COMMENT: Complacency over inquiry's report has been astonishing
THERE'S no easy way of saying this, I'm afraid, so here goes: I don't think Jersey has yet got its head around how profoundly shattering a verdict has been delivered on it by the findings of the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry.
The scale of the abuse, the time it has been tolerated and the inadequate responses to it over the decades may be understood, but the consequences much less so.
How, for example, after all the pain and public focus on the proper treatment of youngsters in the care of the Island could the inquiry find that some children even today 'may still be at risk'?
Was there some sort of collective government view or hope that Frances Oldham QC's report was going to be OK, not witheringly condemnatory of what was officially condoned or tolerated, that it was all in the past and everything's fine now?
The level of complacency over this issue, for an outsider at least, has been breathtaking and truly beyond comprehension – virtually total denial at the highest level.
And why I suggest the Island hasn't fully bought into the implications of what the panel has found – and I use that word in the sense of a judicial finding – is that your core method of conducting yourselves has been exposed as wanting.
Yes, the inquiry was about child care but at its heart is the Jersey Way. More than that, it is, as the panel observed, expressly about the Jersey Way in its sinister, controlling, 'protection of powerful interests and resistance to change, even when change is patently needed' manifestation.
There's much in the report to support this contention, not least the focus on cover-up and the protection of the Island's reputation. But the biggest obstacle to true reform and progress is that the Jersey Way is hard-wired into Jersey's establishments – it is so instinctive and reflexive that it is unconscious and invisible to those who need to change.
To illustrate this – and I believe the panel did as well – take the infamous speech then Bailiff Sir Philip Bailhache delivered on Liberation Day 2008.
'All child abuse, wherever it happens, is scandalous, but it is the unjustified and remorseless denigration of Jersey and her people that is the real scandal,' he said.
Leave aside his recent partial and qualified 'apology'. It simply is not credible that a senior judge would fail to weigh his words before making a set-piece statement. It is also worth noting that he has really only tried to backtrack since the care inquiry found him guilty of making a 'grave political error' in uttering those remarks.
'We cannot accept that a politician and lawyer of his experience would inadvertently have made what he told the inquiry was an "unfortunate juxtaposition" of words,' the panel said.
While he cared greatly about the reputation of Jersey, they said, his comments were not 'a considered attempt to influence the course of the police investigation'.
Well, that's a relief, I suppose, but it is revealing that it even had to be considered. Yet why was a non-political Bailiff making political statements on such a highly charged matter in the first place? And what evidence could he possibly have about 'unjustified and remorseless denigration'? The facts, as we now know, are against him on that.
I'm not singling out Sir Philip especially here – he has an exemplary record of public service – but I am saying that the narrative in which he plays a leading part illustrates the institutional mindset prevailing at the time: this cannot happen in Jersey; it would be damaging if it did; we must control the message at all costs.
For example, just look back on the curious incident of the then Dean of Jersey, a troubled young woman and allegations against a churchwarden of inappropriate behaviour.
What should have been a safeguarding issue suddenly became a constitutional matter, a tussle over the independence of the Church in Jersey and an attack on the establishment itself.
The young woman herself – a troubled soul if ever one was in need of Christian help – sank without trace while those with reputations retained them.
So as I say, the Jersey Way is so ingrained as to be knee-jerk instinctive. To rid the Island of it, if that's what you truly wish to do, will be a huge undertaking.
Wholesale reform of institutions, including the Law Officers and honorary police, continuous monitoring and feedback, independent assessments of progress… a long road indeed.
Children in care should be safer now. But I'm doubtful much else will change. Some habits are too hard to lose.
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