Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Haut de la Garenne, the media and the BBC

AN ARTICLE IN YESTERDAY'S Guardian, which noted the lack of prominence given to the recent reversal of the Haut de la Garenne narrative, was given so little prominence on the Guardian's website that many people will have missed it entirely.

Peter Wilby's article begins with a succinct summary of the sensational coverage given to the original version of the story:

Last month, Jersey police announced that, so far as they could establish, there was no torture and no murder at the Haut de la Garenne children's care home in Jersey. The widely reported "human remains" (actually tiny bone fragments) were mostly animals, though three were possibly humans who died at least 58 years ago, and maybe more than 500 years ago. A "skull fragment" was a coconut shell. Underground "torture chambers" were floor voids where a grown person could not stand straight. "Shackles" were bits of old metal guttering. And so on and so on.

You probably saw the story, though you could be forgiven if you missed it. The Sun, Mail and Mirror had it on pages 19, 29 and 35 respectively. Back in February, when the abuse allegations first surfaced, Jersey was front-page news. Every paper gave it dramatic elaboration in the following months. Children had been "dismembered" and "incinerated". This was "a house of horrors", a "fortress of fear", a "kiddies' Colditz" where children were flung into "punishment pits". Detectives had discovered "sex abuse bunkers" and "mass graves". Terrible crimes, perpetrated by "a ring of evil men", had been "covered up" by the "close-knit Jersey establishment" on "the isle of secrets and whispers".

A Daily Mail reporter visited a nearby church where "faceless perverts" were damned by the Dean of Jersey. "From their muffled sobs, the victims, mainly middle-aged and careworn now, were all-too-easily identifiable ... others ... appeared to shift a little uneasily in their pews as the dean demanded that the culprits be called to account."

To read the article, click here.

The Daily Mail piece which Peter Wilby quotes from is well worth revisiting, not least because it highlights the fascination with evil narratives to which (as Wilby notes) I have called attention elsewhere. Writing on 29 February, Daily Mail reporter David Jones speculated that Lenny Harper would be unable to take retirement until he had completed the Haut de la Garenne investigation:

But supposing this enormously complex inquiry remains unresolved come his retirement day in September?

Surely he won't depart the island while the house on the hill sex fiends remain at large?

The veteran detective insists that he will.

But when he fixes you with an old-fashioned Londonderry stare and talks about all those tortured little children, it is hard to believe he could rest until he has closed the last file on the House of Horrors and locked all its evil predators away.

In Peter Wilby's piece no newspaper or broadcaster is singled out for particular criticism. But in a comment posted here in relation to one of my earlier pieces, somebody who evidently has a strong Jersey connection focuses on the role of the BBC:

I will never forget the horror I felt when I heard the first hysterical reports on Radio 4 news in February. I felt physically sick.

As the weeks and months passed by it became increasingly clear that the BBC was complicit in driving the global frenzy by hyping the stories beyond all reason.

So what happened to the BBC's editorial guidelines which should have prevented this mess? For the sake of clarity here is an excerpt from them:

"Truth and accuracy
We strive to be accurate and establish the truth of what has happened. Accuracy is more important than speed and it is often more than a question of getting the facts right. We will weigh all relevant facts and information to get at the truth. Our output will be well sourced, based on sound evidence, thoroughly tested and presented in clear, precise language. We will be honest and open about what we don't know and avoid unfounded speculation...."

It is very disappointing that in a case where lives are being ruined and the world is watching that these important principles have been abandoned.

Months after the "skull" was discredited the BBC was still reporting - "Haut de la Garenne, where a child's skull was found" ... "where the remains of six children have been found" . . .

That comment can be read in full here.

If anyone has any further comments on the media coverage, please add them to this post.

To read responses to this post - or to leave a response yourself - click on the comments link below.

1 comment:

    Jersey home dossier to reveal children were murdered...then burnt.

    Exclusive by Lucy Panton.

    A SHOCK secret police report into the Jersey House of Hell children's home reveals
    youngsters there WERE murdered then BURNED in a furnace to COVER UP the
    It's feared island authorities may try to hush up the dossier on Haut de la Garenne orphanage but a
    source told us: "Officers on this case are in NO DOUBT what went on."
    Innocent children WERE raped, murdered and their bodies then BURNT in a FURNACE at the Jersey
    House of Horrors, says a top-secret police report into the scandal.
    A News of the World investigation reveals cops have shocking
    new evidence of how the killings were COVERED UP at the
    Haut de la Garenne care home.
    Our chilling revelations come as officers prepare to hand over
    their damning dossier from Britain's biggest ever child abuse
    probe to the island's States of Jersey authorities.
    A total of 65 teeth and around 100 charred fragments of bones
    are all that remain of victims detectives believe were abused
    and killed before their tortured corpses were thrown into a fiery
    grave inside the house of hell.

    And so it goes on. This was the News of the World revelation from July 13th this year. But if you hope to read the full article at source:
    then all you get is: This page is currently being rebuilt
    That particular piece of news has been conveniently airbrushed from history.
    However not if you are prepared to dig a little deeper:

    The house of horrors is still there complete with ghosts to haunt the writers of the stupid nonsense that they may now wish they had never written.