Inside Jersey's chamber of horrors


Last updated at 21:14 29 February 2008

Some 160 children horribly abused.A special room for rape - and even murder. An alleged cover-up at the highest levels. As the Jersey care home dungeon offers up its secrets, David Jones sends this haunting dispatch from an island in shock ... and denial

Perched high on a windswept promontory overlooking an ancient Channel fortress, Gouray Church provided the suitably austere setting last Tuesday for an emotionally-charged service designed to bring comfort and unity to the scandaltorn people of Jersey.

With the island embroiled in a rapidly-evolving child sex abuse scandal, there was standing room only in the church as the Dean of Jersey, the Very Reverend Robert Key, used fire-and-brimstone rhetoric to damn those faceless perverts who, for decades, are alleged to have sexually abused vulnerable children in a grisly torture chamber beneath a now-closed children's home, just along the lane.

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Jersey school

The grim search goes on as forensic officers continue their search for more clues above and below

"We come together at a time when our island is experiencing the darkness of evil and fear,"' he intoned, his voice echoing off the thick stone walls.

"Any abuse of a child ... is not just an affront to civilised society, it is a stench in the nostrils of Almighty God!

"When the helpless are victims, He cries out to us to render them justice."

It was powerful stuff. Ironically, though, while his words were intended to draw the 90,000 islanders together after a week of unrelenting misery, they invoked sharply contrasting reactions among members of the congregation.

From their muffled sobs, the victims, mainly middle-aged and careworn now, were all-too-easily identifiable.

One ghostly-pale woman wept from start to finish.

Meanwhile, at the front of the church, the island's great and the good wore righteous expressions.

Most prominent among them was Jersey's beleaguered Chief Minister, Frank Walker, who had been heard on BBC2's Newsnight the previous evening accusing his bitter political rival, Stuart Syvret, of "trying to shaft Jersey internationally" by speaking out about the House of Horrors.

And then, finally, if one looked around for long enough, one saw others who appeared to shift a little uneasily in their pews as the Dean demanded that the culprits be called to account for their terrible sins.

The service said much about Jersey's fractured society, with its well-heeled "haves" in their elegant seafront homes, and its underbelly of "have-nots" consigned to the grim sink-estates which spawned the vulnerable, misplaced children who were, it is claimed, violated at Haut de la Garenne.

Not all that long ago, these lowly-paid casual farm labourers and dockworkers were virtual serfs in an anachronistic system which dates back to Norman times and retains strong feudal elements.

Then, they dared not criticise the island's overlords for fear of deportation, or worse.

Now, they are angry that so many suffered at Haut de la Garenne while nothing was done, and they are determined to be heard.

Their main target is Chief Minister Mr Walker, who owned Jersey's only newspaper eight years ago when it declined to publish a damning report into child sex abuse in the British crown dependency, and is now accused - fairly or otherwise - of trying to sweep this latest scandal under the carpet.

iven the untold damage it could cause to one of the world's wealthiest offshore enclaves - Jersey's income derives largely from finance houses and investors attracted by the island's discreet, respectable reputation as well as her generous tax laws - his reticence becomes perhaps more understandable.

Also, it explains the unspoken resentment among some politicians towards Deputy Chief Police Officer Lenny Harper, the "outsider" detective whose admirable determination to root out long-buried truths and bring belated "closure" for the 160 alleged victims is driving this painful investigation.

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Haut de le Garenne

Haut de le Garenne childrens home where police are investigating and searching for human remains

The antithesis of Jersey's smooth fictional sleuth, Bergerac, the balding Mr Harper - a no-nonsense, old school policeman from Londonderry - is 56 years old and due to retire this September.

After a career spanning the Met, Strathclyde and the RUC's interrogation centres in West Belfast, he says he is utterly determined to leave Jersey this autumn - whether or not he has completed his inquiry - and relax in Scotland with his wife and three grandchildren.

According to close colleagues, he is well aware that there are many who also can't wait to see the back of him.

"The day Lenny sails out of Jersey harbour, the dockside will no doubt be lined with members of the Jersey Establishment delighted to wave him goodbye," one well-placed police source told me.

