Jersey Police Chief Suspended After Police Rule Out Murders At Children’s Home
Jersey’s police chief was suspended today after confirmation that suspicious bone fragments found at Haut de la Garenne were up to 500 years old, and that there was no evidence to back up claims of murder at a former children’s home dubbed the island’s “house of horrors”.
Graham Power, Chief Officer of the States of Jersey Police, was relieved of his duties pending an inquiry into his role in the high-profile investigation into events at the hostel, which closed in 1986.
Frank Walker, the island’s Chief Minister, said that he was concerned about the damage done to Jersey’s reputation by the scandal. He estimated the cost of the investigation at £4.5 million – £1.5 million of which was spent digging at the site.
“I am disappointed to learn that the investigation has not been undertaken in the manner in which it should have been,” Mr Walker told a press conference in St Helier this afternoon. “It would appear there have been certain sums of money that did not need to have been spent.”
The investigation in question was led not by Mr Power but by his combative and outspoken deputy, Lenny Harper, who left no stone unturned during his inquiries – almost literally. Mr Harper retired in August, complaining beforehand that he had been obstructed by the island’s “old boys’ network”.
Today’s suspension was prompted by the findings of the two officers who have led the investigation since Mr Harper’s departure. The new Deputy Chief Officer, David Warcup, definitively ruled out murder at Haut de la Garenne, where it had been suggested that youngsters might have been murdered and dismembered.
“There is no suggestion there has been murder or any bodies destroyed,” Mr Warcup said. “It is very unfortunate and I have much regret that information has been given by police that was not strictly accurate.”
His colleague Detective Superintendent Michael Gradwell, who has day-to-day control of the investigation, went on to discredit many of the findings announced since the operation went public in February after the discovery of what was thought to be part of a child’s skull. Experts later said that it was a piece of coconut shell from the 19th century.
Mr Gradwell said that the belief that forensic teams had uncovered secret underground chambers which some victims referred to as punishment rooms where they were kept in solitary confinement, drugged, beaten and raped was “wrong”. They were “just cellars”.
Referring to metal found in the cellar which detectives had thought might have been used as shackles, he said: “There was no evidence or indication to suggest this is anything suspicious…What we are saying today is that this is just rusty metal.”
He said that the bones which had been taken as evidence of murder at the children’s home dated “from 1470 to 1670” – well before the building was built.
Mr Gradwell, who in his previous job with Lancashire Police led the investigation into the death of 19 Chinese cockle-pickers at Morecambe Bay, added: “The purpose of today is to say there is a child abuse inquiry but in terms of Haut de la Garenne, there was no murder.”
But he shied away from blaming Mr Harper, adding: “I am not judge, juror or executioner – I am not looking to apportion blame.”
The officers’ statements are likely to prove highly controversial on the island, where campaigners have called on the UK Government to intervene and set up a homicide inquiry.
So far three people have been charged and are awaiting trial in the abuse inquiry launched in 2006.
Senator Stuart Syvret, a former minister for health and social services, had claimed earlier that officers were trying to “rubbish” Mr Harper’s work by denying any children were murdered.
He said that the press conference was being held “to attempt to smear and rubbish the work of Lenny Harper and thus attempt to justify the dismissal and abandoning of certain aspects of the Haute de la Garenne investigation, including the possibility of child deaths having occurred there, and certain of the more serious abuse claims”.
Mr Harper, who is now living in Ayrshire, Scotland, defended himself for raising fears children were murdered. He told the BBC: “My first reaction is of great disappointment at the blatant misrepresentation of things that I am supposed to have said, by David Warcup. I really don’t understand that.
“He says that we were claiming there was a murder… I always said all along that we had no evidence of homicide. We were treating the scene as a homicide scene, but there was no evidence of homicide and I would have thought Mr Warcup would have understood the difference between the two.”