Viewpoint: Hunting island's evil abusers
Published 27/03/2008 | 00:00
Amid the horrors of the former Jersey children's home where sexual abuse and even murder may have taken place, one consolation is that a tough, experienced Northern Ireland policeman is leading the investigation.
If staff at the notorious Haut de la Garenne were guilty of crimes against children, Londonderry's Lenny Harper, who is Jersey's deputy chief, will find and charge them.
Excavations at the home are still uncovering grisly finds of sealed punishment rooms and bones, but reports of malpractice go back many years.
Although inmates had been lodging complaints since the 1940s, no one listened to them until the police began investigating in 2006, and at last the silence was broken.
So far, more than 140 possible victims have come forward, with allegations ranging from physical assault to rape, over a 60-year period. One staff member has been charged, but police have a list of 40 suspects, described as "respected figures of the establishment".
The Jersey case has attracted worldwide concern, because of the seriousness of the allegations, but there are familiar features which should alert everyone who has responsibility for child care. Homes devoted to vulnerable children are often left to their own devices, without sufficient monitoring, and the staff can do as they please.
If there are abusers among them, they can get away, literally, with murder. In east Belfast, in the 1980s, there was a similar story of serial sexual abuse at Kincora boys' home, perpetrated by criminal staff members. Terrible damage was done to young lives, because deaf ears were turned to complaints, and public representatives failed in their duty of care.
The same pattern has emerged in Jersey, which has been described as a conservative, closed, island society, very dependent on financial investment and tourism.
Any threat to its image, from within, is swiftly countered and played down, recalling the defensive reaction of the authorities in the film, 'Jaws'. Thankfully, the victims of the Jersey care home regime now have a principled Ulster policeman to look after their interests.
Although he chose to end his career on the holiday island, after senior posts in London and Scotland, he finds himself at the centre of an investigation making international headlines, which he will want to complete before he retires in September.
The RUC's loss - he was fractionally short of the old 5ft 8in height standard - has been the gain of several constabularies, and he can win the gratitude of everyone concerned if his meticulous approach can demonstrate that, never again, will abuse be tolerated or covered up.
Even before the current investigation began, deputy chief Harper had to brave threats to his life when tackling corruption within his own force. Policing in Jersey can be just as challenging as in popular TV series 'Bergerac'.