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Jersey probe: Lenny Harper hits back

Storm on Jersey: Lenny Harper outside the Haut de la Garenne care home which was at the centre of his investigations
Storm on Jersey: Lenny Harper outside the Haut de la Garenne care home which was at the centre of his investigations

By Deborah McAleese

The Northern Ireland police officer who headed up the Jersey child abuse probe last night furiously defended his investigation after his successor attacked several key pieces of evidence.

In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Londonderry man Lenny Harper hit back at claims from senior officers that he had previously released “misleading” and “inaccurate” information, stating that he and his team had always acted with integrity.

The credibility of the £4m investigation was last night in tatters as the Jersey government and Mr Harper’s successor, Deputy Chief Officer David Warcup, claimed that some aspects of the probe “had not been conducted properly”.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Harper, who retired in August, said he was “disappointed” and “mystified” at the comments, which he claimed misrepresented what he had said during his time at the fore of the investigation.

Earlier Mr Warcup said there was no evidence that any children had been murdered or bodies destroyed at the former care home Haut de la Garenne. He expressed “much regret” at “misleading” information released by Mr Harper. He also said bones found at the home were probably hundreds of years old and so-called torture chambers were merely cellars.

“What I have said has been deliberately, or otherwise, totally misrepresented,” Mr Harper told this paper.

“I am bemused as to why this press conference was held to say nothing substantially new. I never said we had credible evidence of murder or murder suspects. I have always said we did not have a homicide enquiry but were treating the scene as one of a potential homicide. I would have thought they would have understood the difference.

“As for the bones, they said they could be hundreds of years old — we said that months ago. And the fragment thought to have been from a skull — we ruled that out of the investigation months ago. They are not saying anything I have not said previously,” said Mr Harper.

He added that officers had never labelled the cellars at Haut de la Garenne as torture chambers and had been acting on evidence from victims.

“We never called them dungeons. The victims were telling us that they were lowered down into these rooms, which we always made clear, used to be the ground floor of that building,” he said.

Mr Harper added that Mr Warcup's comments came at “an opportune time” for the Jersey government, as a report into the island's care system by the Howard League for Penal Reform was due to be released on Friday.

“I’m totally mystified as to why he should issue this non-event. I’m sure it is a coincidence that the Howard League for Penal Reform is publishing its report on allegations of abuse within the Jersey care system. That will be interesting,” said Mr Harper.

He added: “I am not going to let this get to me. I have no regrets about the way this investigation was handled by myself and my team. Some of the criticisms made (yesterday) were made by Andrew Lewis the new Home Affairs Minister who said they had not been told all details.

“I briefed Andrew regularly when he took over the role. Indeed, the night before I left the island he told my wife and myself that my team and myself had done a fantastic job, despite all the political nonsense and backbiting we had to endure.”

A former minister for health and social services in Jersey, Senator Stuart Syvret, has rushed to defend Mr Harper.

Senator Syvret said yesterday’s press conference by the new investigations team was a bid “to justify the dismissal and abandoning of certain aspects of the Haut de la Garenne investigation, including the possibility of child deaths having occurred there, and certain of the more serious abuse claims”.

The suggestion that children could have been murdered at Haut de la Garenne, which closed in 1986, was first made by Mr Harper in February when he announced that what appeared to be part of a child’s skull had been found underneath a floor at the home.

Forensic tests later established that the “skull” was more likely to be a piece of wood or coconut shell.

Warcup and Harper's war of words: The accusations and the rebuttals

Deputy chief officer David |Warcup’s claims at press conference... and Lenny Harper’s |response to the Belfast Telegraph in his own words.

Warcup: There is no evidence that any children had been murdered or bodies destroyed at the former home.

Harper: They said they have “no credible evidence of murder” and “no suspects for murder.” They announced this as if it was a contradiction to what I had said. Not true. I have always said we did not have a homicide enquiry but were treating the scene as one of a potential homicide. Surprisingly they seem to miss the distinction. Furthermore I told the Chief Minister Frank Walker, on the day that he brought his wife for a tour of Haut de le Garenne, in her presence and that of my team, that he should prepare himself for the fact that we might not be able to launch a homicide enquiry because of a lack of evidence. He said this would not be a bad outcome and he was confident that we would do what we could.

Warcup: After being examined by experts from the British Museum, a fragment thought to have been from a skull turned out to be a piece of Victorian coconut shell.

Harper: They spoke about the original find “probably being a piece of coconut or wood.” The truth is that the item has never been positively identified and the source they quoted was only one of a number of varying opinions. Furthermore, it has never been explained just how collagen, which is only found in mammals, was found in it. Additionally, we had, of course, ruled out the item anyway because our experts were telling us it was too old.

Warcup: “Shackles” found in rubble turned out to be “a rusty piece of metal”, and there was no evidence to suggest it had been used for anything suspicious.

Harper: They described the shackles as “just rusty pieces of metal.” Of course they are rusty pieces of metal — they have been in the ground for over 30 years. Furthermore, they ignore the fact that it was not only us who described them as shackles, which one pair obviously are. Builders who found them in 2003 and left them where they were, tipped off the media that we would find shackles.

Warcup: The “secret underground chambers” were just holes in the floor, “not dungeons or cellars”.

Harper: They said that the cellars are “not cellars or dungeons, but are merely floor voids.” Surprisingly, I never used the word dungeons. They are not floor voids. What we call the cellars (and what the victims call the cellars) are in fact what used to be the ground floor. What is certain is that victims described them accurately and the abuse that went on in there.

Warcup: Most of the 170 pieces of bone found in the search came from animals. Three were human and two of these dated from between 1470-1670 and 1650-1950 respectively.

Harper: “The bones could be hundreds of years old.” Well this is certainly not new. When detailing the results of carbon dating, I made it clear that the dates ranged from 1650 to 1950. The expert in the UK who had examined the first bones we sent (which included a piece of child's tibia) said that they were very likely the bones of a juvenile human, they had been burnt shortly after death and buried shortly after burning. In his view they were no more than a few decades old. I made it clear that in the light of the conflicting information which, if it remained the same, it was “obvious that there would not be a murder enquiry.” This is clearly confirmed by, among others, the BBC News website which carries a link from yesterday’s story to one called “Jersey Murder Enquiry Unlikely” which was posted at 5.46pm UK time on July 31, 2008.

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