecutions depended on physical evidence procured from the site.

So there is a great deal that is problematic for future historians,unpicking both what occurred, and how it was reported or misreported. There’s a lot of material, but it is very tangled.

Has it had a sociological or cultural impact? On families, or communities? Do you think it will have made the island more open or less?

It has had an impact, much as across the UK. It is child abuse, physical or sexual, within institutions that were supposed to be safe places. I think all of this- both locally and globally, and including of course the case of Jimmy Saville – has made people much more aware of safeguarding issues.

It is part of a whole cultural shift in which we have, I think, become more sensitive to issues of child abuse, and paedophiles who prey on young children. It is in some ways safer, but it is also making a society that is more suspicious of the stranger.

There’s less trust of people we don’t know, and even less trust of people we do know, when it comes to our children.

So in some ways it has made a safer society, but in other ways less open, less able to trust in the way people trusted in the past.

To give a parable of this how changes make society less open – dog owners could for many years let dogs run loose around Val de La Mare Reservoir, But a few individuals abused this, and let dogs swim in the reservoir.

To prevent that happening, the rules are now that dogs have to be on a lead. The majority of dog owners always have been responsible, but the changes come about to prevent abuse by a few. But it makes dog walking less open and free that it used to be as a result for everyone.

How do the themes the inquiry and the wider scandal raise, sit with our affectionate notion of “The Jersey Way”?

As Professor Joad used to say on the Brains Trust on the BBC,  it all depends what you mean by “The Jersey Way”.

In a neutral form, it just means doing things differently.

John Nettles tells there was a narrow entrance onto the road where he was staying, and opposite was a broken mirror propped up with bits of brick. That, he was told, was the Jersey way of dealing with poor road visibility!

But it can also be used for being sly, sharp practice, underhand, double-dealing or just being plain slap-dash. In other words, as a euphemism for doing something badly, or keeping something concealed and out of the public gaze.

But a study of Private Eye and a look at the scandals in the UK show that there is in fact nothing that unique about these matters. Just look at the MPs expenses scandal, with the desperate attempts to keep that out of the public gaze.

The fact that there is an inquiry means that in part, at least, it seems to run counter to “The Jersey Way”. In this case, the “Jersey way” – in the sense of something bad - was when Terry Le Sueur decided that despite promises being made by Frank Walker, we didn’t really need an inquiry after all. Thanks to Francis Le Gresley that didn't happen, but that it could even be considered was a disgraceful betrayal of trust.

The notion that we will keep quiet and let matters be forgotten could be seen as "The Jersey Way", although the unpublished reports by authorities in the UK and elsewhere shows Jersey has not a monopoly on this kind of thinking. Many can be cited, for example, a blocked EU paper on hormone-mimicking chemicals, a scientific study into depleted uranium cancer fears in Iraq, a cross-governmental report on immigration, a report on the rise in emergency food aid in the UK, among others.

What do you make of the juxtapostition of Liberation Day in 1945 which we celebrate in a big way, with 1945 being the inquiry’s starting point? Ironic? Co-incidence?

Coincidence. The inquiry had to start somewhere, and the post-war period was an obvious starting point, as significant changes were happening in the States with the 1948 reforms. I don’t think we should make too much of it. If it had gone back further, which would have had to be pre-war, hardly anyone there would be alive today.

Liberation day should not be muddled up with inappropriate speeches about the care inquiry.

Do you think island historians in 50 or 100 years will be talking about this? What will they be saying?

Yes, but as part of the bigger picture. It will be a trend of reviewing the past which happened in Jersey just as in the UK and in fact across Europe. I think it will be seen in that context.

In a way, it is much like the Jersey soldiers fighting in the First World War. That is significant locally, and local historians will focus on those men who marched away. But they won’t ignore the bigger picture of the Great War. But UK historians probably won’t mention Jersey except in a footnote.

But it is part of our social history, and I would expect it to be mentioned - just as Edward Paisnel gets mentioned. It would be strange if it did not.

In general, I would expect to see social histories referring to the historical cases on abuse of children in care, but also placing that in the context of a culture in which it was decided to look into that darker side of the past. There is a perceived need that for the victims, there needed to be a cleansing of the Augean Stables.

There is also a need for the survivors to testify to how their lives were blighted by abuse in what should have been safe institutions, and be witnesses to that shameful part of Jersey's past.

1 comment:

Póló said...

The unpublished Steel report is a tricky one. Its publication would be more likely to further a coverup whereas its scrapping would be more likely to eventually lead to the truth coming out.