St Helena Online

Tag: Wass Inquiry

Alleged illegal sterilisation of mother shocks inquiry team

A mother is alleged to have been illegally sterilised while giving birth at Jamestown Hospital, the Wass Inquiry reveals.

It says she was delivering her child by Caesarean section when she was sterilised “without her prior knowledge or consent” by the doctor looking after her.

“This is a shocking allegation which, if true, would constitute a serious criminal offence,” says Sasha Wass QC in her report.

The public solicitor told the inquiry said that the mother had been promised that the matter was being investigated.

But the panel was “disturbed” that many months had passed since the birth with no outcome.

It recommended that police and the attorney general should review the case.

St Helena Government noted the report but said it could comment for privacy reasons.

Charity chief rejects criticism of report that sparked scandal

Experts at the Lucy Faithfull Foundation have expressed surprise at the Wass Inquiry’s finding that sex abuse on St Helena is very limited.

“It is typically the case that… reported cases are but the tip of the iceberg,” says the abuse charity’s director of research, Donald Findlater. “The inquiry panel appears not to even acknowledge this possibility.”

The charity admits its researcher behaved unprofessionally by sharing its confidential 2013 report with social worker Claire Gannon, who leaked it to the Daily Mail.

But it rejects criticism that the document was “deeply flawed” because it relied heavily on unsupported evidence from Claire Gannon herself.

“The report’s authors saw 57 individuals on St Helena, whose testimony was crucial to the report’s findings. And evidence concerning the police was largely drawn from police colleagues, not Gannon.

“Whilst the Lucy Faithfull Foundation acknowledges the professional shortcomings of the author of its 2013 report, it does not accept many of the criticisms made in [the] Wass Inquiry report.

“Specifically, [it] is surprised to hear the Wass Inquiry considers that sexual abuse on St Helena is “confined to isolated pockets of the population and involved in a limited number of problem families.”

Mr Findlater suggests people giving evidence to the Wass Inquiry might have been much more guarded in the wake of the Lucy Faithfull leak and the “unfounded” scandal stories it provoked.

“Evidence provided to the Inquiry might understandably differ from that provided earlier.”

He also accuses Sasha Wass QC of failing to credit the foundation with positive outcomes from the 37 recommendations in its report.

“The majority of these recommendations have now been implemented.”

Sasha Wass does acknowledge that significant improvements began to be made to social services and child safeguarding on St Helena in the wake of the Lucy Faithfull visit – and before Claire Gannon made her allegations of corruption and cover-ups.

The charity also rejects criticism for including allegations not backed up by solid evidence – because its report was never meant to be made public. Any allegations “were passed on for investigation”.

Mike Sheath, the researcher who shared the report with Claire Gannon, was formally reprimanded when his actions came to light, and removed from further work on St Helena and Ascension Island.

“He is very regretful of the upset and distress that has been caused and has offered an unreserved apology. Lucy Faithfull Foundation also regrets the upset resulting from the public sharing of its confidential report by Claire Gannon.”

  • Chief of Police Trevor Botting told the Wass Inquiry that some of the Lucy Faithfull recommendations led to spending on low-priority projects. He bought body-worn cameras for officers to use on domestic violence call-outs, but said they “had not been necessary and were rarely used.”

Island’s accuser ‘should never have been given job’

Claire Gannon should never have been employed to run St Helena’s badly neglected social services department, the Wass Inquiry has found.

When the job went badly wrong she went to the media with allegations of corruption and widespread abuse.

The Wass report says she had not been involved in front-line social work “for some considerable time” and lacked the skills needed to rescue a service in disarray.

“Claire Gannon’s past history at Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council had not been properly investigated and she was not suited to the post to which she was appointed,” says the report.

“The responsibility for the failings in her recruitment lies with the St Helena Government. However, her subsequent conduct could not have been predicted.”

That included leaking a confidential copy of the Lucy Faithfull Foundation report into sex abuse – from which it was possible to identify a rape victim.

The woman involved is said to have been distressed that the report appeared on the internet, meaning her identity could be discovered.

