Story time for the nationals

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IT seems amazing now that the police announcement in November last year that they were investigating decades of historical child abuse hardly raised a ripple of national media interest.

When the officer leading the inquiry, deputy police chief Lenny Harper, told local journalists that the team had already been carrying out a covert investigation for a year and were focusing much of their inquiry on Haut de Garenne not a single member of the national media was present.

At that time Mr Harper said: ‘In relation to Haut de la Garenne we have received allegations from a significant number of people who were resident there mainly in the Seventies and Eighties which relate to extremely serious sexual and physical crimes.’

In a Saturday Interview with the JEP two days after that press conference, Mr Harper said that it was a matter of concern that running alongside police efforts to speak to vulnerable victims and witnesses a political controversy was raging in the Island.

He said: ‘We cannot and will not get involved in any political comment or debate and we will not allow it to distract us from the focus of our investigation.’

Christmas and January passed without any focus on the Island or the inquiry by anyone from the media from outside of the Island.

Police gave no indication the week starting Monday 18 February to anyone, including the local media, that they had started excavations at Haut de la Garenne.

Early on the morning of Saturday 23 February, though, Mr Harper released a statement containing words which were to rock Jersey to its foundations and result in a media frenzy unlike anything experienced in the Island before.


By the Monday, members of the national and international media had installed themselves outside Haut de la Garenne and Mr Harper began what were to become regular press conferences to keep them updated as to how the search inside the former children’s home was progressing.

On that morning, Mr Harper revealed that police had uncovered a bricked-up cellar at Haut de la Garenne.

Speaking to the JEP about the ‘potential remains of a child’ discovered in the home two days earlier, Mr Harper said: ‘It is certainly not an adult or an infant and we do not know how long it has been there – that will take several weeks.

‘We do not yet know if this is a murder and we do not know if these are the only remains we will find. Having found what we have found there is a concern there may be others there.’

Mr Harper added: ‘We always hoped it would not end up like this, but from the information we were getting it was always a possibility.’

On Tuesday 26 February Mr Harper told a press conference that it was necessary to treat the scene as if a homicide had taken place because of the uncertainty.

Mr Harper said: ‘There is no evidence yet that the person whose remains we have found was a victim of a homicide, but we must treat the case as if that had taken place until we know otherwise.’

He said that three people had told police there was a strong possibility that human remains could be found within the building.

Two men and a woman, former residents of Haut de la Garenne, but unknown to each other, had tipped off the police that there might be a child’s remains hidden there – a sequence of claims which had led to the excavation.

Until this time, all comments made to the media by the police about the inquiry had come from Mr Harper.

However, on the evening of Tuesday 26 February, police chief Graham Power attended a memorial service for the alleged victims and was asked for comments by journalists about what may have happened all of those years ago at Haut de la Garenne.

Mr Power told the media that the police had received claims of children having been earmarked for abuse at the home – allegations which had come from adults who had been former residents there.

Mr Power told the JEP: ‘They recalled this deep, dark place where they claimed sexual and physical abuse took place. Those people told us that sometimes they had been abused in that dark place and on other occasions they had been held there and given food before being taken out and subjected to abuse.’

Already some of the national media were showing signs that they were going to push this story wildly beyond its limits and it had already got out of the control of the States police, who had made the revelations in the form they did.

A press release from the police the following day stated: ‘The States of Jersey police would like to emphasise that all that has been recovered so far from this site are the partial remains of what is believed to be a child.’

States press officer Louise Nibbs found it necessary to say in the release: ‘ I am aware that there is still some misreporting regarding what we have found and I want to make it completely clear that we have NOT found another body, or indeed, any complete body so far at Haut de la Garenne.’

By Thursday 28 February police gave an update on their progress of the start of digging in the first cellar, and said they had uncovered a feature which appeared to be fixed to the ground – not a piece of furniture – which was exactly as some of the abuse victims had claimed was there.

That item, believed to have been some kind of large concrete bath, was soon featured in the media after a journalist took a picture of it through an opening in the wall at the former children’s home.

Police said that traces of blood were found in the bath after sniffer dog Keela had identified places of interest there.

By then lurid headlines were appearing in national newspapers about the case, including ‘Dens of Sex Murders’, and Mr Harper said at a press conference that sensational stories, including that six or seven bodies were lying under floorboards at the former children’s home had appeared in print when the media had been told nothing of the sort. He told journalists: ‘Some stories have ranged from very sensational to the downright untrue.’

The following day, Mr Harper said that two items so far recovered in the cellar corroborated witnesses’ stories of cruelty and abuse.

