A disturbing feature of Jersey’s gruesome investigation into child abuse allegations is the way in which rival factions have taken up their positions to fight it out. The island’s political establishment still appears keen to minimise the impact of the evidence emerging from the cellars of Haut de la Garenne, whereas ex-health and social services minister Stuart Syvret and around 160 witnesses who have talked to the police suggest a catastrophic failure of child protection over decades.
This closing of ranks by the Jersey establishment testifies both to its culture of secrecy and to the bravery of those who have quite literally brought the dark interior of children’s services into the light of day. Former social worker Simon Bellwood, vindicated by his employment tribunal last week, deserves praise as one of the first to raise doubts about the island’s child protection by exposing the practice of solitary confinement at a secure unit in Community Care last August.
Andrew Williamson, called in last September to examine the safety of children’s services, must show an equally spirited independence and avoid kow-towing to narrow interests in his report, expected in a few weeks. Ministers claim to have been talking to Ofsted about providing external oversight of services for years. Ofsted denies it. Until this is sorted out, no one can be sure Jersey’s children are safe, even now.
Investigation divides scandal-hit island
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This article appeared in the 20 March issue under the headline “A culture of secrecy”