HAVING spent more than a year hearing allegations of child abuse in Jersey care homes, the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry will this week shift its focus towards whether the political set-up may have allowed such abuse to occur.
Tasked with investigating allegations of child abuse dating from the end of the Second World War, the inquiry, which began public hearings last July, has examined thousands of pages of documents and heard from hundreds of witnesses.
Recently, the inquiry heard from former members of staff in Jersey care homes, including some accused of carrying out abuse and some who were later convicted.
Before that, more than 200 witnesses gave evidence regarding their time in care, with many giving accounts of the abuse they suffered and witnessed at the hands of the people who supposed to be looking after them.
WHAT WE HAVE LEARNED
EVEN for many who had had heard rumours about child abuse in the Island’s care homes, the scale of alleged abuse is likely to have come as a shock.
Details relating to homes including Haut de la Garenne, Les Chênes and La Préférence have suggested that abuse was ingrained into the care home system.
A number of residents confirmed that prolific paedophile Jimmy Savile had visited Haut de la Garenne, although very few accusations have been made against the former TV presenter during his time in Jersey.
The inquiry has also heard allegations that notorious sex offender Edward Paisnel, dubbed the Beast of Jersey, was a regular visitor at La Préférence and would terrify the children while they slept by creeping around wearing a mask.
During the 1960s and early19 70s, Paisnel regularly attacked women and children, avoiding detection by wearing a costume which included a grotesque rubber mask.
He was convicted in 1971 of 13 counts of rape, assault and sodomy and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
In January, the inquiry heard evidence from Witness 138that a potential paedophile ring may have been in operation in the 1970s.
The witness, who claimed that he suffered years of abuse while at Haut de la Garenne, alleged that a group of paedophiles would prey on vulnerable children from care homes and claimed that St Helier shop owner Jeff Le Marquand had told him that he supplied children to people in the Island.
Allegations of cover-ups have been rife, and during the most recent phase of hearings, Anton Skinner, former head of Children’s Services, admitted that how he dealt with one particular case could be perceived as a cover-up.
Mr Skinner, who was head of the service between 1986 and 1995, told the inquiry that he learned of abuse allegations made against Alan and Jane Maguire, who at the time were running the Blanche Pierre family group home, and that he struck a deal with them to ensure their quick removal from the home.
The deal meant that Mrs Maguire was redeployed within Children’s Services and that they couple received a letter of thanks for their work.
Mr Skinner denied that he had intentionally covered up the allegations, but admitted that he had made mistakes in how he had dealt with the situation.
Last month, the inquiry was told by John Rodhouse, former director of Education, that Senator Sir Philip Bailhache, the then Attorney General, failed to pass on allegations of abuse to the police.
Mr Rodhouse claimed that if Sir Philip had acted on the allegations, a further case of child abuse could have been prevented.
Meanwhile, in concluding the second phase of the inquiry, Frances Oldham QC, who chairs the panel, claimed that the investigation was being delayed by a failure from States departments, including the Law Officers’ Department, to provide documents within the given time limits.
Delivering an address at the end of the most recent public hearing, she said: ‘During this phase of evidence the inquiry has received excellent co-operation from the vast majority of witnesses who have assisted the work of the inquiry.
‘However, we have been hampered by the late and non-disclosure of important documents, largely by the various States departments, but also from the Law Officers’ Department.
‘These include HR records, disciplinary and other investigations, policies and procedures reports and emails which have either failed to be disclosed or have been disclosed after the relevant witness has given their evidence.’
However, the States and the Law Officers’ have denied that they have been slow in providing the requested documents.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
AT the end of the first phase of hearings, which concluded in March, Mrs Oldham’s panel’s job will be to determine how the abuse was allowed to remain hidden for so long.
Acknowledging that child abuse had been prevalent in Jersey care homes, Mrs Oldham said that the panel would be investigating whether political interference may have prevented prosecutions.
At the time, she said: ‘While there have been some positive accounts, most of what we have heard has related to painful and damaging experiences.
The first phase of the inquiry has been slow and painstaking, not least because of the difficulty many of the victims have had to wrestle with emotionally in terms of first giving a statement and then deciding whether to give evidence in public.
‘We must establish the truth about how mistreatment of children remained hidden for so long, and what was done when concerns were raised.
‘We must also consider whether appropriate decisions were taken in deciding whether to prosecute individuals, and whether there was political or other interference in those decisions.’
The inquiry is due to sit for four days this week to speak to members of committees responsible for Jersey care homes, including ex-politicians.
Public hearings will then cease once again to enable the panel to prepare for the final phase of hearings.
Due to begin in early October, the last phase will relate to the 2008 police investigation into Haut de la Garenne, codenamed Operation Rectangle, which garnered international media attention. The panel will be questioning the handling of that inquiry and how prosecutions were made.
Among those due to give evidence are former deputy States police chief Lenny Harper, who led Operation Rectangle and who has previously confirmed to the JEP that he will be giving evidence.
Once the final phase of public hearings is concluded, the panel will write a report of their findings.
They are expected to provide recommendations on what has been learnt as a result of the investigation.
The report is due to be submitted before the end of 2016.
UP until July this year, the inquiry has cost the taxpayer more than £9.5 million – a significant step-up from its initial budget of £6 million.
In March, the States agreed to provide an additional £14 million to ensure that the inquiry could continue its work.
By the time of the States debate into additional funding, the inquiry had already surpassed its initial budget.
The current expectation is that the final cost will be under the revised budget, with Nick Montague, secretary of the inquiry, stating that the current cost forecasts were within budget.
In August the inquiry released a breakdown of its spending.
A total of £1,000,533 has been spent on hotel, travel and subsistence, which includes all costs for people working on inquiry matters while in Jersey.
The majority of the £9.5 million spent to date has been on fees for the inquiry team, which accounts for £6.5 million.