The Public Interest and Politicians.
TonyB submitted a very interesting comment, which I reproduce at the end of this post.
Before I deal with his points, I would like to respond to another commenter who asked me whether I was content to let Chris Bright or Rob Shipley – editor & deputy editor of the Jersey Evening Post – reply on this site to the criticisms I have made of them in past posts.
The answer is yes – indeed, Mr. Bright has made one comment response already. Should either man be interested in responding I would be very interested to hear their views. We could have a lively debate.
Something you won’t get in the JEP.
The same commenter also asked whether I had called someone “a bloody idiot” during today’s meeting of the Jersey parliament.
The answer to that question is yes – though the JEP got their report wrong by saying I had said this to Frank Walker.
What, in fact, happened is this: I was asking Frank Walker a supplementary question to the effect that when I was H & SS Minister, senior civil servants had lied to me about the case of Simon Bellwood.
Did he think it acceptable for civil servants to lie to politicians?
Before he could answer, Senator Terry Le Main – Pseudo (Terry, it means ‘false, not genuine, fake’) Working Class Hero and all-round spiv – a person who has disturbed many people in his rabid defence of the culture of concealment – interrupted and began shouting that it was “disgraceful” to ask such a question and that “civil servants didn’t lie.”
Now – reflect upon last night’s Panorama (available at the BBC iPlayer web site) – the victims – their testimony – what they suffered – and how they were utterly betrayed by the civil servants Le Main was leaping up to defend.
In response to Le Main’s interruption I said:
“After last night’s Panorama? You bloody idiot.”
This was an entirely mild response – knowing what I know of the suffering these victims have gone through.
The Deputy Bailiff – Michael Birt (and former Attorney General – funnily enough, the one who dropped the prosecution of the McGuires) said I had to withdraw my supposedly “unparliamentery” words.
I agree to withdraw the word “bloody”.
Turning to TonyB’s questions.
He referred to Anton Skinner – a man named in Panorama as being responsible for the child protection services when many examples of appalling abuse were concealed.
I can most certainly confirm the veracity of the issues as described in Panorama.
Skinner was the head of Social Services in 1999 when I became President of the then Health & Social Services Committee. Due to the sudden ill-health retirement of the then chief officer, Skinner became the acting chief officer for Health & Social Services.
He held this post for a period of time until the appointment of the present chief officer, Mike Pollard. At that stage Skinner retired.
A Committee term is 3 years, and I was President of the H & SS Committee for two terms – 6 years – until I became Minister for a further two years.
As would be affirmed by all of the various other politicians who were, at different stages, members of my Committee – at no stage were we informed of the child protection failures – of the abuses – or of the concealments.
We were not informed of these issues by Skinner – or any other social services manager.
Indeed – important information was wilfully concealed from my old Committee and, more latterly, from me as Minister.
For example, I only became aware of the Blanche Pierre group-home abuses during the summer of last year – 2007.
And even then – only after having the matter drawn to my attention by whistle-blowers.
Following these approaches, I demanded the production of the files relating to Blanche Pierre.
I sat in the H & SS head office and read through two very substantial lever-arch files of evidence, plus one smaller ring-binder.
I could only sit there and shake my head at the horrors revealed by this evidence.
Truly – things you just couldn’t make up.
And such was the extensiveness and detail of this evidence that when the Jersey courts system claim “the case against the McGuire’s had to be dropped for lack of evidence” – the Jersey court system is simply lying.
All of the evidence is now in the hands of the States of Jersey Police Force.
I was able to copy two documents from amongst the files. One was the 1999 Dylan Southern report – an excellent document which examined the wretched history of the abuse episode and the concealment of that abuse. The second was a letter written by Iris Le Feuvre in 1990 – when she was a member of the island’s parliament and was President of the then Education Committee which had responsibility in those days for child protection.
The letter written by Le Feuvre was a truly nauseating letter of “thanks” to the McGuires on their “retirement”.
As I read through all the large files of evidence – the anger I felt, I could scarcely describe. I kept having to stand up and walk around the large board table – and look out of the windows down into Gloucester Street.
