Sunday, 18 May 2008

Haut de la Garenne skull fragment is 'a piece of coconut'

THE HUMAN REMAINS allegedly uncovered by a sniffer dog at Haut de la Garenne in Jersey have for some time been thought to be a small fragment of bone about the size of a 50p piece. We now know, however, that what the police have repeatedly described as a 'skull fragment' is not, in the view of the scientists who tested it, a piece of bone at all. This conclusion was reached by Tom Higham and his colleagues of the Radio Carbon Accelerator Laboratory in Oxford some weeks ago. It was subsequently confirmed by palaeontologist and leading bone expert Dr Roger Jacobi.

Dr Jacobi said: 'I share Tom's conclusions. I believe it is a piece of coconut shell, such as you might come across on a beach.

'I have been handling bones for more than 30 years, ranging from ones a few months old to those dating back several hundred thousand years. In my opinion, this is not a piece of bone.

'It isn't like any piece of bone I've ever seen: it's light and porous. It certainly has none of the structures you would find in a human skull.'

Yet although Deputy Chief Officer Lenny Harper has known for weeks about the conclusion that the fragment was not bone he has deliberately kept this information from the press. By doing so he has been actively misleading journalists by implying something which he knows to be untrue - namely that the 'item' had been reliably identified as a piece of bone.

No doubt he was doing this in an attempt to salvage the investigation. But he was also clearly doing it in an attempt to save his own skin. He even claimed yesterday that he had never seen a letter specifically addressed to him which set out the findings in detail. If this is true it is remarkable. But it is also irrelevant since, by his own account the scientists' belief that the fragment was not bone had already been communicated to him some three weeks earlier.

The latest development in the Jersey story has come about as a result of an investigation carried out in Oxford and Jersey by David Rose, who was following up my article 'The Jersey skull fragment, the police and the facts that changed'. For the full story, as it appears in this morning's Mail on Sunday, click here.

For a version of the story which was added to later editions of the Observer, click here.

The Observer story quotes from a statement issued by the Jersey police last night: 'Police were told that in the opinion of the laboratory staff the item was not bone but wood or a seed. However, this was qualified by the statement that if it was bone it was very old bone. By this time, anyway, the item had been eliminated from the inquiry because of the confirmation of the archaeological context in which it had been found. An announcement was made to this effect and as a result it was decided to take it no further.'

What the Observer (in common with the BBC and other news sources) has failed to note that this police statement has something in common with a number of the claims which have been made by the Jersey Police to the media: it is not true.

The press release which was issued by the police on 8 April can be read here. It will be seen that this statement makes no announcement that 'the item' had been eliminated from the inquiry. On the contrary it continues to refer to it as a piece of bone and goes out of its way to say that it was placed in the location it was found no earlier than the 1920s or 'more recently'.

It was this statement which led to stories in the press, such as the Daily Mail piece illustrated here, suggesting that the 'skull fragment' was still very much part of a murder inquiry. Such stories were not denied at the time. Presumably this is because they conveyed exactly the impression the police statement was attempting to create.

The announcement that 'the item', still referred to as a 'fragment of skull' had been eliminated from the inquiry, was not in fact made until ten days later, in the press release issued on 18 April. This statement itself made it clear that the 'facts' contained in the earlier press release were untrue. For now we were told that the fragment could not be recent after all and must have been placed in the location where it was found before the 1940s.

This concession was only made after the appearance in the Jersey Evening Post of a damaging article in which the 'facts' contained in the press release of 8 April were contradicted by the very archaeologists who had been invoked in their support.

The more carefully we study the various contradictions and convolutions in the stories fed to the press by Deputy Chief Officer Harper, the more clear it becomes that there are occasions when he appears to be quite incapable of doing something which witnesses in court are automatically expected to do - telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth.


  1. I published the following in Timesonline on 26 February 2008 in response to their "Beast of Jersey" article. I WAS RIGHT!

    "In Ireland between 1999 and 2004 we had a large number of allegations that children had been killed in industrial schools run by the Christian Brothers. These included accusations in a major Sunday Newspaper of mass killing ("a Holocaust") at Letterfrack in Co. Galway. Not a single claim has proved to be correct. This is not surprising as several relate to periods when no child died of ANY cause. (I call these "Murder of the Undead" allegations).

    One body was exhumed and proved to be a death from natural causes but the resulting publicity resulted in dozens of child abuse claims within a couple of weeks against the institution.

    The child killing allegations were not made by isolated nutcases but by major newspapers and by leading members of child abuse organisations. They have now ceased but the people responsible have not been called to account.

    What is happening in Jersey looks like a repeat of our Irish witch-hunt."

    Rory Connor, Dublin, Ireland

  2. As usual Mr Webster provides illumination in a turgid and difficult area. Lessons have not been learnt and at this rate never will be. I hope that innocent lives are not once again ruined.