Daily Archives: August 16, 2008

Potential witnesses in child murder case stay silent while suspects freed on spurious grounds

Police have dug up the bones of at least five children buried under the home.

Jersey police chief’s fury as abuse suspects release ‘scares off’ witnesses

The investigation has looked at almost 100 allegations of abuse stretching back decades

The Times | Aug 14, 2008

By Dominic Kennedy, Investigations Editor

A furious memorandum from the senior detective in the Jersey child murder and abuse investigation claims that it has been hampered by prosecutors, destroying victims’ faith in the justice system.

Lenny Harper, who found the remains of five children in a former boys’ home, says that it is getting harder to persuade witnesses to come forward because of fears that alleged perpetrators will not be put on trial.

Mr Harper claims that the island’s Attorney-General and his office are held in “total contempt” by victims of child abuse after repeatedly failing to bring offenders to justice.

The memo is part of the evidence in an application to the High Court in London today by the Justice for Families group, co-founded by John Hemming, the Liberal Democrat MP, and Stuart Syvret, a Jersey senator and campaigner. The organisation is demanding that Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, take over the investigation. It claims the memo is further evidence that such a sensitive investigation should be taken out of the hands of the island’s tight-knit coterie of senior officials because of what it claims are their perceived conflicts of interest.

Esther Rantzen, founder of Childline, who has met the victims, urged the Jersey Government to ask London to intervene. “I am not impugning the integrity of individuals; I am just saying that in a society which is so interwoven and has such a small number of people in high office you have just got to ask for help from outside,” she said.

Mr Harper, an Ulsterman who retired as the island’s deputy police chief last weekend, has been looking into allegations of child abuse. The headlines have been grabbed by the discoveries at the Haut de la Garenne children’s home, but the investigation has looked at almost 100 allegations of abuse stretching back decades.


Powerful “Old Boy Network” obstructing investigation of childrens’ deaths and sex abuse

Mr Harper’s memo gives warning that potential witnesses are keeping silent because suspects are being freed without charge on apparently spurious grounds. “This is illustrated by a briefing I have had from the NSPCC counsellor working alongside us,” he states in the memo seen by The Times. “He has received a text message from a victim (which he has shown to me) to say ‘It is a joke. Another two walk away. No wonder no one will come forward’. ”

Philip Sinel, lawyer for the Jersey Care Leavers’ Association, told prosecutors that crucial evidence was being withheld because people who had been in care did not trust the authorities. “My clients and others know far more than has been given to the police already,” Mr Sinel said.

The police report was written after a couple were arrested then released in a fiasco that Senator Syvret said at the time amounted to the breakdown of the rule of law.

Mr Harper’s report discloses that William Bailhache, the Attorney-General, decided to appoint a prosecution barrister, Simon Thomas, to the police inquiry. Police claim that Mr Thomas advised them that a 70-year-old man and his wife, 69, believed to have been former foster parents, could be arrested and charged with grave and criminal assault. The report notes that Mr Thomas denied having given such advice. They were taken into custody on June 24 but at 5pm the barrister told detectives he had revised his view, citing as reasons that the wife was unwell, a witness had rung police to say they were holding the wrong people and the couple’s children said their parents were “good people”.

Mr Harper wrote: “I could not work out, and am still unable to work out, what really did prompt the change of heart and the revision of the advice.” Mr Thomas did not respond when asked by The Times about his alleged change of mind.

In another child abuse case, Mr Harper writes, the police experienced delays after sending a file this April to Mr Thomas about Jane and Alan Maguire, who had run a care home. A previous prosecution against the Maguires for assault was dropped for lack of evidence in 1998 by Michael Birt, QC, then the Attorney-General.

Mr Birt is now the second most powerful judge as Deputy Bailiff. “Naturally, as I was Attorney-General at the time, I would not sit judicially in any case which may be brought in the future involving the Maguires,” he said this week.

The Maguires retired to France and no extradition has yet been sought.

