Governor Mark Capes failed to act on warnings of serious problems that led to St Helena being unfairly mired in scandal, according to the Wass Inquiry report.
It says he “must be held responsible” for the island being left without any social workers for nine months, and for the lack of a foster care system that resulted in a bitter court case.
Both were factors that led to shock headlines in the Daily Mail, and the launching of the Wass investigation into allegations of corruption and cover-ups of child abuse.
They also left vulnerable people with inadequate support.
Sasha Wass QC says the corruption allegations were unfounded. But she says the island “suffers from bad management” under the governor – partly because of conflict between his twin roles as head of government and head of state.
She also suggests that island’s airport project diverted him from his “primary duty… to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the people of St Helena.” He did not act properly on warnings that had been given “loudly and repeatedly”.
She adds: “…the St Helena Government has repeatedly and inexcusably failed to address issues relating to child welfare which were drawn to its attention on numerous occasions.”
She also says social work manager Claire Gannon, who made the media allegations, found chaos in the social services department when she finally arrived – unbriefed – on St Helena.
Mr Capes had failed to act on a consultant’s strong warning in 2012 that the only social worker was about to depart and needed replacing urgently.
The lack of a fostering system meant a baby had to be informally fostered by ex-pat workers on the island, prompting in a court battle that ended with criticisms of the social services.
Two investigations cleared Claire Gannon of wrongdoing but she left her job, began legal proceedings and took her allegations to a publicist, triggering the Wass Inquiry.
The report also questions Mr Capes’s performance in seven areas:
- Failure to act on concerns raised in child welfare reports
- The dilapidated state of Jamestown Hospital
- Closure of local clinics that served vulnerable people
- “Appalling neglect” of a severely disabled teenager at Barn View
- Failure to act quickly to secure new medical partnerships when flights were arranged with Johannesburg, not Cape Town
- Failure to act quickly to ensure families on Ascension would have direct access to St Helena when the RMS St Helena is retired
- Safeguarding problems caused by moving the prison.
The Wass Report says: “St Helena suffers from bad management and a lack of strategic organisation. This is not a new finding. In a DFID Social Development Advisor’s report in 2000, he observed: ‘There is little evidence of joined up thinking in SHG policy-making.’
“Governor Capes told the Inquiry Panel that the current and immediate problems in social welfare were explained to him very soon after he arrived on St Helena by social worker Viv Neary.
“From that point onwards, Governor Capes must be held responsible for the failure to act.
“There were no qualified social workers on St Helena from May 2012; efforts to find a replacement did not begin until June 2012, and it was not until February 2013 that a qualified social worker took up her post on St Helena.
“Whilst we accept that the office of governor allows for delegation of responsibility to the chief secretary and the directors of the various departments, the overall responsibility for the management of the island lies with the governor himself.”
He still had responsibility to ensure that work he passed to others was completed.
“St Helena has a population of approximately 4,000. There can be no excuse for failing to appreciate what is happening on an island with the same population as a medium-sized English village.
“The burden of making arrangements for the forthcoming airport has been substantial… whatever the reason, [Mr Capes] did not give sufficient attention to the more mundane aspects of managing St Helena.”
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