The Wass report also says she breached client confidentiality by supplying the name of an abuse victim to a Channel 4 reporter in the UK, as part of her media campaign against St Helena Government.

Sasha Wass says the inquiry panel saw no evidence of written strategies or plans for her department, and the only document she presented to the government was produced solely to support a pay demand.

The report says she:

  • “obstructed and misled the supreme court” in an adoption case
  • “almost jeopardised an important criminal investigation” into abuser Jeromy Cairns-Wicks
  • let her bad relationship with police “eclipse her professional duty to those in her care”.
  • failed to help a critically disabled young woman at Barn View residential unit
  • made false or misleading allegations in her employment tribunal claim
  • fed false or misleading information to the Daily Mail “in order to support a claim for unfair dismissal”.

St Helena Government paid for Claire Gannon to undertake teacher training in social work at Sheffield Hallam University, but the inquiry found she then “did nothing” for unqualified social care officers who needed tuition.

When interviewed by the inquiry panel, Claire Gannon admitted instructing her lawyer to post the Lucy Faithfull Foundation report on the internet.

She halted a second interview, and failed to return the next day. Three weeks later, she attended with her solicitor but halted the interview again.

In September 2015, her solicitor submitted a 61-page witness statement.

In it, she said: “I have become increasingly concerned that the Wass Inquiry is biased and seeking to negatively investigate the whistle blowers and their character/credibility, rather than the actual unlawful activities by the FCO, DFID, the governor, the deputy governor, the chiefs of police, and others.”

The inquiry found no illegality.

Sasha Wass says the inquiry panel “has tried to understand” how Claire Gannon and fellow social worker Martin Warsama were allowed to operate on St Helena, “given their obvious lack of ability and industry”.

She says: “The answer may be that neither of the directors of health and social welfare during the relevant period had any social work qualifications. They would not have been aware of the required standards of social work practice and consequently were unable to monitor Claire Gannon’s performance.

“…it was clear that they put their trust in Claire Gannon and what they saw as her gilt- edged credentials.” They were “ill-equipped to call her to account”.

Her successor, Samantha Dunn, “was able to rationalise the files, identify the problems and get to grips with her job within weeks of her arrival on St Helena.”

St Helena Government now makes much more robust checks on job candidates.

Democracy on St Helena: councillors opposed prison move – so the whole council was sacked

When councillors opposed plans to move St Helena’s prison close to homes above Half Tree Hollow, governor Mark Capes simply removed the problem: he disbanded the whole council.

Governor Capes took the “nuclear option” to shut down the legislative council for the maximum possible time so he could “work on” a new crop of councillors, the inquiry report reveals.

But Sasha Wass QC strongly criticises the moving of the prison to a residential area, because sex offenders would exercise outside the compound.

The public was never given a reason for Mr Capes dissolving LegCo at an hour’s notice, three months before setting an election date.

The governor also obstructed public debate by imposing three months’ “purdah”, meaning officials and former councillors could not discuss contentious issues. The government claimed this followed best practice, but the system only operates for about three weeks before UK national elections.

Deposed councillors sent a furious protest to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office – which backed the governor.

The Wass report does not disclose any other reasons the governor may have had for using his power to remove councillors. It says:

“The inquiry panel raised the point with Governor Mark Capes that there had been fierce opposition to the location of the new prison. He said this: ‘With the prison, I took steps to make sure that we were going to get it done…

“‘I could see we were going to get resistance from our councillors, our elected members who had an attitude that prison is meant to be uncomfortable and unpleasant and there are other things to spend money on.

“‘So one of the reasons I dissolved the Legislative Council in April 2013 was because I felt that the councillors that we had at the time didn’t have the stomach for this.’

“Governor Capes explained that if democratically elected members did not agree with his approach, he had the power to dispense with them. He continued: ‘It was a sort of nuclear option and I dissolved LegCo and I delayed the election for as long as possible under the constitution.

“‘That gave us time to work on plans and strategy and part of that strategy was to make sure that whatever happened with our new councillors, and I was optimistic we were going to get a fresh crop of more…

“‘I wanted to make sure I could work on the new councillors to persuade them that this was the right thing to do to move the prison.””