The Attorney-General told The Times: “I do not agree that there is any actual or perceived conflict of interest which prevents me from performing the functions I have, which I intend to perform to the best of my ability and with the integrity which the office requires. I am absolutely determined that cases of child abuse will be prosecuted where it is right to do so.”

A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice in London said: “This is an internal matter for Jersey’s government.”

Face of island justice

Sir Philip Bailhache, Bailiff

Head of the island’s judiciary. He made a speech saying that no bodies had been found and that the real scandal was the denigration of Jersey. As chairman of parliament he switched off a microphone when a senator tried to apologise for Jersey’s child abuse. He is the Attorney-General’s brother.

William Bailhache, QC, Attorney-General

He decides prosecutions and is legal adviser to the Jersey Government, in whose care the children had been placed. He liaises with government insurers, who face possible compensation claims if abuse is proved. He was a partner in the law firm that represented alleged victims of Jane and Alan Maguire, who ran a care home. None of the clients received compensation.

Michael Birt, QC, Deputy Bailiff

As the Attorney-General he discontinued prosecution against the Maguires because of insufficient evidence.

Fat children ‘should be taken from parents’ to curb obesity epidemic

Council warning to families guilty of neglect

The Times | Aug 16, 2008

By Jill Sherman, Whitehall Editor

Grossly overweight children may be taken from their families and put into care if Britain’s obesity epidemic continues to escalate, council chiefs said yesterday.

The Local Government Association argued that parents who allowed their children to eat too much could be as guilty of neglect as those who did not feed their children at all.

The association said that until now there had been only a few cases when social services had intervened in obesity cases. But it gave warning that local councils may have to take action much more often and, if necessary, put obese children on “at risk” registers or take them into care. It called for new guidelines to be drawn up to help authorities deal with the issue.

There have been some reported cases where children under 10 have weighed up to 14st (89kg) and a three-year-old has weighed 10st – putting them at a high risk of diabetes and heart disease. Only last week a 15-year-old girl in Wales was told by doctors that she could “drop dead at any moment” after tipping the scales at 33st.

David Rogers, the Local Government Association’s public health spokesman, said that by 2012 an estimated million children would be obese and by 2025 about a quarter of all boys would be grossly overweight.

“Councils are increasingly having to consider taking action where parents are putting children’s health in real danger,” he said. “As the obesity epidemic grows, these tricky cases will keep on cropping up. Councils would step in to deal with an undernourished and neglected child, so should a case with a morbidly obese child be different? If parents consistently place their children at risk through bad diet and lack of exercise, is it right that a council should step in to keep the child’s health under review?”

“The nation’s expanding waistline threatens to have a devastating impact on our public services. It’s a huge issue for public health, but it also risks placing an unprecedented amount of pressure on council services.”

The association called for a national debate on how much local authorities should intervene in obesity cases. As a basic minimum, social services or health visitors should talk to the families involved, give them advice and show them how to provide healthy meals. “But in the worst cases [the children] would need to be put on ‘at risk’ registers or taken into care.”

Last year Cumbria County Council put an eight-year old girl into care as she was dangerously overweight.

Anne Ridgway, of Cumbria Primary Care Trust, said that it was extremely rare for a child to be put into care just because of their weight. “Even then the care proceedings may well have been instigated because of related problems rather than exclusively because of their weight,” she said. Extreme cases of obesity could become a child protection issue because obesity “can have very serious consequences for a child’s health and the parental behaviour that leads to childhood obesity can be a form of neglect”.

Tam Fry, of the National Obesity Forum, said: “Children who are dangerously overweight should be brought into hospital, where they can be given 24-hour care for several weeks or months. But their parents should have access to them.”

The Conservative Party said that taking children into care was a serious step. Andrew Landsley, the Shadow Health Secretary, said that in many cases “it would be better to help the parents provide better nutrition for their child rather than break up the family”.

