St Helena’s top lawyer told abuse investigators they would not be allowed to see the police and social services files that were “essential” to their inquiry.
Attorney general Nicola Moore told governor Mark Capes the inquiry team “had no legal authority on the island”.
Governor Capes could have solved the problem at a stroke – but did not do so for several weeks, Sasha Wass QC reveals in her inquiry report.
He failed to use his power to grant access until days before the inquiry team was due to depart for Ascension Island and St Helena.
Sasha Wass says the then foreign secretary William Hague had promised “access to all relevant papers”, including in the files of St Helena Government (SHG).
“Despite this, the St Helena attorney general informed me by email that the inquiry would not be allowed access to police and social services files.
“These files contained the essential material which the inquiry was established to investigate.
“Had this state of affairs persisted, the inquiry would have been unable to operate on St Helena.
“The governor had not only publicly supported the inquiry but I had also met him on 8 December in London and he had assured me of his full cooperation and assistance.
“However, despite the journey to St Helena being booked and paid for and diaries having been cleared for a visit in March 2015, weeks passed without this problem being resolved.
“I was concerned that the inquiry panel would travel to St Helena and find itself unable to undertake a full investigation.”
But then the FCO lawyer, Mark Waring, found that the solution was “as simple as it was straightforward.”
She says: “The governor, acting as the Queen’s representative on the island, had the power simply to direct that the inquiry could operate freely and ensure that the St Helena Government facilitate the inquiry to look at every relevant file as it wished.”
A senior official at the FCO told the inquiry panel: “The St Helena attorney general was right that there was no constitutional mechanism which allows the FCO to instruct the St Helena Government.
“But the governor, acting as head of St Helena Government, could have cut through this. I am not sure why that did not happen.”
Had the inquiry remained blocked, Ms Wass would not have been able to dismiss reports that had “unfairly tarnished” the island’s reputation.