St Helena Government (SHG) today welcomes publication of the Wass Inquiry Report into Allegations Surrounding Child Safeguarding Issues on St Helena and Ascension Island – which follows an independent and comprehensive review of claims relating to child abuse on St Helena and Ascension Island carried out by Sasha Wass QC and the Inquiry team. The team visited St Helena and Ascension Island in March of this year. The report was published at 09.40hrs today in the UK Parliament, by means of a Written Ministerial Statement by Minister for the British Overseas Territories James Duddridge. Both the statement and the report can be viewed on the FCO website at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/484129/51735_Wass_Inquiry_Web_Accessible_PDF.pdf
SHG acknowledges and reaffirms the independence and credibility of this Inquiry – which received its full support and cooperation – and accepts the report’s recommendations. Executive Council welcomes today’s publication of the report as an essential step towards securing St Helena’s good name.
At this early stage, we note in particular the following broad findings and recommendations:
· The report refutes the claim that child abuse is endemic on St Helena. It states: ‘The Inquiry Panel found no evidence that child abuse was either endemic or routine’
· Nor was there a cover up or corruption. The report ‘found no evidence of corruption in the St Helena Police Service, the St Helena Government, the FCO or DFID. Nor was there any evidence of a cover up, as suggested to the public.’
· The report finds that media headlines in 2014 were sensational and ‘gave a totally misleading and distorted view of the people of St Helena and of the institutions that serve them.’
· The report acknowledges that child sex abuse does happen on the Island, as in any country in the world
· The report highlights serious management failings on St Helena going back many years and makes various recommendations, including on recruitment, handovers, induction and training – which SHG accepts and has started to implement
· The report notes poor standards of facilities, including at the Hospital, CBU and Barn View. In this context, SHG notes the Ebony View development, and the refurbishment of the Hospital and Barn View
· The report found no evidence of police corruption or paedophilia on Ascension Island
· The report notes that attention needs to be given to the travel needs of St Helenians living on Ascension Island post-RMS, although this has recently been overtaken by the selection of Comair to provide an air service between Ascension Island and St Helena
· The report observes that an anomaly in the jurisdiction between St Helena and Ascension Island relating to the sentencing of offenders to community orders needs to be dealt with. This will be one of a number of priorities
· The report recommends that ‘no further reports should be requested by either the St Helena Government or the FCO without first determining whether the area of concern has been dealt with previously by an earlier study.’
Significant progress has been made in safeguarding on St Helena over recent years and months, including the creation of a new dedicated Safeguarding Directorate, improved care facilities, extra specialist staff, and better training for those working with children. All of this is bringing strong results in case management, protection, investigations and successful prosecutions.
We will continue to work closely with FCO and DFID to ensure we do all we can to protect children and the vulnerable. We know that there are concerns about abuse, as there are in any community, but solid progress continues to be made in improving our safeguarding capabilities.
In conclusion, SHG and the UK Government take all accusations of child abuse extremely seriously and we are committed to ensuring that victims are heard and protected. Child abuse is a scourge that is totally unacceptable, but it is not unique to St Helena. Much safeguarding work was underway here before the Inquiry was established and has been carried out since the team departed the Island – but there is clearly more to be done.
Of course, it would be naive to think that Government can tackle all of this alone. Everyone on St Helena and Ascension Island has a responsibility to work together to help to protect the vulnerable in our community and anyone with information that would assist the authorities is urged to come forward in confidence.
SHG will now study the report’s findings in detail and in response will develop a plan of action and timetable, working closely with all stakeholders. With the Wass Inquiry recommendations on which to build, we will benchmark our delivery against UK standards and continue to strive for further improvements on St Helena, including beyond the scope of this Inquiry.
A copy of the Inquiry report will shortly be made available on the SHG website, and hard copies will be placed in the Public Library, the Human Rights Office and the Public Solicitor’s Office.