Page last updated at 05:41 GMT, Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Jersey's secrets 'shatter idyll'

Chris Mason
Europe correspondent, in Jersey

Joseph Rogers, Robert Rowley and Kathlyn Dickson (left to right)
Islanders are still reeling from the shock of recent events

A "dark cloud hangs over this island," according to its leading politician, Chief Minister Frank Walker.

To former minister Senator Stuart Syvret, it is "the worst thing to happen to Jersey".

The discovery of human remains at a former children's home - and news that the police are investigating 27 cases of child abuse - is proving profoundly shocking to many here.

Jersey has a low crime rate, is popular with tourists and did have a pretty untarnished image.

So what do ordinary islanders make of the events of the last week?

Every conversation I have had returns to the central reality. On an island that is just nine miles by five, everywhere is effectively next door.

And the prospect that children disappeared - and were potentially murdered - without people realising they had gone, genuinely upsets people.

'Simple life'

In the Adelphi Lounge in St Helier, Jersey's capital, I join Kathlyn Dickson, Robert Rowley and Joseph Rogers for a drink.

Robert, 67, is a Jersey man. He was born here in 1940 - the year the Germans invaded during the Second World War.

Jersey, he tells me, has always had its own rules and regulations.

As a British Crown Dependency which is not part of the United Kingdom, it has its own government and legal system.

"Those rules and regulations do mean it's a simpler life here," he says. "But of course there have been drawbacks to this in the past, and these allegations of abuse tap into that, I fear."

Robert is concerned that there were not enough checks and balances in place in some institutions.

This place is still a step back in time, and that's its appeal - perhaps it's a problem for the island too
Kathlyn Dickson

"For instance, there's talk that many kids were classified as having run away from these homes. But where on earth did they run to?

"This is an island, for goodness' sake. I don't mean to sound flippant, but it's a long way to Southampton in a dinghy. And France isn't close if you're trying to escape."

Robert's friend, Joseph, who is 58, has lived in Jersey for 30 years.

"Look, these kind of horrendous events have happened elsewhere - in England, in Wales, in France. But we are a close community. Everyone's a neighbour here. The pace of life's a bit slower than elsewhere. You just don't expect this to happen in Jersey."

Kathlyn Dickson, 68, brings a different perspective to the conversation. She only moved out to Jersey from Charlwood, in Surrey, last April.

"It's pretty bloody awful, isn't it?" she says, grimacing. "But I'm glad it's come out."

Human remains

It is clear some of her perceptions of Jersey as an idyllic retirement retreat have been shattered by what is emerging here. But she remains positive.

"I was surprised, but it hasn't put me off Jersey," she insists.

"I feel safe here. This place is still a step back in time, and that's its appeal. Perhaps it's a problem for the island too."

Too many things are swept under the table here in Jersey - and it'll never change

Sitting next to us, clutching a copy of the Jersey Evening Post, is 59-year-old Ray. He didn't want to give me his surname. Ray has always lived here.

Looking up at him, from the front page of the paper, is a picture of a friend.

A friend who claims he was abused at the Haut de la Garenne home, where human remains were found at the weekend.

"Too many things are swept under the table here in Jersey - and it'll never change," he says, with a tone of certainty in his every word.

"But when you find out someone you went to school with says they were abused, it really is quite a shock. And so many people on this island have been through that home."

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