Jersey told to allow independent probes and protect whistleblowers

Jersey must ensure more protection for whistleblowers and allow independent inspection of children’s services, an inquiry has concluded.

The Howard League for Penal Reform, which was invited to the island last year after child protection concerns, today called for Jersey to ensure custody was used “as a last resort”.

The charity’s year-long probe found Jersey’s juvenile custody rate – which is higher than in England and Wales – was “unacceptable” given the island’s size and lack of comparable inner-city problems.

It also found children were placed alongside adults in the island’s only prison, La Moye, and called for this practice to cease.

Evidence of abuse

Although young people at the island’s secure children’s home, Greenfields, did not feel unsafe at the time of the inquiry, former residents reported “highly credible evidence” of “abusive” experiences.

The Howard League report said: “Staff and young people told us that practices going back many years have given cause for serious concern. Particular concern was expressed in relation to practices relating to isolation, single separation or solitary confinement that could be regarded as abusive.” 

The organisation found that “a culture of fear and intimidation” prevented some staff speaking out, although this view was not shared by all. “Whatever the truth of these perceptions, we believe that these kind of difficulties have serious consequences for the care of children,” the report said.

Solitary confinement

The charity confirmed that the use of solitary confinement under an “unlawful” system known as grand prix had ceased.

The inquiry was sparked after UK social worker Simon Bellwood, who was formerly employed as a manager at Greenfields, raised concerns about the grand prix system.

Today, the Howard League called for the island to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, appoint a children’s minister and replace the youth courts with a Scottish-style hearings system. It also urged authorities to work towards ending the use of custody for children.

The league also recommended an independent whistleblowing policy to be drawn up, advocacy services for children and independent inspection of children’s establishments by a body similar to Ofsted.

Stronger accountability

Andrew Neilson, the league’s assistant director, said that, although there was “much to commend” in Jersey’s youth justice system, action was needed to address welfare and safeguarding concerns.

“The recent history of Greenfields secure care home suggests that there is a very real risk of vulnerable children being mistreated and that stronger accountability is required to prevent future difficulties,” he added.

Simon Bellwood, who went public with his concerns in Community Care last year, welcomed the report. He said: “It is great to finally read a truly independent report which considers not only the systemic failures but also the issues faced by vulnerable and disadvantaged children and families in Jersey.”

Suspensions and resignations

Bellwood added that he would expect the findings to lead to suspensions and resignations within Jersey’s civil service “so that a thorough and truly independent investigation can be carried out to get to the bottom of the issues” at Greenfields.

Jersey’s assistant health and social services minister, Jim Perchard, said all the report’s recommendations had been accepted.

He said: “We have started the process of signing up to the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, and are well on the way towards implementing plans for a new whistle-blowing policy, independent inspection, a lead minister for children and an independent advocacy system. Some of the report’s recommendations will require both professional and political debate, but they all provide a helpful contribution to the development of Jersey’s children’s services.”

Timeline: Simon Bellwood case

August 2007

  • Simon Bellwood goes public in Community Care over concerns that children have been locked up in solitary confinement at the Greeenfields secure unit. Bellwood reports he has been sacked from his post as manager at the unit after criticising the policy.
  • The Jersey government commissions UK social work expert Andrew Williamson to review children’s services.
  • The Howard League for Penal Reform is also invited by then health and social services minister Stuart Syvret to investigate.

March 2008

  • Simon Bellwood settles in his employment tribunal for unfair dismissal and an inquiry into his dismissal is promised.

July 2008

  • Inquiry by employment law expert Robert Upex backs Bellwood’s unfair dismissal claim.
  • Report by Andrew Williamson recommends an independent inspection of Jersey’s children’s services.

November 2008

  • Howard League report finds evidence backing Bellwood’s claims of former abusive practice at Greenfields and calls for an independent inspection of services.

More information

Howard League for Penal Reform

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