Tuesday, 30 October 2012
Savile-- Skeletons in the cupboard
“The filth piles up. As the Savile story continues to unfold, threatening and destroying reputations, three issues particularly trouble me. Above all else, I think of the victims of abuse – women and men – marooned for decades with terrible memories of physical and mental torment which, even when they had the courage to report them, no one apparently believed. Not the police. Not the newspapers. Not the BBC.
Did some turn a blind eye to criminality? Did some prefer not to follow up their suspicions because of this criminal’s popularity and place in the schedules? Were reports of criminality put aside or buried? Even those of us who were not there at the time are inheritors of the shame.”
Powerful stuff and one gets the feeling that he is trying to ensure that “no stone will be left unturned.” To this end the BBC Trust has established its own independent investigations which will run in parallel with the Police. Its purpose is to establish whether senior executives leaned on people to drop certain programmes and were false reports published to justify certain actions. BBC’s culture and practices will also be examined along with its child protection and whistle blowing polices.
Lord Patten has promised that the independent inquiries will not be a smokescreen behind which the BBC can hide. He added “They must and will get to the truth of what happened. The BBC must tell the truth and face up to the truth about itself, however terrible.”
Somehow the comments above are on pretty similar lines with those uttered in Jersey in 2008. By coincidence it is also a year ago that Verita published its Report along with proposals for and recommendations about commissioning a Committee of Inquiry into Jersey’s historical child abuse.
It should be noted that the Report only came about because on March 2nd last year following a 5 hour debate the States, by 37 votes to 11, with 1 abstention approved P19/2011 as amended. For the benefit of those who not acquainted with the reasons why Verita and more recently the Andrew Williamson Report have been published I will go back to March 2008. It was then when not only Jersey but the world became aware of the allegations of abuse to children in care in our “States run Institutions” with Haut de La Garenne in particular becoming the focus of world attention.
Like Lord Patten, the Chief Minister at that time Senator Walker, called for the truth to be exposed, no stone would be left unturned and no expense spared when seeking to achieve that goal. Quite understandably there were calls for an investigation or inquiry to run in parallel with the police to establish how such abuse could occur within the States’ run institutions. Unlike the BBC Trust, it was decided not to hold an independent investigation but the Chief Minister made a promise on 28th March 2008 to hold an inquiry if answers to 6 particular questions published in R27/2008 remained unanswered at the conclusion of the Police investigation.
When the police investigation got underway in March 2008 a whole catalogue of mishaps occurred along the way, including the unsavoury suspension of the Police Chief Officer and the dismissal of the former Health Minister which are well documented.
In December 2010 the Police announced that its investigation had ended however it was evident that there are still many unanswered questions. Although well over 150 individuals came forward alleging crimes against them, only 4 people have been prosecuted and no one in any capacity for the oversight of the children’s well being has been brought to task. Now that Jimmy Savile’s evil deeds have come to notice, what secrets are hidden in Jersey?
On 6th December 2010 a few days after the police announcement the Chief Minister of the day, Senator Le Sueur made an official apology and acknowledged that the care system that operated historically in the Island had failed some children in States’ residential care in a serious way.
In February 2011 the Council of Ministers published R8/2011 in which it set out the Council’s position in relation to a Committee of Inquiry into the historical child abuse. In simple terms it was of the view that nothing would be served by an inquiry, a line should be drawn and everyone should get on with their lives as if nothing had happened because lessons had been learnt.
There were a number of people including some States Members who like me were dissatisfied with the Council of Ministers conclusions. Soon afterwards Senator Le Gresley lodged P19/2011 which sought Members' support to request the Council of Ministers to reconsider its decision not to hold a Committee of Inquiry. Whilst I thought it was a commendable gesture, I felt it was a win, win proposition for the Council of Ministers. If Members voted against the proposition that would be the end of the matter. If they voted in favour and no matter how well supported, the Council of Ministers only had to consider its original decision but with no obligation to establish a Committee of Inquiry.
To enable Members to have the opportunity of a full debate and to consider the promise made by Senator Walker in March 2008 I lodged an amendment which asked members to consider whether they were content that the 6 questions posed in R27/2008 had been answered. If they were not then the questions should be considered by a Committee of Inquiry. Deputy Tadier added an amendment asking whether there was a consistent and impartial approach taken when deciding on which cases to prosecute; and was the process free from political influence or interference at any level?
When it came to voting on all 7 amendments, Deputy Tadier’s and 3 of mine were approved. Very importantly when it came to vote on Senator Le Gresley’s amended proposition, as mentioned above it was approved by 37 votes to 11.
It should be noted that among the 11 members who voted against the proposition were Senators Ozouf, Le Marquand and Maclean and Deputies Duhamel, Pryke and Gorst all are now current Ministers and I believe are obligated to carry out the wishes of the States. In the words of Lord Patten even though they were not there at the time they are the inheritors of the shame. That shame extends to each and every States Member for a promise made is a promise to be kept.
Following the States' decision, in September the Council of Ministers commissioned Verita to seek the views of interested parties about the purpose, manner and conduct of a Committee of Inquiry. Its report was submitted to the former Council of Ministers in November last year. Verita's report appears to tick all the boxes, it has been welcomed by the Care Leavers and other interested bodies. Unfortunately the Council of Ministers then commissioned Andrew Williamson to comment on Verita's Report which has not only caused further delay but was deemed by many to be a waste of money and an attempt to water down Verita's Recommendations.
It is now some 20 months since P19/2011 as amended was approved so why the procrastination, who are States Members protecting? Are there skeletons in the cupboards? Can't Members like Lord Patten "think of the victims of abuse – women and men – marooned for decades with terrible memories of physical and mental torment which, even when they had the courage to report them, no one apparently believed?" Don't our States Members have any feelings for those men and woman?
Chief Minister Gorst has stated that he wants to be sure that he gets it right and is shortly to lodge a proposition,. So far like his two predecessors he has failed to display the leadership expected of him. However he now has an opportunity to reclaim a few Brownie points by lodging a proposition in line with Verita's proposals. He must also produce a time line to ensure that the Committee of Inquiry is up and running by March next year.
Like the BBC our States must do its utmost to regain the public's trust and respect, justice delayed is justice denied. The promises made in March 2008 and the apology given in December 2010 are meaningless unless a full and open Committee of Inquiry is established without further delay. Again like the BBC the States must tell the truth and face up to the truth about itself, however terrible.
Paedophiles like Jimmy Savile only exist because people choose to turn a blind eye and in my book they are as guilty as the perpetrators and they too should be exposed and taken to task. I also believe that if States Members fail to establish a transparent Committee of Inquiry then they too are like the perpetrators.