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Tag: Sasha Wass QC

No cover-up, no corruption, no routine abuse: Wass inquiry dismisses claims that ‘grossly and unfairly’ tainted St Helena

Allegations of corruption and of child abuse being covered up on St Helena and Ascension Island have been searingly dismissed at the end of a 13-month inquiry.

Sasha Wass QC and her inquiry team found no justification for “lurid” headlines in the Daily Mail.

“St Helena and its people have been grossly and unfairly tarnished by the allegations which the inquiry was asked to investigate”, she says.

A report leaked to the paper by social worker Claire Gannon was found to have been “compromised” by her own unfounded evidence to the Lucy Faithfull Foundation.

Evidence given to the Wass Inquiry by her fellow social worker Martin Warsama was also dismissed.

Its report – published by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office yesterday (10 December 2015) – says:

“The Inquiry Panel found no evidence that child abuse was either endemic or routine.

“The allegations made by Claire Gannon and Martin Warsama were taken extremely seriously by the inquiry and much of the inquiry’s time was spent investigating what they said in order to establish whether it had any foundation.

“Having conducted this detailed exercise, the inquiry panel was able to demonstrate that there was no truth in the sweeping assertion made by Claire Gannon and Martin Warsama that St Helena was a ‘paedophiles’ paradise’ or that the police and government were corrupt.

“Inevitably, we examined the conduct of Claire Gannon and Martin Warsama themselves.

“The panel was left in no doubt that each of them was professionally incompetent and unable to fulfil the terms of their employment.

“We have considered in detail the cases cited by Ms Gannon and Mr Warsama in which they have alleged corruption in others and have been able to dismiss their claims.”

But Claire Gannon and Martin Warsama may nonetheless have been responsible for spurring officials in London and Jamestown to take proper steps to protect children.

The Wass Report says:

“Following the sensational allegations made in the Daily Mail in July 2014, the St Helena Government has made a concerted effort to address safeguarding.

“One witness told the inquiry panel: ‘It took two of the most incompetent people that I have ever met to go to the papers and exaggerate, for St Helena to give social services the resources it needed.'”


Daily Mail tricked into printed lurid stories based on ‘compromised’ abuse report

Governor ‘failed to act on urgent warnings’

Governor Mark Capes was given urgent warnings of problems with social work and legal problems on St Helena and Ascension Island – and failed to act on them.

As a result, Claire Gannon arrived to take up her social services post and found “chaos”, says the Wass Report into the handling of child abuse on the islands.

Mr Capes had earlier been warned that the island was about to be left without a qualified social worker.

He also failed to act on a warning about the lack of a formal fostering system on St Helena.

That led to complications in a court case that resulted in Claire Gannon and the island’s then attorney general being suspended.

The social worker resigned in protests and went on to leak the damaging Lucy Faithfull Foundation report on abuse, resulting in global damage to the island’s reputation.

Mr Capes also failed to act after former PC Michael Anderson told how a sex offender convicted on Ascension council was then able to escape punishment for breaching his community order when on St Helena.

The Wass report says: “Governor Capes’ attention was specifically drawn to matters which required urgent consideration by an email from Viv Neary, the child protection coordinator for British Overseas Territories, in March 2012.

“These included the lack of a formal arrangement for fostering children on the island; and the fact that the only qualified social worker was due to leave in May 2012 with no replacement ready to take over.

Neither of those two matters was resolved by the governor, and his failure to heed the warnings given to him directly impacted on the complications that arose during the Child F adoption case in late 2013 and early 2014.

PC Anderson’s complaint also remained unresolved when the inquiry team arrived on St Helena in March 2015.

“Mr Anderson specifically complained about a case in which a sex offender had been convicted on Ascension Island and sentenced to a community order by the Ascension Island Magistrates’ Court.

“The man in question was deported to St Helena, where he breached the community order. He was brought before the same chief magistrate who had sentenced him and who was now presiding over the St Helena Magistrates’ Court.

“The St Helena Magistrates’ Court had no power to deal with the breach of a community order which had been imposed by the Ascension Island Magistrates’ Court.

“In giving his judgment in October 2012, the chief magistrate made it plain that this matter required urgent action and that the passing of an ordinance would resolve the matter quickly.

“The St Helena Government had failed to deal with it by March 2015, when the Inquiry Panel visited the island. We can find no excuse for this oversight.

“Governor Capes did act in respect of another of former Police Constable Anderson’s legitimate concerns, namely the lack of licensing laws on Ascension Island.”

Children were spending their evening in bars with their parents – leading to reports of social problems.

As a result, a new law was passed preventing children from entering bars.

Gannon found ‘chaos’ after governor left island without social worker

Claire Gannon arrived to find chaos and a lack of staff in St Helena’s social services department thanks to government failures to take recruitment seriously, the Wass Report says.

Governor Mark Capes failed to act on a warning that the only qualified social worker was about to leave the island in 2011 and needed to be replaced urgently, it says.

She had not been briefed to expect anything like the problems she encountered – but that did not excuse the way she went on to act, says Sasha Wass QC.

The report criticised the island government for failing to fill crucial posts quickly.

