In February / March, the newspapers were full of horrified speculation about the uncovering of decades of abuse at the Haut de la Garenne childrens’ home, with former residents telling their stories of brutality and rape ther. There were even bodies buried there, said some.
Police started digging, a dog trained to sniff out cadavers was bought in. When it became known that the dog had marked seven spots in and around the building, the news media went into overdrive; when shackles and bones were discovered, they went into frenzy. “Body found amid fears of child abuse ring on Jersey” was one of the more restrained headlines. It became obvious that a large-scale paedophile ring, involving many prominent Jersey men, had been uncovered.
Or had it?
Nearly two months on, what have the police actually discovered? Well, there were human remains buried there; to be precise, a part of a child’s skull. Because of the soil conditions, carbon-dating it is impossible and the police admit that they have little idea of when it was buried, except that it was probably “placed” where it was found sometime after the 1920s (and note that word “placed”). Other bones that were uncovered turned out to be animal. Nothing was found at the other six spots that the oh-so-clever dog had indicated. The shackles that everybody got excited about had been used for animals when the place was a farm, as had the ominous concrete bath in the cellar.
So, apart from that single piece of bone, all the evidence consists of stories and hearsay from decades back. Sounds familiar? Yes, if you’re familiar with the Satanic Ritual Abuse panic of the 1980s, and – especially – the stories of sex abuse in care homes in the 1990s.
This story is following the familiar arc of police using the media to appeal for former care home residents to come forward with their stories of abuse, and accepting these stories completely uncritically. Already, several former Haut de la Garenne workers have been named as suspects in the investigation; these people are discovering what hundreds of former care home workers in mainland UK have already discovered – that it is well-nigh impossible to prove that you didn’t rape children in your charge thirty or more years before.
So where are the critical voices in this investigation? Who is asking the sceptical questions? Not many, it seems. So far, only Richard Webster, who published a detailed expose of the Bryn Estyn care home scandel and who now sees the same pattern of media hysteria and witch-hunting developing in Jersey.
Will anybody listen to him this time? Probably not. The meedja like nothing more than a juicy story of abuse, violence and but-think-of-the-children wailing; why bother to print the inconvenient facts?