At last, the truth about Attorney General being suspended. But you didn’t hear it from St Helena’s ‘open’ government

The people of St Helena were never told that the man who wrote their laws had been suspended while a criminal investigation took place.

They were told only that Frank Wastell was leaving the island “for personal reasons”.

Even when it was announced that the investigation had ended with no criminal charges, his name was not mentioned – despite the clear public interest.

The affair is likely to be seen by many as a cover-up by St Helena Government, albeit only a “passive” failure to release embarrassing information.

Few details have been disclosed about the investigation into the conduct of government staff, beyond the fact that it involved suggestions of lying to the island’s Supreme Court or attempting to pervert the course of justice.

Both are extremely serious matters that can result in a prison sentence.

No suggestion has been made that all those involved were suspected of crime – merely that people had been suspended while it was established whether any person was culpable.

Making the affair public might have undermined confidence in the justice system on St Helena, already damaged by allegations about failures to prosecute sex offenders.

The truth emerged in a court judgement given in an employment tribunal case brought by the two social workers caught up in the affair, Martin Warsama and Claire Gannon.

Judge Anthony Snelson’s ruling on 30 January 2015 revealed that Frank Wastell and Claire Gannon had been suspended from duty seven months earlier over the conduct of an adoption case.

The decision had been made by Acting Governor Sean Burns after consulting with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London.

On 5 February 2015, St Helena Online asked whether Mr Wastell had been “advised/encouraged to resign”. The government press office declined to comment, confirming that criminal investigations were still ongoing.

A decision was made not to run a story on St Helena Online at that late stage because of doubts about fair treatment of Mr Wastell and others involved. It appeared unlikely that a criminal case would arise.

It was also understood the roots of the affair lay in an act of kindness by Mr Wastell that later placed him in a compromising legal position.

Criticism had been levelled by the island’s Chief Justice, Charles Ekins, who heard the adoption case.

The government may have had little choice but to suspend Mr Wastell because of the impossibility of having an attorney general in post while a criminal inquiry was going on.

But it never admitted it had removed him from his duties.

At one stage his office was reported to have been sealed off by police.

Islanders were told only that Mr Wastell was “returning to the UK for personal reasons,”

A press release was issued on 2 June 2014, saying that Mr Wastell would be “returning to the UK for personal reasons” at the end of July. He was formally suspended two weeks later.

The statement said: “Frank has been an integral part of St Helena Government’s legal team since joining as Crown Counsel in 2006.

“He subsequently became Solicitor General and later Attorney General of St Helena, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha in 2013, having served several years acting up in that role since 2006.”

In the same release, Mr Wastell said he and his wife Lorna would never forget the friendship of people on all three islands, and “the vast majority” of his colleagues.

“St Helena and her people will have about as special a place in our hearts as it is possible to have,” he said, “and although we have had to make this decision to leave now, I can say it is with the deepest sadness that we go.”

SEE ALSO: 
Attorney General to leave St Helena – press release

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