“The only qualified social worker on St Helena left her post in May 2012 and it was not until June 2012 that the St Helena Government even started advertising for qualified social workers to work on the island.

“Claire Gannon was appointed to take up the post in early 2013. St Helena Social Services had been without a qualified social worker on the island for a period of nine months.

“Claire Gannon was presented with a chaotic and unmanned social services department on her arrival on St Helena.

“Her lack of recent experience in front-line social work meant that she found herself completely out of her depth.

“Although this cannot excuse the unprofessional behaviour she went on to exhibit, it should be recognised that Claire Gannon was not properly briefed for the task that confronted her when she arrived on St Helena in February 2013.”

After a ‘terrifying’ year, whistle-blower talks of retribution

Martin Warsama is angry and he’s talking revenge.

It was “terrifying”, he says, to find himself being investigated by the very police force he’d accused of corruption and covering up sex abuse on St Helena.

“It’s been absolutely horrible. It’s been frightening. How can it be right for a police force to investigate the very people who’ve whistle-blown against them? It’s madness.”

St Helena Government has insisted the “close involvement” of another police force meant there was no potential for “inappropriate influence” by police. Try telling that to Martin Warsama.

He and his fellow social worker, Claire Gannon, have now been cleared of any criminal wrong-doing in a family case that actually had nothing to do with the sex abuse scandal. They feared they might face trial on St Helena.

“I have had a year of being terrified, absolutely terrified,” he says.

“They took over my life and Claire Gannon’s life for nothing, for simply doing our jobs, trying to protect vulnerable adults and children.

“They have made our lives a misery for over a year and they’re not going to get away with it because now the boot’s on the other foot. They have to pay for what they have done.”

On the afternoon of Friday, 20 February 2015, he got a phone call from his solicitor saying that an investigation lasting nearly a year had failed to find evidence against them in the family case. They were not told why it took so long.

But in the evening, very briefly, the inner dread returned. “I had a panic attack. I had to tell myself it’s stopped… it’s all over. They can’t get me now.

“This is what all this threat of prosecution has been about – ‘scare them witless and keep their mouths shut.’ But it hasn’t worked, has it?

“This has cost thousands of pounds and the governor is trying to save face. And if the governor wants to have a go at me, let him try.”

Recent statements by Governor Mark Capes and Councillor Les Baldwin do appear to suggest – at the very least – a charm offensive. They assured people that sex abuse was now being taken very seriously. One statement was put out just before new evidence was revealed in an employment tribunal judgement, and the second just before it emerged there was no crime in the adoption case.

And in her own statement, the Attorney General did not merely state that the outcome of the investigation: it also cited criticisms made by the independent counsel.

He says he was not told about the statement before it was published. When he found out, he was outraged. He says he has never seen the counsel’s findings, and does not know the basis for the criticisms. He does not even know the name of his accuser.

(For the record, it should be stated that at no time has it been deliberately implied that there was any dishonesty on the part of the Attorney General in reporting these comments: but it is a matter of legitimate concern when highly critical statements cannot be tested by the public, the media or the people criticised, because the source is not open to scrutiny).

A week after learning they’d been cleared, the social workers handed bundles of written evidence to Sasha Wass, the Queen’s Counsel appointed by the British government to investigate their claims that police had allowed alleged sex abusers to go unpunished. Police officers have vehemently denied the claims, but there have since been successful prosecutions.

“We have the evidence, we are going to produce that to Sasha Wass, and we are going to take people down,” said Martin Warsama before the meeting on 27 February 2015.

“We challenged police practices and they didn’t like it.

“I want them to know we’re not victims any more. Now we are coming for them.”

What’s kept him going for the past year, he says, is “knowing that the truth will out. And it will come out.

“You question your sanity. But we have stood fast, because what we are telling is the truth.”

Warsama and Gannon both live only half an hour’s drive from Rotherham, the UK town where police and council officials were found to have allowed more than a thousand girls to be sexually assaulted and raped by organised gangs over many years. An inquiry found they silenced social workers who tried to raise the alarm.

What happened on St Helena was on nothing like the same scale, but comparisons are inevitable.

“Les Baldwin said it’s just like any other place in Britain. Yeah, it is – it’s like Rotherham. Where the councillors, the police and every bureaucrat was in complete denial and they bullied whistle-blowers.

“I don’t want it to go in the paper that we are completely wounded, that we are just relieved they have done away, that we’re victims. We are victims. But these victims have got up and we’re going to fight back.”

But Martin Warsama knows there is another kind of victim in the St Helena abuse scandal.

“This is what I want them to know,” he says. “Tell them this: we have been contacted by numerous Saints who live in this country who have been abused for years, who are now thanking us for being able to come forward.

“And they will come forward. And they are coming forward.”

Top barrister to investigate sex abuse ‘cover up’ claims

An alleged conspiracy to cover up a report on child abuse on St Helena and Ascension Island is to be investigated by the barrister who prosecuted the TV entertainer Rolf Harris.

Sasha Wass QC is expected to travel to the South Atlantic territories once she has made initial inquiries.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the investigation must protect victims but be “as transparent as possible”.

