MALTREATMENT AND HARM;
INFLICTED ON VULNERABLE CHILDREN IN JERSEY.
IT DIDN’T END WITH HAUTE DE LA GARENNE.
A Brief Account of a Tragic Day Spent with the Wreckage of Jersey’s Child “Care” System.
Throughout this nightmare, a thing I have always tried to get across to journalists, perhaps with limited success, is that it isn’t just about Haute de la Garenne.
It wasn’t only that institution.
Haute de la Garenne certainly appears to be the worst – by some margin – but the abuse and torture of vulnerable children didn’t end at that foul place.
Child abuse was prevalent in many other Jersey government run institutions. Both during the same era as Haute de la Garenne – and most definitely after that place was closed in 1986.
What we are dealing with is a continuum of abuse; an ingrained attitude of viciousness, contempt and disregard for children in need. And worse – an arena to which the lazy, the crazed, the psychotic and the sadistic seemed to gravitate.
A culture of contempt.
A culture of disregard.
A culture of abuse.
A culture of concealment.
And it didn’t end with Haute de la Garenne.
It continues to this day.
Even now – unambiguous examples of criminally abusive treatment of children in “care” are being covered-up by senior civil servants and today’s politicians.
For example – just consider the recent Williamson report. A slap-dash piece of ethically bankrupt nonsense, produced by an author who very nearly succeeded in delivering what his paymasters forked-out for.
Nearly – but not quite.
I won’t deal with Williamson now – Simon Bellwood and I – supported by some very – very – heavyweight experts, are preparing a response to Williamson’s screed.
The round-house battering his “work” is going to receive won’t be for the squeamish.
I hope his £50 grand was worth it; in all probability it’s his last ever cheque as ‘Mr. Fix-It’ so far as local authorities needing a credible white-wash are concerned.
He struck his Faustian pact with Jersey’s money-men – and the quid pro quo has been the destruction of his credibility.
As I said – the cover-ups continue to this day.
Name any aspect of the Jersey child abuse disaster – and I will show you lies being spoken of it by Jersey’s oligarchy. Today.
Let us set aside Haute de la Garenne – and instead consider some much more recent examples of institutional abuse.
Abuses that even to the present day, Jersey’s Education Minister, Senator Mike Vibert, attempts to deny.
A few weeks ago I received another heartrending letter from another messed-up young man, presently languishing in Jersey’s La Moye Prison.
He – and many, many others like him – are victims of Jersey’s child “care” system, and the barbarities of Jersey’s youth custody apparatus.
I contacted the prison, and asked if I could visit him, and a few other of my constituents whilst I was there. I took the opportunity to suggest that the prison authorities could put word around the nick that I would be willing to meet with any other people who had been through Jersey’s child “protection” system.
Now, Jersey is a very small place, but even so, there were 19 youths and young men who wanted to speak with me. I was in the jail from 9.15 in the morning until about 7.30 in the evening.
Of the 19 – 18 had been in “care” in Jersey as children. Some had only been in the residential children’s “homes” – most had been in child custody.
The experiences of these people, when children, were uniformly bleak. Bleak in different ways, to be sure – but ultimately, so bleak that there they all languish – in Jersey’s prison – united in criminality by a common factor – namely being victims of Jersey’s child “protection” apparatus.
It is true enough that correlation does not equal causation; some of these young men may have been drawn to a life of crime in any event.
But as much as defenders of Jersey’s oligarchy may assert the system is not to blame for how these kids’ lives have turned out – on the basis of probabilities their claim is no more valid than ours if we were to argue that the way these children were treated was a prime factor in their consequent dysfunction.
But we do not rely on mere probabilities.
We know – on a strongly evidenced basis – that they way these people were treated as children was – without question – harmful, damaging and barbaric.
Incidentally – I am in the process of writing up all my notes from this visit, which I will furnish to the States of Jersey Police – along with yet another formal statement.
