How Jersey’s tourism bosses must have lamented the marketing slogan they chose last year: “Small enough to really get to know, yet still big enough to surprise.”
The story had first trickled out in November 2007, gaining almost no press attention. Following a covert police inquiry into allegations of mistreatment in the island’s care homes, police and the NSPCC in London had appealed to former residents to come forward. By January 2008, hundreds were said to have made contact, reporting physical and sexual abuse, mostly at Haut de la Garenne, a grim, Victorian industrial school that had, until the mid-80s, served as Jersey’s main children’s home. Soon, Jersey was in the grip of one of the largest police child abuse inquiries seen anywhere in Britain.
How would the tiny island and its 88,000 residents hold up? They pride themselves on their traditionalism (the pound note survives here) and an independent spirit that locals refer to as the Jersey Way. The mantra, reflecting a closed community that knows how to look after itself, is credited with transforming the place from a bourgeois bucket-and-spade resort in the 50s into the oyster-shucking tax haven it is today. So potent is the lure of the island’s low-tax, non-intrusive regime that the level of wealth required of prospective settlers has risen to stratospheric levels: only those who can pay a residency fee of about £1m and show assets in excess of £20m need apply. The lucky few include racing driver Nigel Mansell, golfer Ian Woosnam, broadcaster Alan Whicker and writer Jack Higgins, as well as hundreds of reclusive tycoons, who have made the island the third richest compact community in the world, after Bermuda and Luxembourg.
And then February 2008 arrived like a fist in the face. All anyone on the outside looking in could talk about was paedophiles. Then Jersey police announced they were investigating murder as well as complaints of physical and sexual abuse: witnesses said they recalled seeing the corpses of children at Haut de la Garenne; others claimed to have found bones buried beneath the foundations.
What made it worse for those on the inside was that the crisis had been started by an outsider, a Northern Irish copper called Lenny Harper, second-in-command of the island’s police force, and the antithesis of the Jersey Way. Instead of managing bad news, Harper had teams of forensics specialists excavating for it. Every day, sitting on a granite wall outside the home, Harper regaled the world’s press with stories that “something evil” had happened there – Haut de la Garenne had been a virtual charnel house. The first find was a sliver of human skull on 23 February. As the investigation progressed, the supposed tally rose to “six or more” bodies buried beneath the home.
By August last year, Harper had retired, to be replaced by a new policeman from the British mainland. More experienced than Harper, detective superintendent Mick Gradwell was a veteran whose cases included the deaths of 23 Chinese cockle-pickers at Morecambe Bay in 2004.
At his first press conference, on 12 November, Gladwell stunned reporters with his findings: “There were no bodies, no dead children, no credible allegations of murder and no suspects for murder.” Only three bone fragments could be definitely said to be human, he said – and they dated from the 14th to 17th centuries. Newspapers ran gleeful headlines: “Lenny Harper lost the plot.” By the time we arrived on Jersey in February 2009, a year after the digging had begun, it was as if Harper and his inquiry had never existed.
The Jersey establishment was triumphant. One of the island’s most senior social workers expressed a view we were to hear many times: “I’m not saying all the former children’s home residents are liars but some have misremembered,” he said. “Some have embellished and a small number have been telling porkies to get money.” Nothing was wrong with the island. Jersey was off the hook. It was all a cock-up.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Among the thousands of statements that still line the shelves of Harper’s old incident room, and in the testimony of former residents and workers at Haut de la Garenne and other institutions across Jersey, many of whom we tracked down and interviewed, harrowing stories are buried.
Over a period of three decades, residents of the care homes made repeated complaints that they were being sexually and physically abused. A series of damning reports was produced, following confidential inquiries into these institutions, most of which went unheeded. Few prosecutions ensued.
It is true to say there were no corpses. However, the testimony provides compelling evidence of a catastrophic failure within Jersey’s children’s services that ran a regime so punitive, they preferred to lock up problem children en masse than deal with them in their own homes: four times more children, proportionately, are imprisoned in Jersey than in its nearest neighbour, France. And what happened to them once in care was something that Harper’s team, had they not been distracted by murder plots, came close to exposing.
Harper clashed with the Jersey Way as soon as he was appointed head of police operations in 2002. A career officer, he had been office-bound for a few years and on Jersey he wanted to get back to real policing. Summing him up, one former Jersey colleague told us that Harper “was a bit of a pit bull” who found himself on a small island where discretion and subtlety were valued above all else. Early attempts at making his mark, including a clear-out of illegally held weapons and a curtailment of the often cosy relationship between local police and businessmen, made him instant enemies. Harper, who now lives in Ayrshire, told us: “I started getting death threats. But I’d been on the streets of Northern Ireland.”