Deadly facts

— Councils are spending tens of thousands of pounds widening crematorium furnaces to deal with fatter corpses

— Standard coffins are between 16 and 20ins wide (40-50cm) but coffins twice that size are being ordered to fit larger bodies

— Lewisham Council has ordered a 44in cremator from America and is taking coffins from the Midlands. A furnace has just been installed at King’s Lynn, Norfolk, for coffins a metre wide and Blackburn is to buy a 42in cremator

— New ambulances have been introduced across Wales with special equipment for fat patients, including a winch and an extra wide strengthened stretcher

— Fire services are threatening to charge police or hospitals a fee if they are called in to move grossly overweight people out of dangerous buildings

— Many schools are having to adapt their furniture to cope with heavier, wider children. Each larger table and chair costs about £30

— It is estimated that nearly 2,000 people are too fat to work

Russia threatens Poland with nuclear strike

After Georgia, Moscow issues nuclear warning to Poland

REUTERS | Aug 16, 2008

By Shaun Walker in Tbilisi and Anne Penketh

A senior Russian general has revived fears of a new Cold War by threatening Poland with a possible nuclear strike, as the President of Georgia bowed to the inevitable and signed a ceasefire the terms of which were dictated by Moscow.

General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, Russia’s deputy chief of staff, reflected the Kremlin’s fury at an agreement reached on Thursday between the United States and Poland, which is to host part of a US missile defence shield that has been fiercely opposed by Moscow. It “cannot go unpunished”, General Nogovitsyn said in Moscow yesterday.

“Poland, by deploying [the system], is exposing itself to a strike – 100 per cent,” said the general. But he raised the stakes by coupling the warning with a reminder that Russia’s military doctrine provided for the use of nuclear weapons in such a case, and that Poland was aware of this.

The developments came at the end of a day of intensified diplomacy, as the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, spent nearly five hours negotiating with the Georgian President in which she provided “clarifications” about the ceasefire agreement.

Speaking at a news conference outside the presidential palace, an emotional Mr Saakashvili appeared to blame Europe for the Russian invasion of his country, and accused the Russians of being “barbarians” who “despise everything new, everything modern, everything European, everything civilised”.

Mr Saakashvili said European leaders who failed to stand up to Moscow shared the blame for the Georgian deaths. The tired-looking President said that months of Russian provocations against Georgia had elicited only “muted and quiet reactions” from European capitals. “Who invited the trouble here? Who invited the arrogance here? Who invited these innocent deaths here? Not only those who perpetrated it but those who allowed it to happen.”

Ms Rice struck a much more measured tone, refusing to criticise Europe and making only tempered criticism of Russia. While insisting on an “immediate and orderly withdrawal of Russia’s armed forces” in line with the French-brokered truce secured earlier this week, she did not offer any indication of the US response if such action was not forthcoming. She also said that Russia’s membership in global clubs was under review.

Despite the ceasefire agreement, assuming it is honoured, there is still a giant gulf between the two sides over what happens next in the disputed territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. A day after Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, said the world could “forget” about Georgia’s territorial integrity, Mr Saakashvili stressed that he was not prepared to negotiate the status of the two territories.

But the Georgian leader has suffered a bitter defeat: his army is destroyed, his country ruined, and the Ossetians and Abkhaz are buoyant in the knowledge that they can count on more Russian support than ever before in their desires to be free of Georgian rule.

In Washington, President George Bush kept up his verbal attacks on the Kremlin, accusing Russia of “bullying and intimidation” of an independent nation.

The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who held talks with the Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, said the Russian retaliation to the attack by Georgian forces on 8 August against the South Ossetian capital was “disproportionate”. Appearing with Mrs Merkel at a joint news conference in Sochi, the Russian President’s summer residence, Mr Medvedev spoke out against the US-Polish deal, saying that ” the deployment has the Russian Federation as its target”. The Russians have rejected the US contention that the missile shield is designed to be used against possible strikes from states such as Iran.

However, Mr Medvedev gave a more sober assessment than General Nogovitsyn, stressing: “It is not dramatic.”