To gain a flavour of the kind of treatment these kids went through, I’ll quote one of the letters sent to me by one of the kids in Jersey’s prison. I asked his permission to reproduce it, but, obviously, I will anonymise it so as to protect the identity of the young man and those he names. Apart from that, it’s reproduced exactly as he wrote it.
He describes his time in the child custody system of Jersey:
“Dear Senator Syvret,
I am [name excised] and currently reside at La Moye Prison, and I am writing this factual letter to tell you of some of my many experiences at [name of child secure unit excised] from [dates excised] and to help with any enquiries. My time at [child secure unit name excised] was over one year ago but my first night there was quite scary but I got through it. It was the morning that worried me but I saw someone I knew to be [name excised] I have known him for many years and asked him how long he’d been down here he stated about a week. But I was soon to find out that this was wrong and they were locked up 23 hours a day and when I say they I mean [name 1, name 2, name 3 excised] all former inmates of [child secure unit name excised]. Anyway moving on a few weeks later whilst on remand I was sat in what we called the day room is where we spent the daytime watching TV I was sat on the corner of a piece of furniture when I was told to sit on it properly I refused and was pulled off and then restrained to the floor, after that I was taken to secure stripped naked and left in a cell with no mattress a cold floor and no clothes and left for hours I was bruised and distressed and still to this day it winds me up. A bit later on a social worker came to see me naked and upset and gave me some clothes when she left I was locked up for 23 hours a day for three weeks in a cell only with a skylight. I was shortly released from court but the person I believe who done most of these things was [name of senior staff member excised].
Thank you for taking the time to read this letter.
Would like to hear back.
My experiences of life – and my time in politics – have made me a very tough character. But still, when I read of these tragedies in miniature, I can’t help but get upset.
What the States of Jersey did to this child was appalling.
Dragged into a cell – stripped naked – left on the bare, cold floor – not as much as a mattress – left for hours before being given any clothes – alone and bruised and distressed – and then kept in the cell for 23 hours-a-day – for three weeks – 1 hour out for exercise, but still in isolation, no mixing with other kids – 23 hours-a-day – for three weeks – in a bare cement cell which didn’t even have a window – only a skylight in the ceiling.
And you know what?
This child was one of the lucky ones.
Let me run through a very brief list of what some of these children – in recent times, remember – suffered. These experiences as recounted to me last week on my visit to Jersey’s prison.
One young man – I won’t mention his name – but he has gone public on the maltreatment he received as a child in custody.
This included being held in the above-described solitary confinement regime – for two months.
Yes – two months.
Unsurprisingly, he had an emotional breakdown after 1 month of this treatment. This, after all, is precisely why such tortures are used in Guantanamo Bay.
The response of the Jersey secure unit authorities to this child’s mental collapse?
They sent a “councillor” from the local Child and Adolescent Mental Health service to speak with him – for half-an-hour.
But kept him in isolation in the “pits” for another month.
This kid said that he – and this was a fact corroborated by many others – was, if in “secure”, always handcuffed when being taken to court – even though they were children.
Incidentally – and this is another of those “you couldn’t make it up” facts – there is a prison van; it is used by the authorities to take adult inmates from the prison to the courts in St. Helier.
It would come from the prison – and stop en route to the courts at the child secure unit – where children in custody would be shovelled into the back of the van – with adult prisoners. The van would then take this wretched cargo to the courts – where their various fates would be decided by people like Phil Bailhache, ‘Jurat’ John Le Breton, Mike Birt and Mad Frankie Hamon.
All of whom have been involved in well-documented examples of the concealment of child abuse.
It is true that the prison van was compartmentalised – so the adult prisoners had no physical access to the children. But frequently aggressive, mocking and lewd comments would be shouted to the kids by the adults.
Which takes me onto another example. One young girl, who had an episode of being a bit rebellious – getting drunk, arguing with authorities – hell, just like me now – fell into the maw of Jersey’s youth custody system.