His most significant problem was recognising the limits of his power. Jerseymen trace their ancestry back to the medieval Dukedom of Normandy and a feudal culture survives. The island is divided into 12 parishes, each governed by a connétable or head constable, who between them raise a private volunteer police force, the Honorary Constabulary. It might sound like a toytown operation, but these so-called “hobby bobbies” form a network of neighbours, friends and relatives licensed to arrest and charge fellow islanders through powers vested in them by the 500-year-old States Assembly.
The assembly – made up of the connétables, their deputies and 12 elected senators, many of them multimillionaires – is supervised by the bailiff, Jersey’s highest officer, who is appointed by the Queen, while the task of upholding the law and keeping the hobby bobbies in check falls to the attorney general. These two key posts are currently held by brothers, Sir Philip and William Bailhache, members of one of the oldest and most powerful families on Jersey. At the bottom of the heap are the 240 officers of the States of Jersey Police, imposed on the island in the 50s but even today requiring attorney general Bailhache’s approval to charge anyone with anything more serious than a traffic citation.
It was a system that frustrated newcomer Lenny Harper, until he found an ally inside the attorney general’s office. This was a mainlander who similarly mistrusted the Jersey Way and told Harper of a “web of child abusers” who he claimed all knew each other. He also alleged the attorney general’s office appeared reluctant to prosecute. When we put this to William Bailhache, he replied that Harper had repeatedly suggested his office was “soft” on child abuse – this is untrue, he says, and so is the suggestion that he was reluctant to prosecute. “I have signed many indictments for people charged with child abuse offences, some of them historic. Several cases have resulted in substantial sentences of imprisonment.”
Harper recalls: “I was cautious at first. The allegations reached into many worthy organisations, including the Sea Cadets and the St John Ambulance, and there were whispers about establishment men. One name that kept cropping up was Paul Every, a commanding officer in the island’s Sea Cadets.” Every had also served as a senior civil servant.
Harper dug around, discovering that Every’s name had surfaced in connection with child porn offences during Operation Ore in 1999. In late 2004, Harper applied for a warrant to search the Sea Cadets’ HQ. He was refused. Harper then contacted the Jersey Sea Cadets directly: “They completely ignored me and refused to sack Every.” When the States Assembly, too, declined to act, and Harper received a message from the attorney general’s office that it was reluctant to prosecute, Harper began to suspect a cover-up. He says, “What made things more fraught was that some of my own officers were in the Sea Cadets.” (On this case, the attorney general comments: “It is absolutely not the case that I decided not to prosecute Every. It is true that one of my officials wrongly gave Mr Harper that impression.”)
Harper pressed on, and in January 2005 had Every arrested and his home computer seized. On it, police recovered cached information showing searches for child porn, including evidence that Every had scoured the internet for “naked sea cadets”. Still unable to persuade the local Sea Cadets to act, Harper wrote in August 2005 to the youth organisation’s national HQ in London, and finally Every was required to resign. The following month, Harper arrested Roger James Picton, another Sea Cadet volunteer; Picton was found guilty of indecent assault on a schoolgirl in February 2006 and Every was convicted that December of a child porn offence over his subscription in 1999 to a pornographic website.
In early 2007, convinced there was a broad network of abusers operating on the island and mindful of Jersey’s steadfast refusal to introduce a sex offenders’ register, Harper began reviewing statements made by Sea Cadets who had alleged abuse. He discovered that many had been in care, especially in Haut de la Garenne. Calling up their care files, Harper found that a member of Jersey police’s family protection team, Brian Carter, had been there before him. Carter was no longer in the force, but finding him on the island was easy. It turned out that in 2004 Carter had noticed an unusually high incidence of suicide among men who had passed through Haut de la Garenne. Reviewing the records of 950 former residents, he discovered that a significant number had complained of sexual and physical abuse, describing similar acts and perpetrators, going back to the 50s. Shockingly, even though supervisors at the homes had dutifully noted the complaints, none had been properly investigated.
Carter had sought out victims and taken statements detailing how they were allegedly beaten and raped by older children and staff, and also by Sea Cadet officers, St John Ambulance volunteers and at least one senator in the States Assembly. In April 2006, Carter handed the dossier to Jersey CID. Nothing happened.
