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Tag: Claire Gannon

‘No credible evidence’ as whistle-blowers are cleared again

warsama letterhead 640Experts have dismissed serious criticisms of the whistle-blowers who triggered investigations into sex abuse on St Helena.

Their professional body in London has declared there was “no credible evidence” that the two social workers were unfit to practise.

The finding renews questions about the way Claire Gannon and Martin Warsama had been publicly denounced in documents published by St Helena Government.

Attorney general Nicola Moore had issued a statement saying they had acted unprofessionally in an adoption case, without providing evidence for the claim. Later, SHG published a judge’s damning suspicions about their conduct – but two months after a criminal investigation cleared them.

Ms Moore also announced that evidence was being passed to their professional body – a matter that would normally be confidential.

The Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) has now found they had acted in the best interests of a child in the adoption case, and followed recognised good practice.

warsama letter no evidence 640
Mr Warsama said: “It was clearly rubbish and our governing body have reviewed all the information, and believe me these people are not biased toward practitioners.”

He has repeatedly stated his belief that he and Ms Gannon were being “punished” for alleging the St Helena authorities had failed to investigate sex abuse cases – some involving child victims.

“Basically we whistle-blew and the whole establishment tried to destroy us,” said Mr Warsama.

He said he and Ms Gannon had been unable to take up secure jobs in UK social work while threats of criminal prosecution and a professional fitness hearing hung over them.

They told the UK’s Daily Telegraph of living under enormous strain.

In November 2014, the UK Foreign Secretary announced an independent inquiry into their allegations of cover-ups of abuse cases, and into the governance of the island. Sasha Wass QC was expected to publish her findings before the end of 2015.

The complaint to the HCPC was made after an eight-month investigation failed to secure clear evidence of criminal conduct by the two UK social workers in the adoption case, which was not related to the alleged sex abuse issues.

It was launched after Judge Charles Ekins said he suspected they had withheld case files. He urged a review of the papers by an independent lawyer to see whether anyone had committed perjury – a serious crime that can carry a long prison term.

The attorney general’s statement in February 2015 said evidence from a later police investigation was reviewed “by a second independent counsel, appointed as Public Prosecutor of St Helena specifically to undertake this task.

“Counsel concluded that some of the actions of the suspected persons were ill-advised, unprofessional and showed poor judgment but that there was insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction.”

But the HCPC’s letter to Mr Warsama says there is “no credible evidence to suggest your fitness to practise is impaired.

“We received no evidence to substantiate the allegations against you, and the criminal investigation concluded with no evidence being taken against you.

“On this basis, we will not be pursuing the concern further, and the case is closed.”

Claire Gannon has been advised not to share information with the media until the findings of the Wass inquiry are published. It is understood the HCPC’s letter to her went into more detail, because she had closer involvement in the adoption case.

St Helena Government has refused to reveal the name of the public prosecutor cited by Ms Moore, on the grounds that it would prejudice the administration of justice on the island – though it is not clear how.

Ms Moore offered no evidence to justify her criticism of the social workers – who were not named in her statement – but Judge Ekins later made the extraordinary move of publishing his ruling in the adoption case, even though family matters are normally kept confidential.

No reason was given for publishing the ruling, which voiced strong suspicions of wrongdoing by the social workers. Crucially, it was made public two months after they had been cleared.

The findings of the professional body directly contradicted criticisms made by Judge Ekins.

Ms Gannon and Mr Warsama are continuing to try to bring a case for unfair dismissal over the saga.

Ms Gannon resigned after being suspended from her post as St Helena’s senior social worker. Mr Warsama was told he had failed to pass his period of probation in his job, only weeks after being promoted.

Mr Warsama asked: “Will SHG now apologise, given everything thrown at us?”

St Helena Government said it had no comment to make.

SEE ALSO:
Criminal investigation clears sex abuse whistle-blowers
MP voices concerns as police investigate their accusers

After a ‘terrifying’ year, whistle-blower talks of retribution
Top barrister to investigate sex abuse ‘cover up’ claims
Judge goes public on adoption case accusations that led to investigation of social workers

Judge offers comfort over tales of power and abuse – but says No to London jobs hearing for whistle-blowers

A judge has spoken of “disturbing” claims made about sex abuse on St Helena and the way the island is governed – after ruling he could not hear a case brought by social workers.

Claire Gannon and Martin Warsama claimed they suffered unfair treatment because they were whistle-blowers who exposed failures to investigate abuse properly.

They have now been told they cannot bring a case for unfair dismissal in London, rather than on St Helena.

But their allegations of a cover-up and failures to investigate abuse cases had already prompted the UK Government to set up an independent inquiry under Sasha Wass QC.

Judge Anthony Snelson ruled that the London Employment Tribunal did not have jurisdiction in the case because the pair were employed by the government of St Helena.

But at the end of an 18-page ruling, he said: “… nothing in these reasons should be taken as diminishing the concerns which the claimants have voiced about the welfare of children on St Helena and governance generally on the island.