He would not confirm when asked if they were shackles and when asked in an e-mail on 17 March by the JEP if the shackles could be photographed he replied: ‘We have not ever confirmed that shackles were found within.’

However, after again being asked in an e-mail about manacles being found following the issuing of a police report about the Haut de la Garenne excavation it was clear Mr Harper was thinking in terms of objects being found on the site as being some form of restraint.

He replied: ‘One pair was found by builders in 2003 and left in situ, and the other item appears to be home-made restraints. There is victim evidence which mentions such items.’

In relation to the nature of the investigation being carried out, a press statement released on Saturday 1 March said: ‘States of Jersey police are determined there will be no room for criticism of the investigation at the conclusion.’

By Monday 3 March the JEP wanted to know if the finding of the ‘skull fragment’ at Haut de la Garenne was really a red herring in the inquiry into alleged child abuse believed to have taken place at the site.

Mr Harper responded to the JEP’s question by saying : ‘It could be a red herring – we just don’t know yet. But, if it is, we will not have wasted much time during the inquiry on the item, as it has been bagged, sealed and sent to the UK for forensic examination.’

Police released pictures of the bricked-up cellar where the excavation work was continuing and it was also revealed that they would be investigating two three-metre-deep pits in the courtyard.

On Thursday 6 March it was announced that a senior independent review group in the UK had complimented the States police for the way in which they were dealing with the major child abuse inquiry.

Police chief Graham Power said: ‘They commended the leadership skills of deputy police chief Lenny Harper, who is heading the inquiry, and the way in which he had dealt with the local and national media.’

On that day the JEP asked Lenny Harper if there was any news yet on the examination of the skull fragment and he said: ‘No, perhaps three weeks.’

On Monday 10 March police revealed new photographs of the cellar at Haut de la Garenne and they were published in national newspapers over the weekend.

The next day Mr Harper revealed that police had received an eye-witness account of an alleged ‘indirect act of violence’ on a little girl at Haut de la Garenne in the 1970s – an account which was causing them concern.

Mr Harper said that if the account was accurate there was no doubt that serious injury could have been caused to the child at that time.

He said: ‘Added to that, the witness claims that the child was not seen or heard from again after that incident – though, of course, there could have been an innocent explanation to her disappearance from the home.’

The following day Mr Harper said that they could not rule out the possibility that the investigation could be a murder inquiry.

‘This is one of the reasons we are carrying out the operation at Haut de la Garenne. However, we have no evidence to enable us to say that a homicide has occurred here. As we have stated previously, we have to treat the scene as a major crime scene and possible homicide until proven otherwise.’

On Monday 17 March further news released by police about the skull fragment said that it might date from the 1920s at the earliest. Archaeologists working on the site said it was possibly no more than 90 years old, although carbon-dating tests were still being carried out in the UK.

Within three weeks, however, police announced that tests to date the skull fragment were likely to remain inconclusive.

Mr Harper said that without a firm date for the bone fragment the investigation might be downgraded from a potential homicide inquiry.

Mr Harper was told by the JEP on Friday 28 March that it had been suggested that as Haut de la Garenne was on a hill the ‘cellars’ were more likely to be foundation cavities.

He replied: ‘The “cellars” are the old ground floor, which became what they are during renovations. You don’t often get baths in foundation cavities.’

On Friday 9 April the JEP asked Mr Harper if they could publish a photograph of the ‘skull fragment’.

Mr Harper replied: ‘No, this is a human being and our advice is that we should treat the piece with dignity.’

By Wednesday 16 April there was more news from the States police which regained the attention of the national media. Mr Harper said they were very concerned about why two pits, including one containing lime, should have been dug within the grounds of the former children’s home.

A man had come forward and told the police that he had been asked many years ago by former care home staff to dig the pits.

Nothing was found in the pit except a large amount of lime and police emphasised in a statement that they had no evidence of any motive.

On Friday 18 April it was announced that the skull fragment definitely pre-dated the abuse inquiry period and would not be the subject of a murder investigation.

The JEP asked Mr Harper and some of the search team in-depth questions about the skull fragment and they confirmed that the layer of earth in which it was found meant that the fragment could have been placed there as long ago as the Victorian period.

The police, though, were ready with another press release which grabbed national headlines. They announced that bloodstained items had been found in the third and fourth cellars.

Mr Harper said: ‘All the finds could be significant, but some could be extremely significant. And some could corroborate what some of the victims have been telling us went on in the cellars.’

On Tuesday 13 May police announced that they had found more children’s teeth and bone fragments in the cellars and sent them to the UK for testing. They made another announcement about similar finds three days later.

