St Helena Online

Tag: Frank Wastell

Criminal investigation clears sex abuse whistle-blowers

An eight-month criminal investigation has failed to find evidence to justify a prosecution of former St Helena Government staff, including the social workers who raised the alarm about sex abuse on the island.

Frank Wastell, who stood down as Attorney General in June 2014, was one of those suspended from duty when police inquiries began – although he had already announced he would be leaving the island.

The investigation cleared the social workers Martin Warsama and Claire Gannon, who brought employment tribunal claims over the affair. They alleged they were being victimised for whistle-blowing.

Their complaints later triggered the inquiry by Sasha Wass QC into the way into the way the island is governed, and the handling of sex abuse issues.

It is believed an unnamed St Helenian was also cleared of criminal wrongdoing.

St Helena Government suspended Frank Wastell and Claire Gannon over concerns about the conduct of an adoption case in March 2014 – unrelated to the abuse scandal. Mr Warsama was deemed to have failed his probationary period in the job and was dismissed – despite having been promoted a few weeks earlier.

A statement was released by St Helena Government late on Friday, 20 February 2015.

But it was released only to island-based media, hindering efforts by other reporters to cover the affair. A statement was published on the government website but it was not drawn to the attention of journalists.

Mr Warsama had been told by his criminal lawyer on the Friday afternoon that he and Claire Gannon would not be prosecuted – after a year of living in dread of extradition to an island where they had clashed with police over alleged failures to investigate suspected sex offenders.

On the Saturday evening, he went out to celebrate with his family.

But on the Sunday, his anger returned when he learned that the Attorney General had released a statement without his knowledge, saying evidence would be shared with professional bodies – meaning the nightmare was not over.

It also quoted new criticisms made by the independent counsel, but gave no information about the basis for the comments.

Martin Warsama – who claimed constructive dismissal from his job – says he did not learn of the statement until St Helena Online alerted him, two days after it was issued. He said he did not know the substance of the criticisms. It was not even clear whether they referred to everyone involved in the case.

The statement said: “The investigation was instigated by St Helena Police following a family case heard in the Supreme Court where the Chief Justice concluded:

‘So troubled am I by what has occurred that I shall direct that a copy of this judgment and addendum be sent to HE The Governor. I shall recommend that experienced independent counsel should urgently be engaged to review the papers in this case and to advise on whether the evidence is such as to disclose reasonable grounds for suspecting the commission by any member of the applicant’s staff of any criminal offence pertinent to attempting to pervert the course of justice or perjury.’

“HE The Governor followed the Chief Justice’s recommendation and appointed an independent Queen’s Counsel, experienced in family and international matters, to complete the review. It was as a direct result of that review that the St Helena Police Service was requested to undertake an investigation into allegations of criminal conduct. The investigation was led by St Helena Police and supported by Merseyside Police in the UK.

“The matters were rigorously and thoroughly investigated. The evidence from this investigation was reviewed by a second independent counsel, appointed as Public Prosecutor of St Helena specifically to undertake this task.”

The statement said there was “insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction” – in effect, finding the former SHG staff not guilty.

St Helena Online has interviewed Martin Warsama and will be publishing his reaction in the next few days. 

At last, the truth about Attorney General being suspended. But you didn’t hear it from St Helena’s ‘open’ government

The people of St Helena were never told that the man who wrote their laws had been suspended while a criminal investigation took place.

They were told only that Frank Wastell was leaving the island “for personal reasons”.

Even when it was announced that the investigation had ended with no criminal charges, his name was not mentioned – despite the clear public interest.

The affair is likely to be seen by many as a cover-up by St Helena Government, albeit only a “passive” failure to release embarrassing information.

Few details have been disclosed about the investigation into the conduct of government staff, beyond the fact that it involved suggestions of lying to the island’s Supreme Court or attempting to pervert the course of justice.

Both are extremely serious matters that can result in a prison sentence.

No suggestion has been made that all those involved were suspected of crime – merely that people had been suspended while it was established whether any person was culpable.

Making the affair public might have undermined confidence in the justice system on St Helena, already damaged by allegations about failures to prosecute sex offenders.

The truth emerged in a court judgement given in an employment tribunal case brought by the two social workers caught up in the affair, Martin Warsama and Claire Gannon.

Judge Anthony Snelson’s ruling on 30 January 2015 revealed that Frank Wastell and Claire Gannon had been suspended from duty seven months earlier over the conduct of an adoption case.

The decision had been made by Acting Governor Sean Burns after consulting with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London.

On 5 February 2015, St Helena Online asked whether Mr Wastell had been “advised/encouraged to resign”. The government press office declined to comment, confirming that criminal investigations were still ongoing.

A decision was made not to run a story on St Helena Online at that late stage because of doubts about fair treatment of Mr Wastell and others involved. It appeared unlikely that a criminal case would arise.

It was also understood the roots of the affair lay in an act of kindness by Mr Wastell that later placed him in a compromising legal position.

Criticism had been levelled by the island’s Chief Justice, Charles Ekins, who heard the adoption case.

The government may have had little choice but to suspend Mr Wastell because of the impossibility of having an attorney general in post while a criminal inquiry was going on.

But it never admitted it had removed him from his duties.

At one stage his office was reported to have been sealed off by police.

Islanders were told only that Mr Wastell was “returning to the UK for personal reasons,”

A press release was issued on 2 June 2014, saying that Mr Wastell would be “returning to the UK for personal reasons” at the end of July. He was formally suspended two weeks later.

The statement said: “Frank has been an integral part of St Helena Government’s legal team since joining as Crown Counsel in 2006.

“He subsequently became Solicitor General and later Attorney General of St Helena, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha in 2013, having served several years acting up in that role since 2006.”

In the same release, Mr Wastell said he and his wife Lorna would never forget the friendship of people on all three islands, and “the vast majority” of his colleagues.

“St Helena and her people will have about as special a place in our hearts as it is possible to have,” he said, “and although we have had to make this decision to leave now, I can say it is with the deepest sadness that we go.”

SEE ALSO: 
Attorney General to leave St Helena – press release

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