The Independent Jersey Care Inquiry started on 22 July 2014 with opening remarks from inquiry chair Francis Oldham QC, who renewed her appeal for witnesses and said they can give evidence anonymously. She said that although oral evidence will begin on 29 July, witnesses can come forward at any time. The panel heard that 192 people have alleged 532 offences between 1947 and 2004. Patrick Sadd and Harriet Jerram from Outer Temple Chambers, co-counsel to the inquiry, set out details of phase one.
In his opening comments, Sadd said it was ‘too late to right the wrongs of the past’ but the issues needed to be brought into the open. He said parts of the inquiry would be ‘distressing and controversial’.
Jerram said the inquiry would hear accounts of sexual abuse, humiliation, cruelty and family separation. She took the opportunity to ask again for anyone who has evidence to come forward and tell their story — including senior managers, support staff, doctors, police officers, teachers and anyone coming into contact with children in residential or foster care.
The inquiry will focus on the Haut de la Garenne children’s home in the 1960s, but not exclusively. The first phase of the year-long inquiry will hear from witnesses who received or provided care on the island’s children’s homes and fostering services from 1945 to the present day. The second phase will look at the three-year Operation Rectangle police investigation, which started in 2007 and focused on Haut de la Garenne.
Speaking on behalf of the Jersey Care Leavers’ Association, Alan Collins told the inquiry: ‘From what we have heard so far, we are encouraged that the omens seem good and we hope from the hard work we have been hearing about witnesses will be encouraged to come forward and assist.’
The panel hearing the evidence wants to build up as full a picture as possible so that it can then make recommendations, ensuring that the island’s care system is fit for its purpose of caring for vulnerable children and young people.