She, as a child, was put in the prison van with adult male prisoners – which she naturally found profoundly intimidating and frightening. As I said, the van is compartmentalised, rather than one open area – but even so – putting children, let alone female children, in such a situation serves as a stark illustration of just how much contempt and disregard Jersey’s authorities have for children.
On one of these occasions, she was taken to Jersey’s old Magistrates court – and held in the ancient, wretched brickwork cells behind the court; cells riddled with old and obscene graffiti – for about 7 hours – without being called into the court. After this tortuous experience she was simply driven back to the secure unit.
Another male child – and again, this was a common experience – when having annoyed the staff, was dragged by the hair down the corridor to be thrown into the “pits”.
Another example from a young man I spoke to in the prison.
These are his words:
“My life was ripped apart by that place.”
When being “restrained” he would “held in a head-lock”.
Another experience of these children was being grabbed by the throat and held up against the wall. One member of staff who did this was screaming at the boy, “You’ve just spoiled my meal with my family.”
This particular child was so inconvenient and problematic for the unit’s management that he was confined to the “pits” – the bare cells – in solitary confinement.
Well – so were a lot of other kids.
But for 9 months?
As he put it:
“Yeah – 9 f**king months!”
During this episode there was a period when a new fence was being put up. This meant he couldn’t exercise in the isolation area for security reasons – so he was kept in his lonely cell for 24 hours a day for a whole week.
This young man said to me;
“I’m mentally scarred by it”.
“My memory tries to block it out”
“Not a day goes by without me thinking about it.”
Moving on to yet another boy’s experiences.
This young man was “thrown against the wall by [an identified] member of staff.”
At one point he fell and badly cut his leg which bled heavily. The response of the unit was to confine him to the solitary confinement “pits” – as punishment for supposedly “self-harming”.
Self-harming, incidentally, is a very common experience amongst these children.
He, as did others, also said that “the kids in the “pits” were not even fed properly. We’d be given reduced portions; sometimes only two meals a day.”
Yet another kid was kept in solitary for two months.
He said that “during bang-up, he’d be lucky to see staff twice a day.”
A lot of these kids ended up in the secure units for trivia – for example, “stealing a few packets of bacon.”
Yet others, ended up in these places for the supposed purpose of “safe custody” – because they were being battered by their mum’s boy friend.
The kind of thing these kids could expect was to be “slapped about by staff”, and in some cases, “jumped on”.
Yet another reported being assaulted by a senior [named] member of staff, who “back-handed him across the face”.
Another kid – spoke of being “taken out for ice-creams” by a [named] member of staff who would use the opportunity to “touch him up”.
This kid said that the “main reason for being f**ked-up was being in [named institution].
I don’t know how much longer I can go on for right now; I have screeds of this stuff, and could recount it for hours.
I’ll try and finish with a few brief examples.
Another man, when he was a kid, had had his arm badly broken in a vicious assault by a senior [named] member of staff.
The hospital were told it was “a sporting accident”.
All of these victims said the “standard” of “education” they received had been “crap” to non-existent. To which I said – ‘hey! Join the club. I was “educated” by Mike Vibert – Jersey’s Education Minister.’
But joking aside.
All of them said that during their time in child custody, none of them had received therapy, psychological help, emotional support, mentoring – nor any form of independent advocacy.
So – there they all languish – in jail.
As I said – it was a tragic experience. Both prison staff – and sadly many of the inmates themselves – openly said they’d be back inside within three months of release.
Violence and drugs were by far the main reasons for them being inside.
One of the first things one young man said to me – in what was an open and emotional statement of the truth – was:
“Stuart – we’re all here because we’re f**king junkies. We’re screwed up. My family home was bad enough. But the child nicks – they just destroyed us. All I can do outside is fight and take drugs; it’s the only way of coping.”
When in the prison, one of my last interviews was with a man just a couple of years younger than me.
