Unfortunately, he is now attempting to defend the indefensible. As good as his motives for seeking maximum publicity for the case might have been, his tactics backfired disastrously – not only because of the welter of damning press coverage the Island received but also in terms of potential harm to the inquiry as a whole.
It is, of course, true that Mr Harper was more than ably aided and abetted by a national and international press that seized on the information he released, focused on its most sensational elements, and produced stories that went far beyond any facts.
But he could have put an end to the ludicrous inflation of the story at any point. It defies credibility that he could have been unaware of the fundamental weakness of the forensic evidence from a very early stage and could therefore have counteracted media exaggeration with a realistic assessment of what had been revealed. Instead, he appears to have chosen to allow speculation to run riot and even fed it with equally speculative talk about the number of bodies which ‘might’ be discovered.
The most basic criticism that can be levelled at Mr Harper is that he was, to a reckless degree, too ready to speak publicly about finds at Haut de la Garenne before their significance had been established. This error of judgment was then compounded by unwillingness to counter the utterly fanciful stories that so may journalists built on what they had been told.
Mr Harper says that he was partly motivated by a desire to prevent the alleged hindrance of the investigation by a high-level old-boy network. The evidence that this exists anywhere but in Mr Harper’s perception is as sparse as the spurious evidence on which so much sensational nonsense was based.
The frankness with which the new investigatory team has demolished an edifice based on the unholy alliance between flawed investigative and public relations strategies and a media rapacious for horror offers hope for the remainder of the inquiry into abuse. This, and not the self-justification of a retired officer, must now be the main focus of attention and effort.