‘Gagging’ claims as Jersey court case gets under way
As published in Big Issue in the North magazine
An MP fears the victims of child abuse on Jersey will be “gagged” if the establishment on the island is successful in bankrupting and disqualifying from office two local members of parliament.
Shona Pitman and her husband Trevor have represented the St Helier parish since 2005 and 2008 respectively. Both have expressed their concerns about child abuse on many occasions.
Jersey’s child abuse scandal first surfaced in 2007, following which 192 victims and 151 abusers were identified during a police investigation. Seven people were successfully prosecuted.
An inquiry into child abuse on the island was due to have started this autumn but had to be delayed due to the overseeing judge suffering a heart attack.
Visits by Jimmy Savile to a children’s home on Jersey will form part of the inquiry.
The Pitmans believe the island’s Law Office has not pursued evidence against abusers. They have attempted, with backing from other parliamentary members and campaigners against child abuse, to get justice minister Lord McNally to “ensure good governance”.
This drew a muted response from the Lib Dem peer who replied: “Jersey has its own justice system so we can’t really interfere.”
The deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, who is head of the Privy Council – which acts as a court of appeal for Jersey – has also refused to get involved.
Last year, the couple sought damages for defamation against the Jersey Evening Post (JEP) and the Broadlands estate agency, which placed a cartoon advert in the paper in 2008. The Pitmans alleged this was intended to portray them as money-grabbers who had entered politics for personal gain.
John Lyndon Le Breton, the senior judge in the case, was a friend of the newspaper’s director and principal of an exclusive fee-paying secondary school where, for indecently assaulting teenagers, paedophile Andrew Jervis-Dykes was given a four-year sentence in 1999. Colleagues of the guilty man refused to co-operate with the police and Le Breton wrote in support of him. Le Breton subsequently sat on other child abuse cases but has since retired.
The Pitmans lost their case after the defendants successfully argued the cartoon referred to the fact that the plaintiffs would be able to obtain a mortgage worth four times their joint salaries.
The Jersey parliamentarians were left owing around a quarter of a million pounds in costs to their lawyers and the two defendants. This week the Pitmans will appear before the Jersey Appeal Court in an attempt to overturn an earlier decision that they have exhausted the time period in which they can appeal against the defamation decision.
They are representing themselves and need to win or face being declared bankrupt. Unlike in Britain, this will mean they are disqualified from elected office. Their home and jobs would be lost. The Pitmans argue: “The establishment and JEP want us to be forced out of politics.”
Earlier this month, the Pitmans unsuccessfully sought an injunction to prevent the JEP publishing a story about threatening letters that had been sent to the lawyers for the JEP and Broadlands, as well as a prominent individual in the original defamation case and the Jersey politician Sean Power, who has previously criticised the Pitmans in the JEP.
The Pitmans accused the JEP of “yet another smear” and argued the letters had been sent to undermine them in the lead-up to their appeal. The newspaper; deputy editor, Andy Sibcy, has refused to comment on the Pitmans’ accusations or their claim that the letters had nothing to do with them. The incident has led to no police arrests.
Birmingham Yardley MP John Hemming has taken a keen interest in events on Jersey and it was his intervention that helped remove the 500-day ban on American journalist Leah McGrath Goodman from visiting the island and investigating child abuse allegations.
Hemming has recently supported Stuart Syvret, Jersey’s former health minister, who was jailed for contempt of court after he refused to remove online allegations about four islanders. The Data Protection Commissioner brought the case against Syvret. None of the four has attempted to sue the former politician for defamation. Hemming has named the four individuals in an early day motion in Parliament and called Syvret’s jailing “an affront to freedom of speech”.
This is the second time Syvret has gone to jail. In 2010 he published a confidential report into suspicious deaths at Jersey’s General Hospital. In both case cases, Syvret has argued there has been a “cover-up”.
Hemming has now expressed his “fears that the establishment in Jersey are using legal proceedings to disqualify the Pitmans from their role in the island’s parliament”.
He added: “This has the effect of gagging victims of abuse as fewer people can speak out on their behalf. I very much hope they are successful in their appeal.”