Mr Harper, for his part, maintains that he is receiving all the support he needs for the swansong investigation for which he will be remembered.

When he discovered that a small number of the 40 identified suspects were still working with children, they were immediately removed to positions where they posed no threat.

Asked whether he finds it uncomfortable - in the island's goldfish bowl environment - to probe into dark matters rumoured to have been covered up (at the very least) by the senior politicians and civil servants among whom he works, he replies tersely: "I'm a cop, and cops investigate people. I don't find it difficult investigating paedophiles."

According to more colourful descriptions, the Haut de la Garenne children's home was a forbidding cross between Colditz and Bluebeard's castle. The reality is rather different.

On a sunny day, this rectangular, two-storey Victorian edifice, set amid rolling farmland replete with Jersey Royal potatoes, is an elegant building.

Only the blue tarpaulin tunnel now concealing the entrance and the occasionally frenzied barking of a sniffer-dog betray the unspeakable acts that were perpetrated against children here.

Abandoned to the 100-bed home, with its Dickensian workhouse regime and fearsome discipline (one boy had his finger severed when beaten with a sharpened cane), some were as young as eight when their innocence was violated in a 12ft square cellar hidden beneath the main entrance hall.

The questions are almost unending: why did this happen in Jersey, whose image is one of bucket and spade holidays and a timelessly bucolic ambience, reminiscent of Fifties Britain?

Why at this home, in particular? How many abusers were there, and how wide did their network spread?

The police investigation into Haut de la Garenne (which has since widened to encompass other institutions on the island) began when officers realised that several people responsible for child care had been convicted of paedophile-related offences.

When they appealed for further information, dozens of former residents began coming forward.

Statements have now been taken from some 230 people living as far away as Australia. The scale of the scandal has staggered detectives.

In the most sickening public testimony yet to emerge, one woman who spent four years at the home as a teenager in the mid-1970s described how drunken staff would dose her with Valium before using her to satisfy their macabre sexual perversions.

Sometimes they would invite friends from outside to select "weak" victims from the dorms, she said - which gives credence to fears that the house on the hill was a magnet for sexual predators in other walks of the community, and perhaps even visitors from the mainland.

"The things that happened are indescribable - the most cruel, sadistic and evil acts you could think of," said the woman, who called herself Pamela.

"I often woke up with a massive headache and bruises all over my body."

Other residents recall seeing children being snatched from the dorms, never to return.

They have spoken, too, of hearing tell-tale screams and noises of violence.

Their most chilling fears were confirmed last Saturday, when the police search team unearthed the partial remains of a child.

Meanwhile, the evidence of cruelty in the cellar continues to mount.

An old bathtub has been found down there; and builders have revealed how they stumbled upon a set of shackles while converting the home to a youth hostel in 2003.

All this leads Mr Harper to believe there are "strong indications" that more bodies will be found soon.

He believes the "culture of abuse" spanned some 30 years, and went on right up until 1986, when the home was closed as "uneconomic".

So why didn't somebody - anybody - talk before now?

In fact, some former residents claim they did; but that their warnings were ignored.

According to Senator Stuart Syvret, 42, a Left-leaning thorn in the Establishment's side, who claims to have been sacked as health minister for speaking out about the scandal, this can be explained by "a culturally appalling attitude to children in Jersey".

He points to "'failings over child protection dating back decades", and says that he still can't be sure that young people in the island's three remaining care-homes, and two adolescent units, are safe.

Jersey's child welfare system certainly lags a long way behind that in Britain.

On the mainland, broad-ranging legislation was introduced in the wake of successive scandals, and is augmented by a watchful voluntary sector.

However, according to Simon Bellwood, recently sacked as head of the Greenfields secure unit on Jersey after raising grave concerns about its system of rewarding and punishing the children in its care, such safety nets are singularly lacking in Jersey.

"The people who run the system operate in a vacuum and create their own rules," he told me.

"Any member of staff who complains is likely to end up digging potatoes for a living."

A damning indictment.

Delving deeper into the Haut de la Garenne scandal, however, one discovers that its pitifully forsaken children were, in many ways, victims of Jersey's peculiar history.

