Relief? Anger? Bewilderment? The answer, probably, is a mixture of all those responses and more as the realisation sinks in that Jersey’s good name has been internationally maligned for imaginary reasons without foundation and to suit agendas which remain, to take a charitable view of matters, somewhat mysterious.
Today’s assertion by senior police officers who have reviewed the Haut de la Garenne evidence that none of it fits the lurid picture presented by Jersey’s former deputy police chief, Lenny Harper, with the enthusiastic help of unscrupulous journalists in the UK and beyond, places the unprecedently intensive, costly and dramatic investigation on a new footing and raises many questions to which Islanders will rightly demand satisfactory answers.
Before that process begins, however, it is important to note that nothing has changed in terms of the commitment of the police, the States or the community at large to securing justice and comfort for those who may have suffered abuse as children either at Haut de la Garenne or elsewhere in Jersey in the past. The historical abuse inquiry which gave rise to the Haut de la Garenne debacle will continue under the demonstrably more measured professional guidance of Mr Harper’s successor, David Warcup, although it is already clear that the number of cases brought to court is likely to be much lower than once forecast.
The reassessment of evidence by investigators of the highest calibre means that Jersey can begin to put behind it an episode which has caused communal hurt and distress on a scale not experienced since the Occupation. It will not be fully laid to rest, however, until there are clear answers to a number of questions about the quality of supervision and critical appraisal, both political and from the top echelon of the police force, that were applied from the outset to the Haut de la Garenne investigation, the interpretation of the evidence and the diet of damaging sensationalism fed to the world’s media.
Why did Mr Harper, a very experienced senior policeman, see fit to act as he did? Why was he given so much leeway to do so by his chief officer, Graham Power, who remained by and large publicly invisible throughout the proceedings? Why was former Home Affairs Minister, Wendy Kinnard, whose recent mysterious resignation may now be seen in a new light, unable to exercise more effective political oversight? Why is Jersey still without an independent police authority, years after the States voted to establish one? And what can be done to mitigate the damage done to Jersey’s image and self-esteem by its wrongful portrayal as a hotbed of perversion, secrecy and cynical systematic cover-ups in high places?
Thanks to the frankness and objectivity of the team which replaced Mr Harper after his retirement, we now know that there is no evidence at all of either murder at Haut de la Garenne or grand establishment conspiracy. In addition, the legal wariness which Mr Harper chose to interpret as an attempt to impede his efforts now looks more like mere prudence in the face of misplaced zeal.
It is also plain, as the new management of the States police begin the urgent task of restoring credibility and public trust, that both the Island and the future conduct of the historical child abuse inquiry will fare better without Mr Harper’s extraordinary notion of what constitutes evidence.