Sunday, April 26, 2015

Hairline Cracks


Frances Oldham, Chair of child sex abuse Inquiry,
and the Victoria College £10 note
Click any image for a larger version

It is nearly a year now since I did a rundown post on the situation in Jersey (CI). This is not because nothing has been happening there. There has been a lot of developments. But my general Jersey posts have been more by way of a background introduction to the scene there and the Jersey Bloggers have been doing a great job keeping the pressure on and reporting to the world at large.

For convenience I had copied my Jersey posts to a separate blog "Introducing Jersey" and will do the same with this one. That blog also lists the blogs I follow to keep up with current developments in Jersey.

The Inquiry

Probably the most significant development in the last year has been the work of the inquiry into institutional child sex abuse. The inquiry has heard evidence about abuse from survivors and is now moving into its second phase where it will hear from those who were in varying degrees responsible for the running of the institutions being highlighted. The children's home at Haut de la Garenne has achieved worldwide notoriety for the extreme abuse carried out there and for the insensitivity of the BBC in filming the series Bergerac there while there were still children resident on the premises. Another institution was Victoria College, illustrated on the Jersey £10 note above. The addition of the cameo of Frances Oldham is my own doing.

Among those who genuinely want to see a full and open inquiry, opinion is sharply divided about the current set up. On the one hand this is the only show in town and some are anxious to make the maximum use of it to get closure for survivors by having them testify, and to show up the perpetrators of abuse and cover up by exposing them to full public view.

However, there are serious reservations in some quarters about the structure of the inquiry, the closeness of its ties to the Jersey and UK establishments, and the sometimes sloppy way in which it has set about its business. These are articulated by former Health Minister, political prisoner and current blogger, Stuart Syvret.

Funding for the inquiry has also been controversial as costs (mainly legal costs) have escalated from the £6 million originally envisaged to something in the region of a final expected cost of £20 million at present. There is no guarantee that the final bill will not exceed this amount. Some have been using the escalating cost, forecasting a final outcome of £50 million or more, in an attempt to stop the inquiry in its tracks. So far, they have been unsuccessful and the States (Jersey Parliament) has recently supported the Chief Minister's proposal for an extra £13 million by a large majority, although most of the "cabinet" seem to have voted against. Nevertheless, people are generally uneasy about the escalating costs and stricter ongoing monitoring arrangements are being put in place in an attempt to control them. It does not help that the money is going to well paid lawyers, some of whose chambers are well connected with the establishment.

The current inquiry poses a serious dilemma for someone like Stuart Syvret. He would be a key witness by virtue of: his previous role as Health Minister responsible for children's services; his role as a whistleblower which the establishment has gone to great lengths to suppress (by imprisoning him and having his original blog taken down); his role as a public representative in whom many of the survivors have confided and to whom they have provided evidence over the last 7 years or so; and his role as a fearless blogger showing up the rottenness of the establishment. But in cooperating with the inquiry he would be leaving himself open to legal retaliation unless the inquiry were to give him some form of unconditional immunity. As it stands they won't even finance some initial legal advice for him, and, since the establishment have reduced him to social welfare, he is hardly in a position to pay for this himself.

If he doesn't play ball, the inquiry may lack vital evidence and so come to a weaker conclusion. If he does, they may still come to a weak conclusion and by implication devalue his contribution which might otherwise be valuable in any follow up.

As of now, he seems to have decided not to participate. He says this is a personal decision and he is not advising others one way or the other.

There is a parallel controversy going on over whether Jersey should be covered by the (hopefully) upcoming British inquiry into child sex abuse and whether the current Jersey inquiry should be merged into it. The current fragmentation of British inquiries (Britain, Northern Ireland, Jersey) does not make sense given that both victims and perpetrators moved freely across these territories and that these movements contributed to the guilty getting away with it for so long.

The Parapet

It is not an easy decision to stick your head above the parapet in Jersey, any more than it was in Gallipoli or on the Somme. You are in serious danger of having it blown off.

I mentioned Stuart Syvret above and I have covered the fate of Police Chief Graham Power and Senior Investigating Officer Lenny Harper in earlier posts.

The last year has seen the bankrupting of former members of the Jersey parliament, Trevor and Shona Pitman. This resulted from them losing a legal action over a cartoon that they considered defamatory and the authorities opting for the severest available penalty when they could not afford the legal costs. My own gut feeling is that they were set up with the cartoon and that the authorities were only too happy to opt for the most severe penalty which, while it was not to the financial advantage of those who won the case, did effectively deprive the Pitmans of their parliamentary roles.

Rico Sorda started blogging as an investigative reporter some years ago and has done sterling work. He has, however, incurred the wrath of the resident public nuisance, and he and his wife have been subject to death threats and a vicious campaign against her in her place of work.

Neil McMurray and Bob Hill have continued attempting to hold the authorities to account with very solid and authoritative blog posts, and I'll bet they have not been free of retaliation, though they have not advertised it.

The Craven Media

Both the BBC and the Jersey Evening Post have continued their craven support of the establishment. I have the impression that they are too embedded to even think of doing otherwise. There have been some slight cosmetic changes but nothing to rock the boat.

The highlight of the Post's existence must surely have been during the Nazi occupation when everyone read it and its copy carried a higher authority. I sort of had a soft spot for the Post since they published my letters in 1961 and criticised my online Nazi references last year, but we mustn't allow this personal affection to cloud our judgement.

