JERSEY CHILD PROTECTION FAILURES:
NO ONE WANTS TO LOOK UNDER THE ROCK.
The Jersey Parliament:
Still Failing Vulnerable Children.
In case I hadn’t communicated this in a clear and uncryptic manner previously, fighting the child protection battle as I have during the last two years has been personally exhausting.
I say this, not because I’m looking for a medal – fighting for the proper protection of vulnerable children – and justice for the abused – is simply no more than one would expect of any decent person.
But after breaking the trail in this campaign for two years – in the teeth of rabid opposition and hostility from the Jersey oligarchy and their “Friends at Court at Whitehall” – I was hoping to have been able to hand over the baton a long time ago.
There is only so much that one person can do – especially when the “reward” for your efforts consists of such things as getting arrested and held in locked cells for seven hours whilst the police turn over your home – without a warrant – because you might have broken the data protection law when exposing wrongdoing.
Politically and personally, the costs of fighting this battle have been immense – not only for me, but for those close to me.
So every few months during the last two years I have looked for certain successes – certain events – certain stages at which I could step back from the front, confident that the correct actions would be taken, or that others would take up the fight.
My most recent great hope that the truth would be exposed, the lessons learnt – and the necessary changes be made – was in the States of Jersey’s formal Scrutiny system.
I should have known better – but I imagined that once a Scrutiny Panel – the Jersey parliament’s equivalent of a Select Committee – had been charged with the task of uncovering what really went wrong, I could relax a little; step back and let others take the issues forward.
Predictably – that was another vain hope.
The relevant Scrutiny Panel – Chaired by Senator Alan Breckon – quite remarkably didn’t actually want to formally scrutinise the States response to the Jersey Child Abuse Disaster. I had to argue in the Assembly for the issues to be referred to Scrutiny.
And so, frankly bizarre, was the reluctance to scrutinise the policies that even a majority of States members agreed with me and declined to debate the proposals until they’d been reviewed.
The response, methodology and attitude of the panel has been atrocious. Really – so inept and inadequate as to be stunning.
Hence the self-explanatory e-mail I reproduce below.
Today I wrote to all States members, and explained just why I – and others – couldn’t engage with this Scrutiny Panel.
The belligerent indifference exhibited by the Panel towards the task it is charged with undertaking cannot be regarded as anything other than a further manifestation – in the year 2009 – of the Culture of Concealment.
Often during the last two years many people have said to me, “Where are the other States members? What are the rest of Jersey’s politicians doing?”
In response, I have defended a minority of States members – saying, “well, some of them at least share our concerns; they’re on our side. It’s just that they prefer to approach the subject in a different way.”
In truth – I’ve said this more frequently in hope – rather than in experience.
As I contemplate the general response of Jersey’s politicians to the child protection disaster – I can only honestly say that there are four of us who have exhibited the appropriate commitment and genuine concern.
Two – who prefer to keep a low profile – but are actually taking the issues seriously.
And me and one other.
The other being Deputy Paul Le Claire, who has publicly fought for the interests of vulnerable children – and has, through his political pressure, achieved great advances for children in need of effective legal representation.
That’s four people – out of a total of 53.
Whither the other 49?
I just can’t answer that question.
But I can inform you just what I think of the performance of the relevant Scrutiny Panel – as you can see in my e-mail below.
From: Stuart Syvret
Sent: 25 June 2009 10:48
To: All States Members (including ex officio members)
Subject: Child Protection and the Failure of Scrutiny
I felt I should inform you that, sadly, I will be unable to contribute to the work of Senator Breckon’s Scrutiny Panel in its examination of child protection matters. I will explain why this is so.
I was already troubled by the quite startling reluctance of Scrutiny to examine these issues, when the un-policied funding proposals were tabled for debate.
Nevertheless, the States had the wisdom to recognise that a subject this important required formal scrutiny. However, the reluctance of the panel to fully and enthusiastically engage with this task has remained all too evident.
Firstly, the woeful inadequacy of the panel’s work is illustrated in the fact that so few witnesses have been examined; there are at time of writing, merely 10 headings described on the web site. Of those 10, only two – the NSPCC and the Jersey Care Leavers could be said to represent the interests of vulnerable children. A further exception could be made in respect of Professor Thoburn. That leaves 7 individuals/organisations which represent the edifice of the customary States/quasi-States interests in this subject.
This is not to say these individuals/organisations should not be interviewed; rather, it displays the utter inadequacy of the panel’s work and methodology that the vast majority of evidence so far taken – has been from representatives of the very self-same apparatus which has so catastrophically failed.
It must also be pointed out that the quality and standard of the cross-examination, as is evident from the transcripts, is so inept as to be laughable in a tragic kind of way.
Notwithstanding the above observations, I have engaged in repeated e-mail correspondence with the panel in an attempt to be able to come before it and provide evidenced and informed testimony.
Sadly – all my efforts were a waste of time.
Though I could go into great detail – I will confine my observations to three factors.
1: My duty of care to survivors and other witnesses.
I am in close contact with a significant number of survivors and witnesses. Many of these people are those who have been repeatedly betrayed by the Jersey public administration apparatus again and again over the decades. Whilst the JCLA represent a small number of ex-residents, and a smaller number of actual survivors, the JCLA can, in no way, claim to be representative of a broad cross-section of potential witnesses.
That leaves us in a position where the vast majority of the most important and relevant witnesses have not been courted by the panel and have not been interviewed.
This is a ridiculous state of affairs. Tragic, in fact – to look at the panel’s web site – and observe the absence of dozens of other interviews which should have taken place – and, instead see the great majority of the panel’s interviewing time consumed with passively accepting a load of diversionary and vacuous guff – from the very people and organisations responsible for the catastrophic failures, and the concealment of those failures.