He was one of the first people to contact me last year. I met-up with him and listened to his experiences then. I had tried to contact him several times this year, but couldn’t get hold of him.
It really was no surprise to discover that he was back inside.
This man lived in the same wretched, back-street slum as me when we were kids.
I even remember having a fight with him.
Our mothers were drinking buddies.
This man – by his own admission – is “no angel”.
He is a well-documented local villain – with some really bad form behind him – I mean serious violence and heavy drug usage.
He and I – contemporaries in virtually all respects.
He – a chronic villain – me a Senator.
A simple twist of fate.
He ended up in Jersey’s child custody system – I didn’t.
To paraphrase Bob Dylan, when speaking with my contemporary, “I felt the heat of the night hit me like freight train – moving – with a simple twist of fate.”
There, but for not falling into the hands of the States of Jersey, go I.
This undoubtedly criminal man was a child once.
A child like so many of us – surrounded by dysfunction.
Naturally intelligent, articulate – and argumentative. He could, with the right support, have made something of his life.
Instead – he got into some petty, juvenile mischief – and fell into the life-destruction machine of Jersey’s child custody system.
A couple of months ago, some commenters asked me who, or what, is “The Pinball Wizard”.
All will be revealed in due course – for the moment, it’s enough to know that the child who was a contemporary of mine, was a regular victim of “The Pinball Wizard.”
His articulacy, intelligence and defiance – naturally – made him a great source of irritation to staff. This led to him suffering such abuses as “The Pinball Wizard” storming into the secure unit’s classroom – and in front of other kids – punching this child in the face with a right hook so hard it knocked him from the stool on which he was sitting – and as he lay dazed on the floor, he had a foot placed on his chest, whilst “The Pinball Wizard” screamed at him – “with the veins bulging and purple in his neck” – “this is what we do to scum like you!”
As I said – correlation does not necessarily equal causation; some of these young men may have been drawn to a life of crime in any event. But we are not merely relying on probability and chance.
In these people – and tragically so many others like them – we see such a powerful correlation as to satisfy an epidemiologist.
Maybe if that child who was a contemporary of mine, hadn’t been abused, neglected, imprisoned for several years as a child, been brutalised and savagely assaulted and beaten – perhaps he would not have committed his succession of serious crimes.
One thing all civilised people can be certain of – treating children with such barbarism and contempt is hardly likely to turn out model citizens.
One of the stark facts I was left with was how virtually all of them never understood that the barbarism they were subjected to was unlawful and unambiguously criminal.
It was quite tragic to hear so many of them say “well, we were no angels, we had broken the law – so we just thought stuff like being beaten up and kept in solitary cells for weeks or months at a stretch was normal; was to be expected.”
Remember – everything I describe above is post-Haute de la Garenne.
Some of this culture of contempt and institutional abuse towards kids was taking place until recently; for example – the extremely damaging use of extended periods of punitive and coercive solitary confinement against children.
This was only stopped about 18 months ago – and even then, only because of the fuss caused by Simon Bellwood – who bravely took a stand against such barbarisms.
So, remember – when considering the Jersey child abuse disaster – the culture of abuse – the culture of concealment – did not stop when Haute de la Garenne closed.
It continues to this day.
Contemporary Jersey politicians still – in the teeth of all the evidence – lie about these things.
In the real world – people would long ago have recognised the game was up. The truth would have been accepted, and amends made.
But facing and absorbing the truth like that just isn’t “The Jersey Way”.
Too vulgar and “impolite” – not to mention profoundly damaging to the island’s oligarchy.
In the mean time we, as a society, continue to cause, compound and accrue – shattered lives.
There in Jersey’s prison languish a variety of individuals, older now – and in many cases hardened crooks.
But behind that brute fact of their existence today – stand children.
Children who were damaged, messed-up, maybe a bit off the rails and in need of a little help and guidance.
Who we treated like filth.
‘As you sew, so you shall reap.’