Suspecting that allegations of crimes against hundreds of children were being brushed under the carpet, Carter quit the force in late 2006. Now, Harper alerted Graham Power, head of Jersey’s police, to the dossier. Appalled, Power contacted the Association of Chief Police Officers which launched an independent inquiry, currently being handled by South Yorkshire. In September 2007, Power gave Harper the go-ahead to launch a full-scale child abuse investigation, with Carter re-employed as a civilian investigator. Together they set up an incident room at Jersey police headquarters in Rouge Bouillon, St Helier. Detective inspector Alison Fossey, another outsider, originally from Strathclyde, was called in to help sift through the first of 4,000 children’s files.
Abuse claims were rife. Haut de la Garenne was at the centre; other child facilities on the island were also implicated, including a secure unit called Les Chenes and a “group home”, Blanche Pierre. Harper ordered his men to find and interview as many victims as they could – something that proved difficult because several former care home residents had already spoken to Carter and were disillusioned when nothing came of it.
Fearful that his inquiry would collapse, it was then that Harper went public, making an appeal for witnesses to come forward, with the backing of the NSPCC. “I was summoned to the chief minister’s office and given a rollicking,” Harper claims. “CM Frank Walker told me, ‘Stop calling these people victims. It’s not proven yet. You can’t say that. Do you realise what you are doing here can bring the government down?’ ” We tried to contact Walker, but he declined to respond.
A firestorm now swirled across the island. Harper recalls: “The NSPCC opened a helpline and the phones went haywire.” Former Haut residents talked of being slammed into walls, punched and slapped. One victim from Les Chenes claimed to have been knocked out by a staff member and told police, “The supervisor put a foot on my chest and stood on me, screaming, ‘This is what we do to scum like you!’ ” Former care home children also detailed sadistic sexual abuse, with residents raping their dorm mates and supervisors doing the same.
Dozens of potential protagonists were thrown up by the new inquiry, the same names having also been identified by victims in the Carter report. One of them, a former Jersey senator, Wilfred Krichefski, who died in 1974, was known as the “Fat Man” among Haut residents who accused him of multiple rapes. Other Haut victims claimed to have been “lent out” to men who took them sailing into international waters before forcing them to have sex – crimes thus committed outside Jersey’s jurisdiction. Colin Tilbrook, a former headmaster at Haut de la Garenne in the 60s, was repeatedly named as having roamed the corridors at night with a pillow tucked under his arm with which to stifle the screams of the children he raped. Jersey social services had never investigated Tilbrook, who went on to secure a job in the early 70s on the British mainland. When news of the Jersey investigation became public, Tilbrook’s foster daughter, by then in her 30s, came forward to reveal that he had repeatedly raped her when she was a child.
Like Krichefski, Tilbrook was dead, as were others accused, including Jim Thomson, the superintendent of Haut de la Garenne in 1979, who was repeatedly accused of abuse. It was the living that presented Harper’s team with the knottiest problems. The list of those who had worked at the homes included the serving education director, Tom McKeon, and his deputy, Mario Lundy. Both were interviewed by police earlier this year; both vigorously deny any wrongdoing.
The inquiry was delivered a blow when, in January 2008, Harper’s deputy, DI Alison Fossey, went to the mainland on a strategic command course. Fossey had a law degree and had worked in child protection for most of her career. She was a details person, while Harper had a more scattergun approach. In her absence, the investigation was transformed by lurid claims of bodies and murder. One police report from this time states, “Among the [Haut] victims were a few who said that children had been dragged from their beds at night screaming and had then disappeared.” A local builder who had done renovations there in 2003 said he had found what he thought were children’s bones and shoes. These items had been disposed of by the Jersey pathologist. Harper remained suspicious. On 5 February 2008, he flew to Oxford to take advice from LGC Forensics, a crime scene service used by forces across the UK.
Two weeks later, an LGC team encamped at Haut de la Garenne. A squad of technicians in white suits pored over the site. Central to it all were two sniffer dogs, Eddie and Keela, which Harper took to describing as his “canine assets”. They were veterans deployed in the search for missing Madeleine McCann in Portugal, although the controversy caused there should have served as a warning to Harper. In Portugal, the dogs had crawled over a car used by Gerry and Kate McCann, and sounded the alarm. The Portuguese police then claimed that the McCanns had killed their daughter, when what the dogs had actually picked up on was both parents’ legitimate proximity to death, working in hospitals.
At Haut de la Garenne, the dogs made straight for the place where in 2003 the builder said he had found bones. A senior police officer recalled, “They did cartwheels on the spot. And Harper went through the roof.” As in Portugal, the dogs had smelled something but could not differentiate between ancient remains and a contemporary murder. But at 2pm on 23 February, caution cast aside, Harper called a press conference, telling reporters police believed that the partial remains of a child were buried there.
