An MP has accused the government of “complacency” over child abuse allegations on Jersey.
Birmingham Yardley MP John Hemming backs Jersey Parliament members, Shona and Trevor Pitman, who want the government to “ensure good governance by investigating evidence of the breakdown of law within the island’s justice system.”
The Jersey child abuse scandal first surfaced in 2007 when social worker Simon Bellwood was sacked after complaining that children as young as 11 were routinely locked up for 24 hours in solitary confinement at the Greenfields secure unit. International attention followed when the ensuing wider police investigation moved into Haut de la Garenne, a children’s home from 1900 to 1986.
192 victims and 151 abusers were identified by the police investigation and seven people were successfully prosecuted.
An inquiry into child abuse on the island will begin this year and should include why media personality Jimmy Saville visited Haut de la Garenne. Saville dropped legal proceedings in 2008 against the Sun after the paper’s claims that he had visited the home was proven to be true when a photograph showed him surrounded by boys there. Saville had been investigated on an allegation of indecent abuse at the home in the 1970s but no charges had been pressed.
The Leeds born DJ died in 2011 and since when hundreds of allegations of child sex abuse and rape have been made by members of the public. The man heading the subsequent police inquiry, Met Police Commander Peter Spindler, has said: “The alleged abuse is on an unprecedented scale.” Spindler though believes there is no evidence of a paedophile ring involving Saville, describing his associates as “opportunist individuals.”
Leah McGrath Goodman, an American investigative journalist who has friends on Jersey, was unconvinced that the original police investigation had uncovered all the facts. She was prevented from investigating when she was banned from the UK and refused a visa to visit Jersey.
Goodman has a clean criminal and immigration record. In response Lib Dem MP John Hemming tabled an early day motion and asked Immigration Minister Mark Harper to intervene. Trevor Pitman, who represents the Parish of St Helier, started an online petition to quash the first ban against a journalist visiting the UK in the last decade.
It took 500 days before Goodman was, in January, given clearance to travel here. Hemming said he was “pleased but believes people have been very complacent about a journalist who wished to investigate Haut de la Garenne being banned.”
Pitman and his wife’s letter to the justice minister Lord McNally asking him to ‘ensure good governance’ has drawn a muted response. Lib Dem peer McNally replied: “Jersey has its own justice system so we can’t really interfere.”
Jersey is a British Crown dependency whose laws require Royal Assent from the Privy Council judicial committee, whose members are advised by the Lord Chancellor, currently Chris Grayling MP. It is rare for the British government to interfere with the judicial process in a Crown dependency but in 2007 the Lord Chancellor did refuse to present reforms to the constitution of Sark to the Privy Council.
The Pitman’s have expressed their concerns on many occasions about child abuse. They believe “evidence against abusers has inexplicably not been pursued by the island’s Law Office.”
The couple sought damages for defamation against the island’s only newspaper, the Jersey Evening Post over a cartoon they alleged accused them of entering politics to increase their salaries. Before he was elected in 2008, Trevor Pitman was a professional youth worker and he claims to have taken a £5,000 a year pay cut and lost his pension to fulfil his new role.
The senior judge in the Pitman’s case was John Lyndon Le Breton, who is a personal friend of the Evening Post’s Director and a former Vice Principal of Victoria College. This was an exclusive fee-paying secondary school at the centre of a child abuse scandal that saw predatory paedophile, Andrew Jervis-Dykes, given a four-year sentence in 1999 for a series of indecent assaults on teenagers.
Colleagues of Jervis-Dykes refused to co-operate with the police and Le Breton wrote in support of him saying he was “outstandingly competent and conscientious and if he had to resign his College post he should be allowed to do so with some dignity.”
Le Breton, who subsequently sat on some child abuses, has now retired .
The Pitman’s lost their case and have decided not to appeal, claiming they cannot afford further costs of £30,000.
Instead they have sought the support of Lord McNally on grounds that “the ordinary citizen who rocks the Establishment on Jersey has no hope of justice.”
Hemming is disappointed his Party colleague has not supported the Pitman’s. He said: “I think the UK government is complacent about Jersey’s problems. Cases do need to be taken to the Privy Council, but this requires government support.”
The Pitman’s intend speaking to the Queen’s representative on Jersey, distributing leaflets and are seeking to get their message out internationally in the hope that the “UK government will be embarrassed enough to help bring about desperately needed reform in a justice system that is not fit for purpose.”
Lord McNally did not respond in a request for comment.