I had wondered over the years how a local branch of the much respected BBC could be so captured by a corrupt establishment. Post Savile revelations from HQ show that it was very much in the house style. Some years ago BBC Jersey published an "official" report which purported to criticise the then Chief of Police who had been making a nuisance of himself by having the temerity to support the exposure of child sex abuse and of the ensuing cover up. BBC has had the former Chief's response to its accusations in its possession for a few years now but refused to either publish it or even refer to its contents.

I can't really comment on Channel TV, or ITV Jersey, or whatever it is called, as I don't know much about it apart from it having got a prize a while back for a scissors and paste job which passed for investigative reporting.

Alternative Media

I may be over optimistic but I have the impression that, in more recent times, the blogs have been steadily increasing their readership, both in Jersey and beyond, and that they are becoming the staple diet of those seeking some balance and sense of reality in their sources of news and information. I sincerely hope this is the case as the bloggers are not only doing trojan work but are taking serious risks in fighting corruption in such a small and feudal based community.

The Voice for Children blog has a solid record in general reporting but particularly in its video interviews. Its recent interview with Chief Minister Gorst was ground breaking and a welcome recognition by some element of the establishment of the serious role played by bloggers in the unfolding story of the island. MSM eat your hearts out.

Election

There was an election to the Jersey parliament late last year but it really hasn't changed anything much. It's mostly a case of the same old compliant faces with the same little merry-go-round at the top.

Jersey does not have a party system. People are elected (often unopposed) on an individual basis and this is a system that seems to suit the establishment very well thank you. Recently, an effort has been made to inaugurate a party system with the establishment of a new party, Reform Jersey, with Deputy Sam Mézec as its chairman, but so far its impact has been very limited. Still it is a step in the right direction. Deputy Montford Tadier, another of the good guys, is also a member of Reform, as is Deputy Geoff Southern. Outside the party, but very much attempting to hold the authorities to account is Deputy Mike Higgins.

Meanwhile, the establishment have attempted to consolidate their hold on Government by instituting a system of Cabinet co-responsibility in tandem with an increase in the Chief Minister's power to appoint and fire ministers without reference to parliament.

On the debit side too (I think) is the return to parliament of Deputy Andrew Lewis, who, as Home Affairs Minister, was implicated in the illegal suspension of the then Police Chief, Graham Power. Deputy Lewis has a lot of questions to answer. Perhaps his re-election will make this self-proclaimed integrity-promoting candidate more answerable to parliament and the public. Who knows? One lives in hope.

Failing Entity?

Jersey has long been a rich place even if not all those living there are rich. In the real economy its exports were agriculture and tourism. But the big money for the few has been in the financial sector (tax haven). The financial sector globally is being tightened up and, as Stuart Syvret has argued, not enough attention has been paid to developing the real economy. One of the results is now an emerging public finance deficit which was denied before the last election but is now admitted.

Apparently, there is no Plan B. So the island may be in for a rough ride in the future.

Those Cracks

And finally, the cracks.

The power elite have run Jersey very comfortably since the end of the Occupation. They remained relatively untroubled by the widespread child sex abuse which they have succeeded in covering up. They have been helped by a public who were either unaware of, or uninterested in, the corruption at the heart of the system. However, it is getting harder now to ignore what is going on and the bloggers are playing a large part in shedding light on the malfeasance.

Philip Bailhache has long been seen as one of the puppeteers and a man with many questions to answer. Up to recently he has managed to divert any efforts to hold him to account. Some years ago he was seen reading confidential official documents to which he should not have had access. He traduced the witnesses but finally had to back down, sort of. More recently he appears to have had direct or indirect access to a confidential document which is part of the current child sex abuse inquiry and he, or someone on his behalf, has been in apparently inappropriate contact with the chair of that supposedly independent inquiry. He unsuccessfully attempted to stop the inquiry in its tracks just as it was getting to the stage of calling in those with responsibility for child care in the past. He had been a Governor of Victoria College when abuse was taking place there.

Last year, former Deputy Shona Pitman was run down by a car which crashed a red light. The police have been negligent in following up this incident and have been obstructive in providing Shona with documentation to which she was entitled, namely a copy of her own statement and insurance details for the driver of the car. The latter, I assume, in an attempt to obscure the identity of the driver. Following Shona's interview with Voice for Children, and further comments from her on that blog, insurance details were finally provided and it appears the identity of the driver is not without interest. This narrative is now in the public domain. Without the bloggers it would presumably have remained hidden as have such incidents in the past.

These are hairline cracks in the system, but in a period when the inquiry is in full swing, and when part of its terms of reference are to flush out political interference in the justice system, the fireworks may be about to commence.

Satire

It is said that you are not fully mature if you can't laugh at yourself. So let's end on an uplifting note.

Voice for Jersey has recently been giving airtime to Lord Reginald Hamilton Rawley Tooting-Jones III who has been taking some potshots at the system.

And Reform Jersey, the only actual political party so far, have done a pictorial satirical analysis (below) of the present shadow party system on the island. To understand this fully you would need to have some familiarity with the existing make up of the parliament which is quite complex and strongly biased in favour of the status quo.

Stay tuned.


A shadow party analysis of the current parliament
Thanks to Reform Jersey
Click image for larger version

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