Bricked-up cellar may yield truth of child abuse scandal

A bricked-up cellar at a former care home in Jersey is being examined by forensic experts after a child's remains were found at the weekend, following claims of abuse at the premises stretching back five decades. Detectives say the search could last up to two weeks after sniffer dogs gave positive "indications" at six other locations within the building.

Amid speculation that more bodies may be found at the property, the island's deputy chief of police, Lenny Harper, told the Jersey Evening Post: "We always hoped it would not end like this but, from the information we were getting, it was always a possibility. We are very interested in the cellar because we do have allegations that offences were committed in a cellar and we think we know where that cellar is."

There were accusations of a cover-up yesterday after it emerged that several bones were found in 2003 by builders renovating the former children's home, but the remains were written off as being animal bones and the case was closed.

Haut de la Garenne, built in 1867, is known as the setting for the BBC detective series Bergerac. In the 19th century, it originally served as an industrial school for "young people of the lower classes of society and neglected children", before becoming a care home by 1900. It was an orphanage and correctional facility until its closure in 1986. In 2004, the house was turned into a 100-room youth hostel after a £2.25m refurbishment. The majority of the alleged assaults are believed to have taken place between the 1960s and 1980s.

Police say they have been contacted by 150 people claiming to be victims of abuse or witnesses to it at the centre. The NSPCC said it had received 63 calls from people claiming they were abused in Jersey care homes, 27 of whom have been referred to detectives. Detectives made their first gruesome discovery on Saturday afternoon, when a child's remains, believed to be a skull, were found at the youth hostel in St Martin on the north-western tip of the Channel island.

Mr Harper said the inquiry would look into why reported cases went unanswered. "Part of the inquiry will be the fact that a lot of victims tried to report their assaults but ... they were not dealt with as they should be," he said. "We are looking at allegations that a number of agencies didn't deal with things as perhaps they should."

As a result of the recent publicity, he added, several people had reported being abused in care on Jersey between the ages of eight and 10, adding to the police tally of 140 possible victims.

Stuart Syvret, Jersey's former Health minister, who claims he was sacked for revealing the extent of child abuse on the island, has accused Jersey's government of a cover-up, although Mr Harper said he had seen no evidence of that. Speaking on yesterday's Radio 4 Today programme, Mr Syvret alleged that a "culture" of cover-ups went "as far as the very top of Jersey's society".

Comments picked up after a radio interview between the island's chief minister, Frank Walker, and Mr Syvret highlighted the growing tension on the island. After the end of the interview in their Jersey studios Mr Syvret turned on his former political colleague and exclaimed: "We're talking about children here." Mr Walker responded: "You're trying to shaft Jersey internationally."

A free helpline set up by the NSPCC at the request of police has received 63 calls from adults reporting allegations of physical, sexual and emotional abuse dating back to the 1970s and 1980s. Police said that records of children at Haut de la Garenne were "patchy". It is understood that those who died in care may have been reported as runaways.

Although officers have not confirmed where in the hostel they are digging, the cellar at the back of the building – which was covered with a white tarpaulin tent yesterday – is believed to be the main focus of the investigation. Three witnesses have told police that child abuse took place in the cellar many times during the 1960s and 1970s.

The investigation began in November 2006 but detectives kept their inquiries secret for more than a year in order not to alert those suspected of carrying out the attacks.

One Scottish resident, who has lived on the island for eight years, said: "There have been rumours of child abuse for years ... But you don't expect it to happen on a wee little picturesque island like here."

History of Haut de la Garenne

* 1867: Haut de la Garenne first built.

* 1900: Renamed the Jersey Home for Boys, the centre houses youngsters with special needs, serving as a school and orphanage.

*1986: Home is closed.

*2004: Reopens after a £2.25m refurbishment as Jersey's first youth hostel.

* 11 September 2007: Stuart Syvret sacked as a health minister after criticising ministers and civil servants over childcare.

* 22 November 2007: As reports emerge of systematic abuse at the home, police investigate the treatment of boys and girls aged between 11 and 15 since the 1960s, as well as links with the Jersey Sea Cadets.

* 30 January 2008: Charges brought against a man linked to the home for indecently assaulting three girls under 16.

* 19 February 2008: A full-scale police excavation begins at the home.

* 23 February 2008: A sniffer dog discovers human remains and shows "indications" at six other sites at the home. The remains are sent for tests.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there