Exclusive investigation: child abuse “ignored throughout” St Helena, where men who abused children were fined as little as £50
By Tom Rowley, Special Correspondent, St Helena
10:00PM GMT 18 Jan 2015
The Foreign Office knew the British territory of St Helena “couldn’t cope” with child abuse as long ago as 2002 but failed to order an independent inquiry for 12 years, a retired senior civil servant has claimed.
Ivy Ellick, a former head of public health and social services on the island, said she delivered the warning in a meeting with the British government. At least 20 children were sexually abused on the South Atlantic island, which has a population of only 4,500, during the years between the warning and the inquiry.
Establishment paedophiles, including a social work manager who advised on child protection and a deputy manager of a sheltered accommodation complex, were not brought to justice. Both men were finally sentenced in the past two years.
During this period, the Foreign Office repeatedly assured the United Nations that there was “no evidence” of sexual exploitation of children on the island, where seven out of 11 prisoners are child sex offenders. A new prison is being built that could accommodate up to one in 50 of the island’s men.
The British government launched the inquiry, headed by Sasha Wass, the QC who prosecuted Rolf Harris, last year after whistleblowers detailed abuse and an alleged cover-up by the island’s government and the Foreign Office.
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The island has been administered by the Crown since 1834. The Foreign Office appoints its governor and the Department for International Development funds dozens of government posts.
Mrs Ellick’s claims are published as a Telegraph investigation discloses:
- Child abuse was “ignored throughout society” until recently, according to an official report, and men who sexually abused children were handed fines of as little as £50;
- The sheltered accommodation worker, Leslie Clingham, was not brought to court until seven years after he admitted to police that he had sexually abused a child. He continued to work for the government and was allowed to have a relationship with a sheltered accommodation resident who had suffered a stroke;
Jeromy Cairns-Wicks, former police officer and social worker, has been jailed (SAMS)
- In June 2013, a Dorset Police report failed to substantiate any criminal allegations against Jeromy Cairns-Wicks, the former social work manager, or to suspend him from his job as a police officer. Five months later, after Cairns-Wicks was imprisoned for separate firearms offences, he was finally sentenced to 11 years in prison for sexually assaulting a nine-year-old. Pam Trevillion, who produced the Dorset report, has since been employed as the island’s head of crime, running child abuse investigations;
- The police were not told that a 15-year-old girl was pregnant on Ascension island, a dependency of St Helena, until four days after she was flown to Britain for medical care. Police suspected the father was five years older and launched a criminal investigation. No prosecution was ever brought;
Mrs Ellick, who was awarded an OBE in 2004 for her 46-year career in the St Helenian government, said she delivered her warning in a meeting with the Foreign Office in 2002, saying that the island did not have the resources to meet its convention obligations to the United Nations to protect its children.
A UK-qualified social worker was subsequently appointed for a three-year term to train local staff, but they often left the island, where government employees earn as little as £5,000 a year, once they were qualified. “This happened every time,” she said. “It was very difficult, and still is, to retain staff because of the low wages.
“They [the Foreign Office] were aware that we didn’t have the resources to cope with it because we’ve been pointing it out ever since. I said they were unfair to expect us to do it without the resources.
“I said to them, ‘you’ve signed up to this convention, but it’s going to require big money and we don’t have the social workers nor the resources to do it’.
“We did have some convictions of child abuse but some of them didn’t reach conviction because we didn’t have the resources to do proper investigations. The police weren’t equipped enough, they didn’t have all the tools that were necessary.
“People were actually brought to court but once they were before the judge the case got thrown out on technical points. It happened on a couple of occasions when I was in the health and social services department.”
Social workers Claire Gannon and Martin Warsama, tried to raise concerns about allegations of child abuse.
The British social workers, Claire Gannon and Martin Warsama, who worked on the island in 2013 and triggered the Wass inquiry, are now suing the Foreign Office claiming they lost their jobs because of their whistleblowing.
At the same time, they are being investigated over alleged perjury in an adoption case on Ascension island and could eventually be extradited back to St Helena to be tried by the very criminal justice system they complained about.
“Which whistleblower would stand up if it meant removal from their place of work or even the UK?” said Lawrence Davies, director of Equal Justice Solicitors, who is representing them. “The spectre of extradition is a horrible thing for these British whistleblowers to have to live with.”
Twenty-seven men are on the island’s recently introduced sex offenders’ register out of a total male population of around 2,000, more than six times the figure per head in England and Wales.
Seven out of 11 prisoners are child sex offenders (Moonbeams)
The Telegraph investigation also found a children’s disco had to be cancelled because of “voyeurs” hoping to watch “young children gyrating on the floor”.
Islanders with learning difficulties and disabilities were said to be kept in “Victorian” conditions in its “challenging behaviour unit”. They will only move to purpose-built accommodation next month. The island’s government denied a reporter access to the unit.
Dr Karen Harrison, an expert in sex offender sentencing from the University of Hull, said the fines amounted to “a slap on the wrist” and “suggests the offence isn’t taken seriously”.
Comparing the fines for child sex offenders to heftier penalties sometimes awarded in other cases, Dave Gardiner, who has worked in the British probation service for 30 years, said “you were better off worrying children than sheep” on the island. “The fines don’t mark society’s disapproval,” he said. “Fining people for sexual abuse is just not tackling the abuse.”
Dorset Police confirmed that Ms Trevillion conducted an investigation on behalf of the Foreign Office into an allegation against a St Helena police officer but declined to comment further.
A Foreign Office (FCO) spokesman said: “We take all measures of child abuse very seriously. Where we could act, we believe we have. In recent years, we have sent police to provide training, investigate cases and look at the effectiveness of policing on St Helena.
“In 2013, the FCO sent a chid safeguarding non-governmental organisation to St Helena to investigate child protection and there have also been visits from other child safeguarding experts. The FCO has also dedicated extra resource to child safeguarding.
“However, we know from the current allegations that there is more to do to make sure that children on St Helena are given the right level of protection. That is why the Foreign Secretary launched the Wass inquiry which will look at these allegations.”
A St Helena government spokesman said it “welcomed” the Wass inquiry and “looks forward to giving it the fullest cooperation”. He said the investigation into Cairns-Wicks “was in fact undertaken by St Helena police with independent oversight from Pam Trevillion, and resulted in a guilty plea and a significant sentence”.
Additional reporting by Andrew Turner