In their letter to the FCO, 11 of the 12 deposed councillors said the handling of the affair had done nothing to inspire public confidence.

“The process could have been conducted in a more courteous way…. it infers a lack of respect for politicians, the people’s representatives. During this extended purdah, democracy suffers.”

A succession of reports had condemned the Victorian prison in Jamestown, which failed to meet inmates’ basic human rights.

Two months after deposing the council, the governor also imposed a law banning children from bars on Ascension Island, against the advice of the island council – a safeguarding move that won the approval of Sasha Wass.

She says the governor should not simply override objections to projects, because this causes “disquiet and division”.

  • The Wass report says Governor Capes told the inquiry panel: “They asked me to come here to coincide with the airport project because they needed someone who knew about Overseas Territories and how to get things done. My nickname was The Enforcer.”

Governor ‘cocked up’ by dissolving LegCo, says professor
Sacked councillors round on His Absency the Governor
London dismisses election protest against Governor Capes

Police whistle-blower ‘deserves apology’ after being forced out

St Helena Government acted to “remove” a police officer after he blew the whistle on  “potential wrongdoing” – before his claims had even been investigated.

The Wass report says he acted honourably and should receive a written apology, “preferably from Governor Capes”.

Some of them proved to be valid. One resulted in a new law to ban children from bars on Ascension Island.

PC Michael Anderson raised concerns with his former Member of Parliament in Hampshire. They were later investigated – twice – by two UK police forces.

“The inquiry panel is of the view that Mr Anderson was treated neither fairly nor judiciously by the St Helena Government,” says the Wass report.

“Email traffic between the St Helena Government and the FCO… makes it plain that a decision had been made to remove Mr Anderson from his post before any formal investigation was conducted by Sussex Police.

“The immediate response of the St Helena Government and the FCO was to ‘take action’
(as Governor Capes put it) against Mr Anderson rather than address the issues he raised, some of which were entirely valid.

“The inquiry panel is of the view that Mr Anderson acted with honourable intentions and, although several of his allegations were without foundation, he deserved to be taken seriously.

“Instead, a pretext was devised for him to leave his employment.”

Northumbria Police said the matter should be resolved “in fairness and justice to Mr Anderson.”

The Wass Inquiry panel agreed. Its report says: “Mr Anderson should receive a written apology (preferably from Governor Capes) for the unfair treatment he received from the St Helena Government and the FCO.”

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

34 reports on island abuse in only 14 years. ‘UK neglected St Helena’, says Capes

Thirty four separate reports had been written about child abuse on St Helena and Ascension Island before scandal erupted in the UK media – but their findings were “lost or forgotten”.

Governor Mark Capes is reported to have told investigators that he had not even been made aware of them before taking office in 2011.

He is quoted saying: “I can’t speak for why those reports were ignored… St Helena has been neglected for decades… by the UK government.”

The Wass Inquiry was asked to look into eight reports, including one from whistleblower Michael Anderson and the findings of resulting investigations, as well as the Lucy Faithfull Foundation report that was leaked to the Daily Mail.

Sasha Wass says: “The inquiry was surprised to discover that the eight reports… were merely the tip of an iceberg. There had been no fewer than 34 previous reports… into sexual abuse and child protection on St Helena made between 1998 and 2012.

“Many covered the same topics and made the same or similar recommendations.”

One consultant, Mike Evans, told the inquiry: “It became blatantly obvious that many of my recommendations, directions and advice, simply had not been acted upon.”

The report does not speculate on whether more children suffered abuse because of the repeated failings.

Ms Wass blames “systemic” failures, including:

  • “Clearly inadequate” handovers between governors
  • SHG failure to establish good procedures
  • Lack of continuity when managers are replaced
  • New recruits not being made aware of reports

The inquiry also found: “Some of those responsible for directorial oversight were found to be inexperienced and ignorant of best practice.

“This has resulted in their inability to question front-line professional staff and hold them to account.”

That was identified as one of the failures leading to the breakdown of trust with the social work manager Claire Gannon, whose actions triggered the Wass Inquiry.