Over the following months, £7.5m would be spent sifting 100 tonnes of earth. By the time DI Fossey returned, there were 65 milk teeth, 165 bone fragments and two lime-lined pits dominating the inquiry.
Meanwhile the child abuse investigation, which had already identified 160 alleged victims, was, Harper claimed, taking flak. Harper was called to the attorney general’s office after his team charged a former Haut warder with indecently assaulting underage girls at the home from 1969 to 1973. William Bailhache demanded that a lawyer appointed by his office be inserted into the inquiry to assess the evidence before any arrest or charges could be preferred – common practice on the mainland, he says.
The police sent the lawyer details of a further five suspects, including a former police officer and two couples. Hearing nothing for two months, Harper went ahead and arrested the 50-year-old former police officer on 12 June last year. The attorney general’s lawyer had the man released the next day, citing a lack of evidence. Likewise he vetoed charges being laid against one of the two couples. That left only Jane and Alan Maguire, a couple now living in France, and their case, too, went nowhere.
Bailhache told us: “It would no doubt have been much easier for me personally if I had simply waved prosecutions through. However, had I done so I would have been failing in my duty… Actions on my part which Mr Harper no doubt interpreted as frustrating a prosecution were rather directed at ensuring that any prosecution which was properly brought had the best chance of succeeding.”
In the end, Harper charged only two other individuals, both peripheral, one of whom, in a terrible irony, also claims to have been a child victim of abuse at Haut de la Garenne in the 70s.
Once Lenny Harper retired in August 2008, and the murder inquiry was discredited, some island officials were concerned that the investigation into the abuse allegations might collapse, too.
The alarm had been raised in 1979, following the death of a two-year-old at the hands of a foster parent. Two years later, visiting social workers David Lambert and Elizabeth Wilkinson, concerned that none of the proposed improvements had been put in place, launched a full-blown inspection. Their confidential report, taking a broader look at Jersey society, concluded that while the island was reinventing itself as a haunt for jetsetters, there was a neglected group afflicted by a “high incidence of marital breakdown, heavy drinking, alcoholism and psychiatric illness”. These problems were exacerbated by a small island mentality that demanded everyone “conform to acceptable public standards”.
Children rebelled in small ways: dropping litter, swearing, facing down the police, having parties on the beach. On Jersey, all of these “offences” were, according to Lambert and Wilkinson, often sufficient to get a child into serious trouble. And once children had come to the attention of the police, it was almost inevitable that they would enter Jersey’s care home system. Without any provision for children to be bailed, most were incarcerated on remand, placed alongside children taken from their families, often for such reasons as “giving the mother a break”. In this rural backwater, one in 10 children had been in care, a ratio far higher than on the mainland.
Once in care, the real problems began, with predatory residents, some with criminal records, bunked with the vulnerable. Cases were almost never reviewed; Lambert and Wilkinson found in one group of 65 children, 36 had remained invisible inside the system for more than 10 years. This was the more likely if parents made little fuss, or even, in some cases, left the island. One of the invisible told us how he had been incarcerated at Haut de la Garenne for being repeatedly sarcastic to the hobby bobbies; he stayed in care for eight years, he says, without ever seeing a trained social worker, during which time he claimed to have been raped by adults and fellow inmates alike.
At the time of Lambert and Wilkinson’s visit, Haut was run by superintendent Jim Thomson. Like many then working in the Jersey care system, he had no professional qualifications. Thomson, who would be accused of sexual and physical abuse in Harper’s 2008 inquiry, was found by Lambert and Wilkinson to have created a “highly unsatisfactory” environment that focused on corporal punishment for “boys aged 10 to 15”, some of them locked in remand cells for days at a time. It was an institution ripe for abusers, especially at night when only one staff member was on duty for 45 children sleeping in four distant wings. Haut was “not suitable for any of the tasks in which it is currently engaged”.
Nick (not his real name) was resident at the time. He told us he had been taken, aged 11, to Haut de la Garenne in “a large white van with bars on its windows” after his mother abandoned him in 1975. He said: “The dorm was at the end of a rabbit warren of corridors and consisted of eight hospital-style beds lined up against opposite walls. Most of the boys were in their teens and had been in the home for years.” No sooner had he arrived than he was beaten up and his possessions stolen. “At night they would never come to check up on you. The younger boys would be tied down on their beds and raped by the older lads.” He survived only because he was a boxer and he was allowed to stay with foster parents at weekends, a time when adults were said to come and prey on the children left behind.
