COMMENT: 'He does not deserve to pay for that mistake with his political career'
THE Independent Jersey Care Inquiry has written a savage score, and the States is dancing to its tune. Already we have heard the Chief Minister promising to implement all of its eight recommendations, even though some are questionable or have been overtaken by events, and one – the demolition of Haut de la Garenne – is irrational. Other ministers have fallen over one another in the rush to climb onto the bandwagon.
And what of the report itself? It is for the most part a solid, pedestrian effort which tells us little we did not already know (though the appalling treatment of the victims, and the wickedness of abusers and connivers, certainly deserve the exposure they have had).
Perhaps conscious that it contains few revelations, the authors did their best to spice it up. The most spectacular example is the accusation that Deputy Andrew Lewis lied to the States about the process leading to the suspension of then police chief Graham Power in November 2008.
At that time the leadership of the States police was in crisis. Mr Power's deputy, Lenny Harper, had sensationalised the investigation into historic child abuse (known as Operation Rectangle) with reckless allegations of murder, creating a feeding frenzy on the part of the worldwide media. The Law Officers were becoming concerned that prosecutions of alleged offenders were at risk because far-fetched newspaper claims, based on briefings by Mr Harper, would make it impossible to conduct fair trials.
By the autumn of 2008 matters were coming to a head. Two new senior officers were brought in to stabilise the Rectangle investigation and re-establish effective police leadership. An unpublished report by the Metropolitan Police found that neither the conduct nor the oversight of the investigation had met required standards. One of the newly appointed officers, David Warcup, wrote his own report in the form of a letter addressed to States Chief Executive Bill Ogley summarising the preliminary Met findings, which were heavily critical of Mr Power and Mr Harper.
The Council of Ministers felt it had to act swiftly. Mr Power was suspended on full pay, pending further inquiries into his conduct. The Home Affairs Minister having recently resigned, it fell to her successor, Andrew Lewis, to make a statement to the House and answer questions, for which he was not fully prepared.
In answer to one question, Deputy Lewis, alluding to the grounds for suspending Mr Power, said that he had 'seen the report' without making clear which report he meant. In fact, he could not have seen the Met report, as this was then, and remains, unavailable for public or political consumption. He was instead referring to Mr Warcup's letter, which included references to the forthcoming Met report. That was a careless mistake, but there are strong extenuating circumstances.
By revealing the critical state of police leadership, Mr Warcup had in effect been acting as a whistle-blower and put his own career on the line in pursuit of the public interest. Deputy Lewis was presumably anxious not to disclose any more about the source of his information than was absolutely necessary to justify the suspension decision. He had limited frontline political experience, and the pressure of events, and the persistent States questioning, placed him in a tough position.
There is no doubt about what Deputy Lewis said, as it is accurately recorded in Hansard. Does it amount to a 'lie', the dictionary definition of which is 'a false statement made with the intention of deceiving'? To begin with, the statement was not false, though it was misleading. Deputy Lewis did not say explicitly that he had read the Met report, whatever those listening at the time may have assumed. Nor did he intend to deceive, and in fact no material deception took place, as Mr Warcup's summary of the Met's findings proved to be substantially accurate.
In fact, the substantial consequence of Deputy Lewis's imprecise answer was negligible. The police child abuse investigation and its oversight were, as Mr Warcup had said, seriously flawed. The decisions to remove Mr Harper from leadership of Operation Rectangle, and to suspend Mr Power, were vindicated by the Met report. Directed by Detective Superintendent Mick Gradwell and Detective Chief Inspector Alison Fossey, the investigation was relentlessly and successfully pursued. Prosecutions took place. The States police under new leadership moved into calmer waters and rebuilt its reputation for probity and efficiency.
Deputy Lewis has never been implicated in child abuse, the concealment of child abuse, any subsequent cover-up or indeed any other wrongdoing. He was under pressure and made a momentary verbal mistake, as many politicians have done before and will no doubt do again. He is a decent, intelligent and honourable man who does not deserve to pay for that mistake with his political career, simply to pacify the IJCI panel or satisfy the blood-lust of his enemies.
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