The Independent Jersey Care Inquiry kicked off yesterday which is some 3 years and 4 months after the States grudgingly gave approval to establishing one. It was not established at the behest of the Council of Ministers but as a result of stubborn prodding by a handful of "dissident" backbenchers and bloggers.
Although some attention will be given to the manner in which the police handled the abuse investigation. (Operation Rectangle), hopefully enough victims and witnesses will come forward to explain what really happened to them, why were so many young people abused, why did the abuse go unreported and who was responsible?
The Inquiry Team has started with a blank piece of paper and over the past months members has been taking statements from a diverse number of witnesses. As reported in a blog published on 10th June I have been interviewed and my statement eventually contained 38 pages along with 30 supporting exhibits.
Like many other witnesses I don't know whether I will be called to give oral evidence and feel in limbo, that is a view shared by other witnesses. I would like to take this opportunity of offering the Inquiry Team some constructive criticism; not only must it keep witnesses updated but it must provide answers to valid questions asked by a number of interested parties. Also it must ensure that its Website which is a vital conduit is constantly updated.
Yesterday I attended the first Hearing in which the COI Chairman Frances Oldham again called for witnesses to come forward and making it abundantly clear that witnesses will be given time to give their statements and be under no pressure as a priority for the Inquiry team is the well being of those who recount, possibly for the first time, their experiences in childhood. Very importantly she added that COI will conduct its work independently of the States of Jersey, the Police, any other organisation or individual in Jersey.
There followed a lengthy, well researched, informative and very professional presentation by the Council to the Inquiry Patrick Sadd and Harriet Jerram of Outer Temple Chambers in London who outlined the many issues that the COI will encounter and set out details of Phase 1 of the Inquiry.
Patrick Sadd compared the way in which the UK legislation had evolved and had to be updated at regular intervals to safe guard the interests of the child rather than those in authority. He reported that a constant theme in most Inquiries had shown that problems had arisen because of poor management, lack of training and poor staffing arrangements.
When Mr Sadd outlined the Jersey legislation it was evident that for a very long time there had been little statutory legislation and when new laws were drafted they were often out dated by the time they were approved. I will be most surprised if the COI does not find evidence of poor management, lack of training and staffing problems in our Jersey Homes.
I was pleased to hear that the way in which the Honorary Police deal with juveniles at Parish Hall Inquiries will not be ignored. From my experience it is evident that there is little consistency and often young people have been prosecuted when pre-court action would have been preferable.
Ms Jerram in her excellent presentation included a definition of abuse which covered every conceivable aspect of abuse.She also took the opportunity to ask again for anyone who has evidence to come forward and tell their story- including senior managers, police officers, support staff, doctors, teachers and anyone who had contact with children or young people. I can only echo that view and remind those who are hesitant that there will not be another opportunity so take it. If in doubt contact the Inquiry Team who will advise you as to the value of your information. Its website can be accessed HERE
He added that many children in Haut du la Garenne were made to feel like second class citizens by sections of the public and begs the question why?
I felt what was being said yesterday was a breath of fresh air whereby intelligent people had quickly learnt of the inadequacies and shortcomings of those tasked with the welfare of young people and witnesses would be produced to substantiate that view.
These are early days and the rest of this week will be devoted to opening addresses from those people representing the public bodies. However I came away from yesterday's Hearing with a feeling that the COI is business like and thorough and will not weaken at the knees when encountering those who for far too long have been oblivious to the welfare of the young and vulnerable in Jersey.