“I hope that is some comfort to them to know that, given the announcement of an inquiry to be conducted by Sasha Wass QC, a notable member of the criminal Bar, there is now a real prospect of light being shed on the disturbing tale which they have told.”

The pair had argued that although they signed contracts with St Helena Government, their real employers were either the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) or the Department for International Development (DFID), or both.

They said that DFID funded their jobs and FCO officials directed their work.

In written evidence, they also referred to the extent of the power exercised by Governor Mark Capes.

Mr Warsama’s deposition said: “The St Helena Government is simply a front for the FCO and DFID… It does exactly what the governor instructs it to do. Effectively the governor is the local government and he himself is merely an employee and agent of the FCO.”

As an example, they referred to Mr Capes’s decision to dissolve the island’s legislative council in 2013 at an hour’s notice, several weeks before calling an election – an action for which he has never given any explanation.

Claire Gannon’s written evidence said: “When I arrived at St Helena and the chief secretary told me that nothing happens on the island without the governor’s knowledge or permission, what seemed to be an extreme statement proved to be true.”

The two social workers claimed that Mark Capes dealt with them under instruction from officials in London, but the judge accepted evidence that he simply consulted and took soundings – not orders. There was “no evidence” they were employed by FCO or DFID.

Crucially, the claimants said that when they warned the FCO about police and officials on St Helena, their concerns were passed to the governor – in breach of their right to confidentiality.

Sasha Wass has been commissioned to investigate the handling of sex abuse cases on St Helena and allegations of a cover-up, made by Martin Warsama and Claire Gannon as part of their case.

When he announced the inquiry, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the claims related to “child abuse in the territory, police corruption and incompetence, and a conspiracy by the St Helena Government, the FCO and DFID to cover these up.”

The FCO had already acted on anonymous allegations made in 2012 about cases not being properly investigated.

Ms Wass has been given scope to look at a range of issues, including:

  • SHG response to independent reports on abuse, and on the police
  • the role of FCO and DFID
  • response to specific incidents involving children
  • the relationship between social services the police – in the past and now
  • treatment of people who raise concerns, including whistle-blowers
  • how SHG handles abuse cases in general

It can also review other matters that arise during the investigation – and consider whether criminal investigation is needed.

It is not known how far the inquiry panel will investigate the issues raised by the social workers about the way the governor’s powers are exercised.

The allegations of a cover-up of abuse – also raised by Claire Gannon and Martin Warsama – are likely to be of far greater concern.

St Helena Government has made child safeguarding a top priority and now has a number of measures in place to protect children.

An outline of the Wass inquiry panel’s work is due in March 2015, with a final report by the UK summer of 2015.

‘Horror’ of child sex going unchecked – social workers’ claims

Claire Gannon and Martin Warsama told of “the sheer horror” of finding widespread child abuse on St Helena, in sworn legal documents submitted to their employment tribunal pre-hearing.

And they spoke of the stress of trying to work in what Britain’s Foreign Secretary has called a “difficult” relationship with police.

Claire Gannon wrote in her evidence about returning from leave over Christmas 2013.

“The hostile working environment was as before,” she said. “The police still refused to work with us on safeguarding issues and sought to undermine and frustrate our work.”

Police have previously strenuously denied such claims.

But the same criticisms were levelled in the leaked first draft of the report the FCO commissioned from the “respected” Lucy Faithfull Foundation – which named police officer Jeromy Cairns-Wicks as a probable paedophile.

Only later was he prosecuted and jailed for 11 years for prolonged child sex abuse.

The social workers’ evidence may never be tested and challenged in open court, because of the judge’s ruling that the employment case cannot legally be heard in the UK.

The preliminary hearing was held simply to decide whether the law allowed the unfair dismissal claims to be heard in London, not St Helena. The broader evidence in the case was not considered.

Martin Warsama’s submission told how he asked for extended leave over Christmas 2013 to recuperate from the strain of the job.

He said: “I had been exhausted by the enormous workload, the harassment and the sheer horror of the widespread and un-addressed child abuse on the island.”

He said St Helena Government refused the leave request, but that the Department for International Development (DFID), which paid his salary, agreed to it.

Mr Warsama’s evidence told how the island’s Chief Secretary asked DFID to help after they first raised confidential concerns as whistle-blowers. He said they were given more leave and better pay to help them cope with the stress.

He said the chief secretary also agreed to implement the recommendations of the Lucy Faithfull report.

Mr Warsama’s salary rose from £42,000 to £47,000 and his job title was changed to become a social services manager.

But then concerns were raised in a court hearing on Ascension about the handling of an adoption case, completely unrelated to the sex abuse issues.

Claire Gannon was one of “a number of officials” suspended over the affair in May 2014, according to the UK Government statement announcing the Wass Inquiry.

Ms Gannon resigned, claiming constructive dismissal – meaning that she felt she had been forced out of her job.

Mr Warsama was dismissed outright for failing to complete his probation period satisfactorily – despite having been promoted part-way through it. He claimed unfair dismissal.

St Helena Government said on 5 February 2015 that investigations into the adoption case were continuing.

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