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How ‘house of horror’ investigation brought Jersey abuse to light
Murder suspicions at Haut de la Garenne proved false alarm but led to exposure of abuse there and at other children’s homes
By Steven Morris
In 2008 the former children’s home Haut de la Garenne on Jersey became a focus of global attention when police discovered what they believed to be fragments of a human skull.
The building, at that time a youth hostel, was dubbed “the house of horror” as scores of other bone fragments were unearthed and lurid reports surfaced that shackles, restraints, “punishment rooms” and a bath stained with blood had been found. The fear was that children, perhaps many, had been tortured and killed and their remains concealed.
To some degree, it was a false alarm. Towards the end of the year police said they did not believe any murders had taken place at Haut de la Garenne. Of the 170 bone fragments found, analysis showed only three could be human and they probably dated back centuries.
However, the investigation, codenamed Operation Rectangle, did unearth a terrible scandal. It brought to light a catalogue of abuse – sexual, physical and psychological – at Haut de la Garenne and other Jersey children’s homes stretching back to the end of the second world war.
Eight people have been prosecuted for 145 offences and seven men and women have been convicted. Many more alleged offenders, some now dead, have been identified by almost 200 former residents. Police have recorded more than 500 alleged offences.
It sat for 138 days and heard from 650 witnesses including scores of former residents of the home. Men and women described how they had been abused by staff members and sometimes passed on to other sex offenders.
The serial abuser Jimmy Savile was among those accused of attacks at Haut de la Garenne and at a home on the island run by French Catholic nuns, the Sacre Coeur orphanage. Wilfred Krichefski, a Jersey senator and TV executive, now dead, was also named as an alleged abuser.
Physical and psychological abuse ranged from having mouths washed out with carbolic soap to being beaten with stinging nettles, the inquiry heard. Some of the abuse was carried out by older children with the blessing of staff.
One man said senior boys used a generator to administer electric shocks to younger children and threw darts at them. A girl is said to have been punished by having to spend a night in a room with the body of a dead nun.
The inquiry heard about what has been dubbed “the Jersey way”. Some take pride in the concept, seeing it as the maintenance of proud and ancient traditions. Others regard it as a negative aspect of island life, involving the protection of the powerful and a deep-rooted resistance to change.
Graham Power, who was chief police officer when Operation Rectangle was launched, said the “Jersey way” included “never to do today what you can put off for 10 years”, and claimed that a disproportionate amount of power was concentrated in the hands of a few whose ancestors had lived on the island for centuries and who were keen to resist “Anglicisation”.
Bob Hill, a former member of the states assembly – Jersey’s parliament – and a human rights campaigner, said the real power lay with a tight group of states members and unelected officers.
Hill argued there was a culture of fear on Jersey and people were afraid to come forward with criticism or information because they were living so closely with those they were accusing. He said people had long been afraid to report abuse because they did not trust that their allegations would be treated confidentially.
The inquiry was told that particular features of Jersey’s history, including the Nazi occupation in the second world war, made it a unique environment for children in care.
One man, Giffard Aubin, told the inquiry he was taken into care during the occupation when his father complained about a local brothel frequented by the Germans. He told the inquiry the complaint was passed on to a Jersey centenier – an honorary policeman – who declared that Aubin’s father was an unfit parent.
Another man said his father had been deported to Germany and he was caught stealing to help feed his family, resulting in him being taken into care.
During and after the Nazi occupation, children fathered by German troops were among those taken into care. Others whose families had been killed in the war found themselves in children’s homes.
The children of those struggling to make ends meet were often taken into care. One woman said she was admitted to an orphanage for seven weeks so her mother could work to save money to buy a television.
The inquiry heard about 250 allegations relating to Haut de la Garenne, almost half of them involving an element of indecency.
A former female resident said Haut de la Garenne was evil. “It was the place where all the abandoned children were put. It was the kind of place that everyone was dumped,” she said.
One man alleged he was raped repeatedly by Krichefski and another man – whom he knew only as “the posh bastard” – in the early 1960s at Haut de la Garenne. He said the senator told him: “Be a good boy and do as you are told otherwise you will never go home.”
A woman described an incident in which three men in their 30s, “scruffy looking with Jersey accents”, came into the dormitory one night and raped a girl in turn, egging each other on. She said they returned on four or five occasions.
Former Haut de la Garenne residents said they were abused by Savile. One said the television star sexually assaulted him between eight and 12 times in a camper van parked in the home’s grounds.
Haut de la Garenne was by no means the only home where abuse took place, the inquiry was told. A woman who was a resident of the Jersey Home for Girls in the 1940s told how she used to be taken by a female member of staff to a man’s office, where she was sexually assaulted and raped by him.
Another resident of the girls’ home said she was punished by being taken down into the cellar, having her clothes removed and being beaten with fresh stinging nettles.
At the Sacre Coeur orphanage, one woman said, if a child wet the bed they would be put on a chair with their pants on their head. The other children would then be told to form a circle around the child and the nuns would lead a rhyme in French, ridiculing them.
A woman said she was abused by Savile at the orphanage in 1969. She said she reported it to a nun but had her mouth washed out with soap and was told never to speak to anyone about it.
Lenny Harper, who was deputy police chief at the time of the Haut de la Garenne searches, claimed during the inquiry that the abuse of children on Jersey was systemic.
When it was confirmed that serial murder had not been committed at Haut de la Garenne, Harper came in for criticism. But he insisted good came out of it. “We brought hundreds of victims out into the open,” he said.
The victims had been in danger of being forgotten, he added. “They are the ones crying out to be heard. We gave them that voice.”
This article (How ‘house of horror’ investigation brought Jersey abuse to light) was originally published on The Guardian and syndicated by The Event Chronicle.