The home was opened in 1867 as an "industrial school" - an integral plank of Victorian-era social engineering, which aimed to turn delinquent boys into disciplined farm and factory workers.

It later supplied recruits to a nearby Naval training centre. (Since there appears to have been a link between sexual abuse in the Sea Cadets and the children's home, this may yet prove significant.)

But it is during the late Fifties and Sixties that sexual abuse appears to have become endemic.

In this post-War period, the proportion of children in care in Jersey sky-rocketed, greatly exceeding that on the mainland.

Historians point to a number of reasons. Jersey was invaded by German troops in 1940, and the island occupied for five years.

Before the invasion, the majority of able-bodied men were evacuated, and many unwanted babies resulted from sexual liaisons between the local women and the occupying troops.

As these abandoned children grew older, a culture of delinquency developed.

Later, when the age of sexual permissiveness arrived, the illegitimate offspring of seasonal farm workers increased their numbers.

Deputy Chief Officer of Jersey Police Lenny Harper spoke to reporters about the search

Then there were those boys and girls whose impoverished parents could not afford to keep them; and others who simply misbehaved - scrumping apples, perhaps, or stealing - only to be branded beyond parental control and packed off to the dreaded "house on the hill".

In Britain, of course, a court order would have been required to place them in care.

Yet on Jersey, incredibly, they were often deposited at the doors of Haut de la Garenne without anyone outside their families knowing their fate.

Small wonder, then, that even as late as 1989, 269 children were in care on the island - a colossal number considering the size of the population. Today the number stands at just 66.

Kenny Le Quesne, now 58, told me how his father took him there for pilfering a few pounds from his mother's purse.

Mercifully, his worst memory is of being forced to eat a bowl of gruel into which a bully had flung a piece of chewed-off fat, just like Oliver Twist.

Thus it was that more than 1,000 children spent time at the home during the years the police are investigating.

From 1960, they included girls as well as boys; and shortly thereafter, when the island's only creche was closed, abandoned babies would be taken there, too.

Disturbingly, I have discovered that entire families fell victim to the sadistic abusers of Haut de la Garenne.

For example, what 49-year-old "Pamela" did not reveal this week is that that her uncle is among those who have complained to the police.

Pamela's step-brother also disclosed that his close friend, Paul Lynn-Mulholland, is among an untold number of past residents who have committed suicide because they could not live with their demons.

His story was corroborated by Mr Mulholland's younger sister, Carol, who was among those who wept at last Tuesday's church service.

Carol, now 37, described how her parents met as teenagers in Haut de la Garenne, and went on to have two children.

But then her father committed suicide, her mother was no longer able to cope, and she and her brother Paul were sent to the home.

Carol - perhaps because she was a resilient character, she surmises - was not abused back then, but Paul claimed to have been raped, and was later diagnosed with schizophrenia.

However, his sister discovered the truth only after he took a fatal overdose six years ago.

She is convinced that the sex attack precipitated all the troubles which led to his death at the age of just 33.

"The pervert who abused my brother should be done for murder," she told me.

The name of the man alleged to have raped Mr Lynn-Mulholland has now been passed to the police, though whether it will be possible to prosecute him remains to be seen.

In all events, his friends and relatives can be sure that the dogged Lenny Harper will do his utmost to give them justice.

Although he has drawn up a list of 40 suspects, so far just one has been charged: a 76-year-old former warden at Haut de la Garenne named Gordon Charles Wateridge.

Now in hiding on Guernsey, he faces accusations of indecent assault on three girls between 1969 and 1979.

However, Mr Harper says he will continue to work slowly and methodically, as is his style, resisting the temptation to make publicity-catching arrests until he feels sure he has sufficient evidence to put before the red-robed jurors in Jersey's arcane Royal Court.

But supposing this enormously complex inquiry remains unresolved come his retirement day in September?

Surely he won't depart the island while the house on the hill sex fiends remain at large?

The veteran detective insists that he will.

But when he fixes you with an old-fashioned Londonderry stare and talks about all those tortured little children, it is hard to believe he could rest until he has closed the last file on the House of Horrors and locked all its evil predators away.

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