Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Independent Jersey Care Inquiry (4) Questionable tactics??

Those who have read the Voice for Children’s latest Blog (if not please click HERE) will know that we have been banned from using the facilities in the Media Room which has been set up at Seaton Place in relation to the Committee of Inquiry into abuse in Jersey.  

Fortunately as I did not attend the Hearing on Thursday 14th August I did not suffer the ignominy of being ejected from the Media Room which was experienced by Neil McMurray of the Voice for Children Blog therefore I am not as upset as he understandably is. 

Late on Thursday afternoon 14th August I received a communication from the COI Chairman Frances Oldham QC informing me that her Panel had reconsidered the applications received for media accreditation. She then listed the 6 applications which were to receive media accreditation and the 2 applicants which were rejected.
The 6 were; BBC National, Jersey Evening Post, ITV Channel TV, Channel 103, BBC Jersey and Bailiwick Express. Media Accreditation was not granted to Neil Mc Murray of the Voice for Children Blog and Bob Hill of the Jersey Blog Spot.

The “spurious” reasons given for accreditation was the perceived need for the 6 successful applicants to have access to electronic facilities in the Media Room so as to be able to file stories promptly. On busy days there has been considerable pressure on space. 

If space is so precious that there is only sufficient room for the Panel to grant 6 media accreditations then it must follow that should the UK or world media wish to access the room they will be out of luck because of the lack of space. They like Neil and I will not be able to access any other electronic facilities at Seaton Place because Frances Oldham has made that clear in her communication to me. However the Panel's decision does not restrict the number of journalist/reporters/camera people that the 6 accredited media may wish to have in the Media Room.

I do not believe that Frances Oldham has been informed of all the circumstances because she would not have made a decision which is not only irrational but discriminatory. That evening I wrote apprising her of the facts and asked that we could appeal against her decision. I received a response from a member of the Inquiry Team telling me of the difficulties in making contact with Ms Oldham and her Panel but I was not given a date to meet Frances Oldham.

This morning because of further information coming to hand I again emailed Frances Oldham informing her of it and that she should investigate my concerns before we meet, hopefully before the COI reconvenes next week.

As a matter of courtesy and because I am waiting to meet Frances Oldham I will not share the information which questions the integrity of members of the Inquiry Media Team until I have met Frances Oldham or have been informed that she does not want to meet Neil and me.

The decision taken about accreditation is disappointing and petty which should not have arisen in the first place and can only harm the COI’s impartiality and credibility at a time when it badly needs to establish the trust and confidence of the survivors/victims and potential witnesses. 

I have devoted countless hours, not only as a States Member and since leaving the States to ensure there is a COI and encouraging witnesses to come forward. 

I hope I can continue to give the COI my support therefore it is essential that the matter is dealt with more urgency than at present and before a mountain is made out of a mole hill by those who have opposed the establishment of the COI because it could not be trusted to act in an impartial manner and without fear or favour.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Independent Jersey Care Inquiry (3) ----A Myth Exposed.

It is now almost a month since the Committee of Inquiry got under way and on 23rd July I published a Blog on that first Hearing. In that Blog whilst being supportive of the Committee of Inquiry (COI) I registered some concerns which had not been addressed.

I will start with the 13 questions that the former Deputy Daniel Wimberley had submitted including some relating to the Terms of Reference, (TOR). Daniel who was a leading player in getting States approval for the COI is concerned that it may only be looking into abuse in Care Homes and not in other establishments such as Victoria College and the Jersey Sea Cadets. I hope the COI is looking because among the exhibits I have submitted with my statement is the Sharp Report into the abuse at Victoria College.

Daniel is also seeking assurance that the TOR includes the issues surrounding the suspension of the former Chief of Police Graham Power. Again I hope that matter is included because I have submitted a number of documents in relation to that matter. The COI relies on the goodwill and co-operation it can engender from people like Daniel and should be building bridges and not walls therefore not only does he require an early answer but it must be placed in the public domain.

Daniel's questions can found in theVoiceforChildren Blog published on 21st July and can be read by clicking HERE

I am also disappointed that my other two concerns have not been addressed as witnesses are not being updated and neither is the COI website. However having reported on the negatives I want to concentrate on the positives and in particular on the witnesses who appeared before the COI yesterday.

It takes courage to appear before any public body and yesterday we saw that courage displayed by two witnesses now well into their 70s who not only suffered at the hands of those entrusted to care for them but had to wait for over 60 years to be publicly heard.

Yesterday the two elderly pensioners exposed the myth that everything in the Jersey garden was rosy. They put to shame those States Members and the media which ridiculed the professionalism displayed by Graham Power and Lenny Harper in implementing Operation Rectangle and those who opposed the establishment of the COI. Sadly but predictably the perceived great and the good were no where to found. No doubt they will say that what happened 60 years ago would not happen today.

They may well be right however I am sure that as more witnesses come forward we shall again hear that such events would not happen today, but things will only change because of the shame of what has happened and of its denial. Both witnesses said they came forward in the hope that what they endured will not happen to others. Their small but positive and brave step will go a long way in ensuring that their suffering was not in vain.

We heard how they were placed in the Boys and Girls Homes as orphans if in a Victorian Age. There was no mention of a Mr Bumble but it is evident that there were many bumbling bureaucrats who allowed acts of brutality and neglect to occur. It was interesting to hear two people who were unknown to each other recalling incidents which were not dissimilar. It was very helpful that a former resident from the Girls Home had come forward as its residents have been silent victims for too long.

The Jersey Home for Girls was situated in Grouville and its residents attended Grouville School some half mile away. It was demolished to make way for a housing estate.There was an amalgamation with the Boys Home which became known as Haut de la Garenne. The residents at the Home for Boys were educated at the Home until July 1946 when the senior boys were transferred to St Martin's Elementary School.

The witnesses claimed that they treated like criminals and made to feel like second class citizens because of where they resided. I made a number of notes and at times felt a sense of empathy because I attended St Martin’s School from 1947 to 1955 along with around 60 boys from the Home for Boys. In those days school life was difficult and the cane, ruler and pencil were a regular form of punishment, however unlike the boys from the Home we had a home to go to after school.

Among my notes was how one witness described how she felt when the Island was liberated from the German Occupying Forces. Although the Island was being liberated she did not feel that she was because she had to remain in the Home and then be sent as in servitude to work as a domestic without pay in a large house not many miles away.

By coincidence on the bus yesterday morning I sat along side a former Home for Boy who had told me that on leaving school he had to work on a farm without pay for 3 years. As a former inmate he had to be grateful that someone would house and feed him whilst learning how to fend for himself.

It was a sad but illuminating day and will have given the COI much food for thought. As an aside I believe the Panel should be a bit more probing as to why the witnesses were incarcerated in the first place and who was responsible. Also it was evident that the members of the COI still do not understand the difference between a Senator and Centenier or the States or Honorary Police or a Connetable and Constable. If blame or praise is to be apportioned it is imperative that the Lawyers and COI know the difference so that a true account is recorded.  

As mentioned above it takes courage to appear before any public body, but to their credit both lawyers were considerate and helpful when taking the witnesses through their evidence. Also when asking questions they allowed ample time for the answers. If there are any would be witnesses still doubting whether their evidence is relevant I ask that they make contact with the Inquiry Team via freephone 0800 735 0100 or email  info@jerseycareinquiry.org

A transcript of yesterday's hearing will be available on the Care Website which can accessed by clicking Here There is no Hearing today but a witness will be appearing tomorrow at 10am.