If I had to describe the key moment when I realised the full, horrifying futility of politics – it was at this moment.
I was reading files of extensive evidence which described years of the most foul abuse throughout the 1980s – and the civil service of the day – in a report from 1990 – conceded that the conduct of the McGuires had been “unacceptable” – “but by way of mitigation it was a stressful job”. But – no problem: “Mrs McGuire agreed to retire voluntarily from running the group-home – and would, instead, come and work in the Family Development Centre.”
When discovering this stuff – and other appaling things – in the summer of last year I recognised that such approaches as “politeness” – and “discretion” – (please note, Pip le Brocq and others) – were the very last things we needed.
What we needed – what the generations of victims were crying out for – was the truth.
Skinner had been retired for several years by last summer.
Had he not been – I would have told him to clear his desk and get out of the building immediately.
Skinner is amongst those I have made formal complaints of to the States of Jersey Police Force in respect of possible criminal offences such as Perverting the Course of Justice.
But Skinner is not alone.
The conduct, attitude and culture he displayed is endemic throughout the higher reaches of the Jersey civil service.
Even many decent, professional civil servants are of this view – it is has often be they who have told me of some of the appalling deficiencies within public administration in this island.
It is a culture of self-interest, mutual support, ethical bankruptcy, incompetence, gross unprofessionalism, unaccountability – and complete invulnerability.
It is inimically hostile to the public good.
Some time ago a comment was submitted to this blog which suggested that by saying the Jersey civil service was bloated, incompetent, inefficient and unethical – I was merely adopting some kind of right-wing popularism.
No. I have come to my conclusion about the true nature of the dangerous and defective civil service in Jersey after learning of the type of things you saw in last night’s Panorama.
Having spent much of last year discovering a variety of the most appalling horrors inflicted upon vulnerable children – and having discovered the culture of concealment and cover-up – I have come to the conclusion – or, rather, the victims, whistle-blowers and I have come to the conclusion – that what is needed is a fundamental change in the structure and operation of Jersey’s civil service.
And we share the view that this isn’t a right-wing or left-wing issue – not pro or anti-establishment.
What we require is very simple: acceptable standards of professionalism, ethics, accountability and discipline amongst the very expensive upper-reaches of Jersey’s civil service.
But this – entirely reasonable objective – still – even today – meets implacable opposition from the Jersey political establishment.
Even now – when it must be obvious to the most disinterested observer that, in large measure, the blame for the catastrophic failure of child protection in Jersey falls upon the civil service.
Just this morning, Jersey’s Chief Minister, Senator Frank Walker, answered questions concerning the oppressions inflicted on Simon Bellwood by the Jersey civil service.
He simply repeated, unquestioningly, the manifest and demonstrable rubbish churned out by senior civil servants like Bill Ogley and Mick Pinel – to the effect that their case against Bellwood was correct – but it utterly collapsed because of “technicalities”.
What this situation demonstrates is that even now – even today – the self-same culture of mutual support and concealment of the truth, still grips Jersey’s civil service.
The phrase “too rotten to repair” comes to mind when one casts a weary eye over the blighted landscape of moral cowardice, lies and self-interest.
Is there anything we can do about it?
Let’s face it – many of the senior public employees who have lied and concealed – who have betrayed vulnerable children in the name of self-protection – remain working as I write.
Just by way of example, Marnie Baudains, Phil Dennett and Mike Pollard.
These people are not even suspended – notwithstanding the fact that Jersey is gripped by its worst peace-time disaster in 800 years as a self-governing jurisdiction – that they exhibited the very culture of concealment and self-interest that has caused the lives of generations to be blighted.
And notwithstanding his brave words about rooting out the concealers – Senator Frank Walker appears to be content to carry on defending these clowns.
I believe Anton Skinner, mentioned several times in the Panorama program in connection with how the Maguires were treated is now with Jersey Focus for Mental Health. He was acting chief executive of the Health Department during your time. Were you aware of any of these allegations as made in Panorama, or was it kept from you?