According to the 1981 report, other homes caused concern, too, for their punitive regimes; chief among them was Blanche Pierre with its new house parents, Jane and “Big Al” Maguire. But the extent of the allegations against the Maguires would not be properly investigated for another 18 years. One of their former charges was Dannie Jarman, now 28, who moved into Blanche Pierre when her mother was diagnosed with cancer in 1985, ending up in a hospice. “I wasn’t allowed to visit her,” Dannie told us. “Two weeks after her funeral, I was told she was dead. I was repeatedly told that our mum hadn’t brought us up right and had never wanted me.” Other children later levelled accusations about the extremely harsh conditions.
No one would have known about it had Dannie Jarman not got drunk one night in 1998 and thrown a brick through the Maguires’ bedroom window. When the Maguires called the police, former residents, including Dannie, were brought in for questioning. After they repeated their allegations of abuse, the police turned around their inquiry and charged the Maguires instead.
The then attorney general, Michael Birt, today the island’s deputy bailiff, sought advice from counsel who suggested that while this home “might possibly have been one that was run on a somewhat Dickensian basis, the strict regime applied by the Maguires would have not been regarded as unusual in pre-politically correct times. Indeed it is quite likely members of the jury would have some sympathy for people who in order to instil a sense of discipline in their charges threaten to wash a child’s mouth out with soap and water.” The counsel suggested: “The evidence is extremely weak.” Birt, who declined to comment when we approached him, dropped the charges. Following an internal inquiry, Jane Maguire was subsequently sacked by Jersey social services.
Another inquiry focused on Jersey’s elite Victoria College after the head of maths was jailed for four years in April 1999 for indecently assaulting a pupil. In his report, Stephen Sharp, a former chief education officer for Buckinghamshire, criticised senior staff and school governors, who included bailiff Sir Philip Bailhache, for failing to act speedily or adequately. It had taken 15 years for the teacher to be caught and Sharp concluded: “The handling of the complaint was more consistent with protecting a member of staff and the college’s reputation than safeguarding the best interests of pupils.”
Haut de la Garenne eventually closed in 1986, Blanche Pierre in 2001, but when Kathie Bull, a British child behaviour expert, was called in the following year to inspect the island’s children’s services, she found the situation had worsened. So many children were now being locked up that the island’s institutions operated a “hot-bedding” system to cater for them, which in the case of Les Chenes included children sleeping on a pool table. Discipline was meted out in The Pits, a punishment block consisting of four bare concrete cells. The island’s youth justice system was backwards and brutal, Bull concluded, and she made 50 recommendations, including the establishment of a Children’s Executive.
Four years later, when Simon Bellwood, a British social worker, was employed to close Les Chenes and move the secure unit to a new, purpose-built site, he was startled to find the old regime still in force: “I met children who spent months at a time, near naked, in bare, concrete punishment blocks.” When he made public his concerns in 2007 – following a long-running dispute with some of the old regime who were still in positions of authority – he was sacked; the then health minister, senator Stuart Syvret, who had vocally championed those who alleged they had been abused, was voted out of office for his “intemperate and ill-considered statements in the assembly”.
Two years on, Mick Gradwell’s team is trying to pick up the pieces of the abuse inquiry. The attorney general has been handed evidential files against key suspects by the police, and says he expects to make his decisions in the next few weeks. Bellwood, Syvret and others are keeping up the pressure on Jersey’s States Assembly, and lobbying UK justice minister Jack Straw to call a full, independent inquiry (the subject of a court hearing to be held in London next Tuesday). But, many of the victims of the care homes of Jersey are convinced that nothing can outflank an island establishment that often saw little wrong in what had gone before and is reluctant to embrace the future prescribed by the social work experts.
The guardians of the Jersey Way continue to thrive, such as the sprightly Iris Le Feuvre, elected to the States Assembly for almost 20 years, who as president of the education committee oversaw Haut de la Garenne, Les Chenes and Blanche Pierre during some of their most troubled times. Now retired, the 80-year-old, whose husband Eric was for years a hobby bobby, lives in St Lawrence parish. “Granny’s coming,” she shouts as an over-excitable Tibetan spaniel barks at the gate, and ushers us into her front room. Le Feuvre, who collected an MBE from Buckingham Palace in 2002, says of Haut de la Garenne: “It’s been a terrible business. But mostly I feel for William and Sir Philip Bailhache. They’ve been through so much.”
But what of the victims? She smiles: “Oh, such a fuss has been made. My father always used a belt on me. It did me the world of good.”