I have repeatedly asked my self this question: – “Should I be pro-actively suggesting to survivors or advising them that they should attend the panel and give testimony?”
I would very much have liked the answer to that question to be “yes”.
However – in many of the most relevant cases we are dealing with people of all ages who have been repeatedly betrayed – time and again over the years – by Jersey’s public administration. The States, the Police, the prosecution service, the courts – the list goes on.
And – yet again – the vast majority of them are now being betrayed again by those self-same forces – notwithstanding the deeply distressing trauma endured by many of them in revisiting – again – what happened to them when giving interviews to the police.
I have had to ask myself: – “Would it be ethical of me to guide and advise survivors to give evidence to the panel – knowing perfectly well that the panel has precisely zero interest in doing a proper job – and would merely leave the survivors traumatised yet further at yet another betrayal by the States?”
The answer to that question can only be “no”.
2: Flat refusal of panel to obtain highly relevant evidence.
I have, on several occasions, advised the panel on the identity and whereabouts of a variety of key evidence; evidence which goes to the very heart of the systemic and cultural failure by Jersey’s public administration to protect and nurture vulnerable children. Absolutely core evidence which would prove the toxic self-interest which pervades the higher management structures of Jersey’s so-called child “protection” apparatus.
For reasons which are utterly mystifying – the panel simply refuse to even ask for that evidence.
Again – it is simply impossible to imagine the panel getting even close to adequately addressing its terms of reference in the absence of such evidence.
3: Threat of criminal investigation and breach of Article 47 of the States of Jersey Law.
I would have been prepared to run the risk of contributing to further harassments and criminal investigations against myself – and the consequent risk of prosecution – if I thought for one instant that some real benefit would be generated in terms of assisting the island’s vulnerable children and making Jersey’s public administration face its gross failures.
However – for the reasons described above – and others – I can have zero confidence in the work of the panel.
I cannot, therefore, perceive any benefit in me taking evidence before the panel – or giving personal testimony to it – knowing that I would be running the risk of providing further alleged evidence and grounds for the pursuit of criminal investigations and potential prosecutions against me. I have questioned this matter with the Attorney General, because the relevant laws on testimony and protection of witnesses seemed far from clear.
I quote a part of the Attorney General’s answer here:
“But my starting point in relation to prosecution would be the same, namely that anything you say to the Scrutiny Panel would not be used in any criminal proceedings brought against you other than as an inconsistent statement where that was relevant, though it might also be used for the purposes of gaining other evidence; and no criminal prosecution, based on other evidence, would be prevented just because your evidence to the Panel happens to go into that territory.” [Emphasis added.]
It can be seen from this answer that I could possibly be running the risk of contributing to the ‘gaining of other evidence’ against me, and possibly being prosecuted even though the ‘work of the panel was going into such territory’.
The territory in question – for clarity – are the alleged breaches of the Data Protection Law, for which I was arrested, detained in locked cells for the best part of 7 hours, and subjected to a “fishing expedition” type search – undertaken without a warrant.
The fact remains – and States members would be well-advised to reflect upon this – that very substantial quantities of the evidence brought to my attention and obtained by me has had to be provided – and obtained – outside of formal procedures.
The reason for this is – I would have thought – extremely obvious. Namely that much of this information and data – evidence of gross failings, malfeasances and even criminal acts by various parts of Jersey’s public administration – is the very type of material which has been deliberately concealed from politicians and public over the decades.
Concealed quite deliberately – in order to protect those responsible for the failings, concealments and crimes.
I repeat – I have to ask myself the question – why should I make the sacrifice of being subjected to yet further oppressions by the Law Officers’ Department and others, by revealing evidence to the panel – when the work of the panel is – manifestly – useless and absurd?
I must also make the point that the threat of criminal investigations and prosecutions against me – I consider to be an unambiguous breach of Article 47 of the States of Jersey Law.
The surveillance, arrest, detention and searching I have been subject to have all arisen out of my attempts to do my political duty; namely hold the government – the executive – to account by exposing malfeasances and inadequacies in the system. This is entirely legitimate work for a politician – indeed, even a duty. In much the same way as the Conservative MP Damien Green was doing his duty – yet was obstructed and oppressed for doing his job.
The actions of the Attorney General, the Data Protection Commissioner and the States of Jersey Police have all conspired to obstruct and prevent me from doing my political duty. I have been – and remain – under threat of obstruction, compulsion and menace – in direct contravention of Article 47 of the SoJ Law. Such compulsion and menace is influencing me in my ability to give testimony to the panel.
But – given this panel – not that much use would come of it, even if I did give such evidence.
The panel have, incidentally, also refused to call the Attorney General and cross-examine him on these issues. Again – another startling and bizarre reluctance – given the profound and broad implications for the effectiveness of Scrutiny generally.
I intend – in spite of the panel – to do all I can to contribute to the genuine advancement of the interests of vulnerable children in Jersey, and the necessary addressing of the gross malfeasances of our public administration. I will do this through several different avenues – one of which will be to bring before the assembly for debate a detailed analysis and set of proposals for the genuine and effective protection of the island’s vulnerable children.
As far as Senator Breckon and his panel are concerned – as already communicated to him – I would bring a vote of no confidence against him without further prevarication – if I thought the exercise would be a productive use of time. Instead, I shall concentrate on my work with survivors and in the generation of meaningful proposals for improvements in the system.
I will simply confine myself to asking Senator Breckon to resign.
He and his panel are manifestly uninterested, disinclined and simply unable to do the necessary work.
I explain the above, so that members understand fully why I – and a number of other key witnesses – cannot and will not engage with this panel.
Senator Stuart Syvret
States of Jersey