St Helena Government released only a three-page summary of the Lucy Faithfull Foundation’s 2013 report, claiming most of it could not be made public because of the need to protect victims.

Leaked extracts published by the St Helena Independent showed that much of the content did not present any such risk. Its coverage also showed that criticism of the police had been toned down to the point of misrepresentation.

By comparison, a similar report on organised abuse of teenage girls in Rotherham, in the UK, was published almost in its entirety – in the public interest.

Both reports made it clear that child abuse had been allowed to continue because police and officials were unwilling to acknowledge the issue. The Times exposed earlier efforts to cover up what was happening in Rotherham.

Several councillors on St Helena pressed for the Lucy Faithfull Report to be published in full once a first-draft had been posted on the internet.

Governor Mark Capes said it was “reprehensible” and “callous” for people to call for the full version to be made public – without acknowledging this could be done without identifying victims.

In a statement issued on 20 August 2014, he said:

The work of Police and Social Service Officers can be seriously damaged and undermined by breaches of trust and confidentiality, even more so in such a small community as ours. One might think this should be glaringly obvious to most people.

“To support publication of a confidential report about child protection, knowing that it would be likely to damage efforts to improve performance in that area and cause grief to victims and families that have had to deal with abuse, is reprehensible.”

He did not explain how full publication would damage work to deal with abuse. The leaked first draft of the report suggested that problems had become widespread because of a culture of silence.

The investigation will look into the conduct of the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development, as well as the island government.

In a Written Ministerial Statement, Philip Hammond said serious allegations had been made by former employees of “the authorities” on St Helena:

“These allegations involve claims relating to child abuse in the territory, police corruption and incompetence, and a conspiracy by the St Helena Government (SHG), the FCO and DFID to cover these up.

“We are bound to take such allegations extremely seriously. Former FCO Minister for Overseas Territories [Mark Simmonds] announced to the House of Commons on 21 July the establishment of an independent inquiry to establish the truth of these allegations and make recommendations as appropriate.

“I am pleased to inform the House that I have agreed that Ms. Sasha Wass QC should lead this inquiry. Ms Wass is a very accomplished barrister with substantial professional experience of dealing with these kinds of issues. I am confident that she will lead this inquiry with great rigour, fairness and sensitivity.

“Matters of child safety require discretion and confidentiality. The issues self-evidently involve vulnerable people, whose privacy must be protected and confidences respected. I am certain this inquiry will do that. But it is also important that this process is as transparent as possible.”

The barrister – who secured the conviction and imprisonment of the entertainer Rolf Harris on sex charges – will assemble a team of independent experts to help her. She is due to report by the UK summer of 2015.

Mr Hammond said: “Since allegations relating to child safety were first raised in late 2012, the British government has been swift to ensure that they were investigated appropriately.

“We commissioned the respected Lucy Faithfull Foundation to conduct an initial review, which was then followed by an investigation by Northumbria Police. The reports made important recommendations, which the authorities on St Helena are working to implement with support from the UK.

“A number of arrests and convictions for child sex offences have also occurred.

“More, however, needs to be done. This new inquiry will not be quick. But it will be thorough. And I am confident that the facts will be established.”

Read more: 
St Helena child abuse inquiry launched – BBC
Written Ministerial Statement on St Helena child abuse inquiry
(includes link to the Terms of Reference)




Ascension case led to whistle-blower’s abuse claims

Police and social workers were unable to work together properly in the wake of findings about child abuse on St Helena and Ascension, a new document reveals.

It also tells how a number of officials were suspended after St Helena’s Chief Justice raised concerns about an adoption case on Ascension in March 2014.

The islands’ senior social work manager resigned and made the allegations of a cover-up of the Lucy Faithfull Report findings. They reached the ears of ministers at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).

The background to the affair is set out in the terms of reference for the inquiry to be conducted by Sasha Wass QC – published on 20 November 2014.

It says:

“In November 2012, the FCO received anonymous allegations in relation to St Helena and Ascension that sexual offenses against children were not being properly investigated or prosecuted and that the Saint Helena Police Service (SHPS) in particular was failing in its duty to children and vulnerable adults.

“A number of separate investigations were undertaken, including in response to further allegations. On the basis of recommendations made by the investigations, the St. Helena authorities responded with action plans to address the deficiencies identified.

“Relations between St Helena’s Social Services and the SHPS remained difficult however, leading to a breakdown in the professional relationship between the two organisations.

“In March 2014, St Helena’s Chief Justice expressed concern about the conduct of St Helena Government (SHG) officials during an adoption case in Ascension and recommended an independent barrister-led review into whether any wrong-doing had been committed.

“A number of officials were subsequently suspended pending a police investigation.

“In July, the FCO received a letter of resignation from the suspended senior social work manager alleging detriment for whistle-blowing.

“In a separate document prepared for an employment tribunal, the former employee made a substantial number of separate allegations relating to specific child safety incidents on St Helena and Ascension, the response of the local government authorities, and the role of the FCO and DFID.

“A separate but similar document from another former employee of Social Services echoed these allegations.

“In response, the then Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs agreed to establish an independent panel of experts to investigate these allegations and any related matters which the panel thought pertinent.”