People in Jersey are finally speaking out in the wake of child abuse allegations on the island. Earlier this month, there was a public rally in support of victims. People used the meeting to criticise the way in which the Jersey authorities have handled the current investigation into abuse at the Haut de la Garenne children’s home. Many of the messages scrawled on a board that day called for the resignation of the island’s chief minister Frank Walker.
Walking round St Helier last week, I was told dismissively by one islander that the rally had been “political.” He practically spat the word out, as though it left a bad taste in his mouth. “There were more media than people from Jersey there,” he said. Some of the ‘victims’ of abuse that have spoken to the media were also “political”, this same islander informed me. They were therefore to be avoided, he implied.
While these were the words of just one person on the island, I could not help recalling them when I read an article in The Economist on the Jersey child abuse investigation that said: “At the root of many of the island’s problems is its halting democracy”.
Many of Jersey’s establishment, protective of their long tradition of self-rule, would undoubtedly baulk at this criticism. But Stuart Syvret, the island’s former health and social services minister, would agree. He frequently uses the word ‘oligarchy’- or government by the few, to characterise what he calls Jersey’s “one party state.”
Syvret is also critical of the island’s only newspaper, the Jersey Evening Post, which was formerly owned by Frank Walker. Its coverage of the child abuse investigation has been restrained compared to the UK press.
This combination of certain attitudes to “politics” and the lack of any media platforms beyond one newspaper means islanders are seeking other routes of expression.
News of child protection concerns on the island surfaced first in the UK in Community Care last August. UK social worker Simon Bellwood chose to go on record with us because we were his “professional magazine” and he hoped we would help bring external scrutiny on to Jersey. Stuart Syvret joined with Bellwood in using Community Care as a platform for his views.
Since then, the police investigation into child abuse at institutions including the Haut de la Garenne children’s home has attracted widespread media coverage across the world. The police have been open with the media about their findings, and seem determined to keep it that way despite opposition in the Jersey establishment recently suggested in a News of the World article. The island’s chief minister has denied the claims in the report.
In tandem with the ongoing media spotlight on Jersey, more critical voices are being heard from Jersey online. News of the rally in support of victims was carried on isthisjersey.com, which has an alternative slant on stories on the official thisisjersey.com that holds Jersey Evening Post articles. isthisjersey.com carries links to other sites including Stuart Syvret’s blog which was created recently.
A blogger called Tony, whose profile describes him only as Tony the Prof, aged 50, from Jersey examines topics including the child abuse allegations and Jersey politics. It’s a sharp, critical take on island life that you are not likely to find in the Jersey Evening Post.
A number of groups also have posted on to You Tube TV coverage of the child abuse investigation, most notably the Newsnight interview with the island’s chief minister, Frank Walker.
Other voices being heard – perhaps for the first time in decades – are of people who claim to have been abused as children on the island. These been widely reported in the media including the Daily Telegraph , ITN , The Mirror , BBC News website , and the Daily Mail.
With the floodgates in Jersey now open, it is only a matter of time before the truth about child abuse on the island will emerge.