But a cloud appeared on the horizon of the investigation in the form of that little bit of ‘skull fragment’ described on that fateful day in February by Mr Harper as the ‘potential remains of a child’.

The Mail on Sunday reporter David Rose claimed in a major report that those ‘remains’ had been identified by experts as having been a small piece of wood or broken coconut shell.

That journalist also alleged that Mr Harper had been told that news by a forensic lab six weeks before but had kept it quiet.

A press release responding to the Mail on Sunday report from the States police said that the first indication they had received that the fragment might not be bone came a few days after 28 March, when they were told that the laboratory staff were now thinking it might be wood or a seed, but if it was bone it would be very old bone.

By that time, the statement said, the fragment had been eliminated from the inquiry. In relation to claims in that newspaper that Mr Harper had been sent a letter dated Thursday 1 May by the lab confirming their doubts over the fragment being human, the police statement said that the first the inquiry team knew of any letter was when they were informed of it on Saturday 17 May by the media and had requested a copy.

Mr Harper remained adamant that the fragment was not a piece of coconut. Just before he retired in August he told the JEP: ‘I think I need to nail this once and for all and say that this item has never been identified as a piece of coconut. The laboratory who examined it said they had found collagen in it, which is only found in and around bones of mammals, including humans.’

Haut de la Garenne was back in the forefront of national news on Wednesday 22 May, when Mr Harper once again held a press conference outside the now infamous building.

Holding a container with a tooth fragment belonging to a child unearthed on the site, Mr Harper said that evidence found by the team confirmed the remains of ‘a dead child or dead children’.

He said that bone fragments found at the home, some in an old fireplace, had been cut as well as burnt.

Using some of his most emotive words to date, Mr Harper said: ‘This means we could have the possibility of an unexplained death and evidence of a dead child or children in the cellar.’

He emphasised, however, that that did not mean they were launching a murder inquiry, and that the remains had not yet been dated by experts.

Referring to the children’s teeth found, he said they could not have come out before death. In an interview which Mr Harper had given to Gordon Rayner of the Daily Telegraph on Thursday 22 May, Mr Harper was quoted as saying: ‘There are those who are just waiting for us to make a mistake. We are doing what we have to do, and there is no way we can backtrack on that. A child or children lies buried in the cellars under Haut de la Garenne and no one would expect us to just walk away from that, even if it eventually turns out that those bones are very old.’

On Wednesday 28 May the police released a report on their search operation at Haut de la Garenne. That report said: ‘It is hoped from this document that the public will be reassured that the inquiry team have not embarked on a random fishing expedition but have been acting on intelligence and information, backed by expert advice, in all that they have done.’

By Thursday 19 June police reported that they had found a total of over 50 children’s teeth on the site. On Thursday 10 July the search took a new turn when it was revealed that police with sniffer dogs were searching German bunkers in the grounds of Victoria Tower close to Haut de la Garenne.

Mr Harper said that his officers had received witness reports of separate incidents of serious sexual crimes having taken place in the underground rooms there.

A police statement released said some items found might be of evidential value and that they were not of huge significance to the inquiry, but tended to corroborate the accounts given by witnesses.

Unfortunately, some national newspapers ran reports that items of huge significance had been uncovered there.

On Thursday 31 July police revealed that staff at a UK laboratory had said that the human remains found at Haut de la Garenne in May could date from any time between 1650 and 1960.

Mr Harper said that although the remains of at least five children, many of which had been burned, had been found on the site, it had not been possible for specialists to date the remains conclusively. If precise dating was not possible there was unlikely to be a murder inquiry.

He said that the 65 children’s teeth found at the site had been confirmed as coming from five children aged between four and 11, and they had also found a tibia bone and a small bone from behind an ear.

Media confusion followed a Radio 4 interview which gave the impression that police were still searching the former children’s home and had discovered five further children’s bodies.

This led Mr Harper to issue a statement at 8 am denying many of the claims made in the national broadcast media, and he also held a press conference to clear up the confusion. On Thursday 7 August Lenny Harper retired from the force.

In his retirement interview Mr Harper was asked by the JEP if he had ever thought that because of his individual approach to the world’s media that he had ever appeared to become larger than the inquiry itself.

He said: ‘Certainly there was a focus on me, but I don’t really know if it made me appear larger than the inquiry. I would hope not. That was certainly never the intention.’

Mr Harper said that the focus had tended to be on stories circulating of politicians in conflict with the criminal justice system.

He said: ‘The media policy was quite deliberate and the fact that we had so many victims coming forward, and are still doing so, proves the worth of it. You always take a risk. Once or twice that has backfired with erroneous reporting from a minority of the media, but overall they have been first class.’

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