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Wass editorial

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(This editorial appeared in the St Helena Independent). 

There are 307 pages of the Wass Report, and only one good joke. It’s on page 42, where Governor Capes explains why he was sent to St Helena:

“…they needed someone who knew about Overseas Territories and how to get things done. My nickname was The Enforcer.”

The Enforcer is also the name of one of the Dirty Harry movies, starring Clint Eastwood. See the resemblance?

The Wass Inquiry found no substance to allegations of corruption or widespread sex abuse on St Helena and Ascension.

What we did get, though, was a succession of criticisms of the way St Helena is managed – or not – under Governor Capes (and indeed, other governors before him).

We have no qualms about putting the boot in, because that’s exactly what he did to PC Mick Anderson when he made allegations about policing on St Helena and Ascension, some of which turned out to be valid.

Instead of investigating his claims, Mr Capes’s first instinct was to enforce him out of his job. Sasha Wass says he should be sent an apology.

Most shamefully (Ms Wass’s word), a young woman with horrendous, painful disabilities was allowed to waste away at Barn View without a doctor seeing her for years. Mr Capes told the panel he was impressed by what he saw there.

We learned that Mr Capes allowed the island to be without a social worker for nine months, despite loud warnings of the dangers.

In his defence, the FCO didn’t brief him about the 34 reports on child abuse that had been commissioned in just 14 years before he arrived on the island. They all gave much the same advice, so no one was actually heeding it.

Mr Capes was also told there was an urgent need for a fostering system on the island. He did nothing. Then a baby was born, and needed foster parents.

Frank Wastell and his wife took in the child, and ended up being forced off the island for their pains after a court case descended into disarray – which would never have happened if a fostering system had been set up.

The social workers Claire Gannon and Martin Warsama were strongly criticised for their conduct in that case; it was a major factor in the subsequent grievance – justified or not – that led them to make the allegations that mired St Helena in scandal.

All avoidable, says Ms Wass, if Mr Capes had acting on those warnings.

We also learned that the attorney general, Nicola Moore, told the inquiry panel it could not see confidential police and social services documents – promised by the UK foreign secretary – because the British government had no power to grant access.

Mr Capes could have given access at a stroke. Instead, he waited weeks. Why?

And 31 months after the event, we were finally given a reason why The Enforcer dissolved our democratically elected legislative council without warning, waited the maximum three months to hold an election, and barred all public discussion of political issues for the whole of that time – in direct contravention of best practice.

It was because councillors wouldn’t go along with his plans to move the prison to a residential area, where convicted sex offenders would be allowed out to exercise.

There were, it appears, other reasons, but we don’t know what they were.

The prison is unfit for use. Inmates’ human rights cannot be met and it needs to move. But Ms Wass rebuked the governor for forcing through the move – yet to happen – regardless of public protest.

She says Mr Capes’s effectiveness is compromised because he is both head of state – the Queen’s representative – and head of the government. What the island needs, she says, is a shirt-sleeves manager who knows what’s going on – like Marc Holland on Ascension.

Vince Thompson takes that as his cue to argue in his column that it’s time for a change of style in the way St Helena is run. Governors belong to the past.

Sasha Wass has set out, in a public document with real clout, what we have known for a long time: on St Helena, government is of the people but not by the people… and it’s certainly not FOR the people.

She strongly criticises a disregard for the needs and concerns of Saints in the delay sorting an air link to Ascension, or medical provision in South Africa once the RMS is decommissioned. One is sorted, the other – belatedly – in hand.

And we haven’t even touched on the neglect of Jamestown Hospital, which didn’t have hot water when the Wass team visited.

Ms Wass says the governor delegated tasks without checking they were carried out. We suggest another nickname, then:

The Delegator…

…as in, See ya’ later, Delegator.


Sasha Wass QC launched into a searing character assassination of the social workers Claire Gannon and her colleague Martin Warsama.

They’re keeping a low profile for now but we’re told they will come back fighting in the new year.

Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they? But the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, whose report triggered the Wass Inquiry when Claire Gannon leaked it to the Daily Mail, has also challenged its findings.

Maybe Mr Capes, too, deserves more kindly treatment, given the pressures of delivering an airport project that MUST NOT FAIL.

The St Helena Independent and St Helena Online have given a lot of space to concerns about the way the two social workers were being treated – with justification. Duty says we must now publish damning criticisms of them.

At least we never ran the headline, Government Acquitted.

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