Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Top cop in Jersey child abuse inquiry slams critics

Determined: Lenny Harper speaks to Deborah McAleese

The Northern Ireland police officer at the head of the investigation into horrific child abuse and possible murder in Jersey has furiously warned his critics that he will not let them damage the highly sensitive inquiry.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, States of Jersey Police Deputy Chief Officer Lenny Harper said he is becoming increasingly frustrated with the " small" number of people who, he claims, seem intent on discrediting him, his officers and the investigation into alleged physical and sexual abuse of more than 100 children in the former care home Haut de La Garenne.

Mr Harper, who worked for the Metropolitan Police, the RUC and Strathclyde Police before taking up his post in Jersey six years ago, said the increasingly personal attacks on him are taking their toll.

"It is becoming more difficult for me and my officers to deal with. It is the most stressful job I have ever had. It is more stressful than working on the Springfield and Falls Roads in Belfast (during the height of the Troubles), or in Glasgow or south London.

"The team is really feeling it as well. It is a difficult enough job for them without having to put up with personal attacks.

"These are officers who have received so many plaudits from victims who say that for many years they felt unable to trust the police but now they do. "

Mr Harper has come under attack from hostile politicians ever since he launched the high profile investigation with some critics saying his open media approach brought unwelcome attention to the holiday island. He has had more than 140 poison-pen letters, threats to his home, his car burned and rumours spread about his private life.

He said he has come under renewed attack over the past few days and has accused a "handful" of journalists and politicians of attempting to undermine the investigation by circulating lies and vicious rumours.

The Londonderry man has lodged a complaint with the Press Complaints Commission stating that a national newspaper fabricated quotes and accused him of lying about a partial child's skull that was found in the grounds of the children's home.

The skull was recently eliminated from the enquiry after laboratory tests suggested it predated the abuse investigation. Further forensic tests have raised doubts as to whether the fragments are actually human.

One journalist reported that Mr Harper had "admitted" to him that the skull was part of a coconut shell and that he had kept the knowledge quiet for up to six weeks. Mr Harper has furiously branded these claims as " ridiculous, inaccurate and misleading."

"It [the criticism] is not pleasant and it's just unremitting. Absolute nonsense has been written about me and the investigation recently. A lot of the criticism is coming from a small handful of journalists. Maybe they are looking for sensational headlines but they are making this very difficult for me and my officers.

"A number of politicians are now joining in. We recently had a politician saying that the victims in this case are people with criminal records and disturbed people.

"It has taken these victims a long time to come forward to report what happened to them and now they have to listen to this.

"I have no idea why these people are trying to discredit this investigation. Everywhere we turn someone is knocking the victims, circulating nasty rumours and falsehoods. I am spending time trying to rectify misinformation when I should be concentrating on the inquiry. Over the past few days the criticism of this enquiry has become hysterical."

However, Mr Harper said that no amount of criticism will stop him from uncovering the truth.

"We are doing what we have to do and nobody could expect us to walk away from that. We have pulled out over 30 pieces of bone in the last couple of weeks as well as seven or eight teeth.

"A child or children lie buried in the cellars.

"It may emerge these bones date back well before our enquiry but the fact remains — horrendous abuse has gone on at Haut de la Garenne.

"Regardless of whether this becomes a murder investigation we are dealing with victims of alleged child abuse. That fact seems to have been lost recently.

"They [the critics] can hammer away all they want but at the end of the day we will do what we need to do and get to the truth of what happened at Haut de la Garenne and get justice for the victims."

Justice for victims remains focus despite media attacks

The Jersey child abuse scandal was broadcast across the world in a blaze of headlines.

For days front pages and top-of-the-bulletin news carried sensational reports about the search at Haut de la Garenne with news of hidden cellars, remains of a child's skull, shackles and sniffer dogs.

Three months later, with little apparent progress in the case, the mass media had lost interest and the scandal had been all but wiped from the public memory.

However, Haut de La Garenne is back in the spotlight with the news that dozens of fragments of human bone found in the cellar may be the remains of children who were murdered.

The remains, which included children's teeth, were found during an excavation of the underground rooms where former residents claim they were physically and sexually abused. Some fragments show signs of having been cut up and burnt.

Deputy chief officer Lenny Harper said a total of 30 bone fragments and seven teeth had been found in one of the cellars.

The bones will now undergo scientific examination to determine their age and the age of the child or children they may have come from. DNA testing may also make it possible to identify possible victims.

More than 160 people have come forward to claim they were abused at the home. Police searching the cellars, which had been sealed up, have found a blood-stained concrete bath and iron shackles that supported some of the accounts of victims.

It has also just been revealed that a second pair of what appeared to be " home-made" restraints were also recently discovered.

A network of four underground chambers have now been investigated after a police sniffer dog indicated the presence of human remains. On a wooden post in one of the rooms that is thought to have been used to imprison children was scrawled the message "I've been bad for years and years".

Police revealed last week that the number of people suspected of involvement in child abuse has increased from 40 to 70, although so far only one man has been arrested in connection with Haut de la Garenne.

Gordon Claude Wateridge (76) originally from Croydon, South London, is charged with three offences of indecent assault on girls under 16 between 1969 and 1979, when he was warder at the home.

Now that the case is back in the public spotlight, so too is Mr Harper.

The Ulsterman has always embraced an open media policy saying he wanted the investigation to be as transparent as possible.

However, over the past few days he has found his open and friendly relationship with the media to be a double edged sword. On one hand he believes it has helped instill confidence in the States of Jersey Police so more victims are coming forward to report abuse.

However, on the other hand, due to the apparent slow progress in the case and news that what was initially believed to have been the partial remains of a child's skull may in fact be a piece of wood or a coconut shell, he has come under attack by a "small number" of journalists and politicians who have begun questioning his policing methods and accusing him of lying.

But Mr Harper is not prepared to let hostile criticism detract from the investigation and has hit back at his critics branding their claims " rubbish" and vowing not to let them undermine the investigation.

"The focus of the States of Jersey Police has always been and will remain to be those victims who have placed their trust in the force to try and obtain justice for them.

"These increasing inaccurate attacks will not deflect the investigation, " he said.

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