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Home 'forever linked to darkness'

By Matt Prodger
BBC News, Jersey

Haut de la Garenne
Claims of abuse at the home over 30 years are being investigated

Perched high on a hilltop above the coastline, Haut de la Garenne is a forbidding-looking building at the best of times. And these are not the best of times.

Since Saturday this former children's home has been a crime scene.

With the discovery of a fragment of skull bone believed to be that of a child, a major excavation of parts of the building has begun.

Search dogs trained to detect blood and decomposing bodies have indicated several areas of interest for the police.

Most of them are outside the building, one in a corner of a grass lawn is marked out with posts and a yellow flag.

Others to the rear, out of sight of neighbours and journalists, are being dug.

Abuse claims

More than 160 people who claim to have been abused at Haut de la Garenne have now spoken to police, and all are believed to be telling the truth about the rapes, beatings and torture which they say occurred here during the 30-year period being investigated by police.

Some say they were drugged with valium before being abused at drunken parties organised by staff, to which people from outside the home were invited.

It was those first-hand accounts which led police to focus on a bricked-up cellar beneath one wing of the building.

When police broke through to it on Wednesday they found a room measuring 12ft by 12ft and around 8ft deep.

Within it mountains of rubble, and - crucially - features which corroborate the victims' stories.

Most of us were vulnerable children who were taken into care through no fault of our own

What they also found was a further wall beyond which they believe is another chamber yet to be investigated.

And now a former member of staff at the home has informed them of a third underground chamber - a store room - which will also be investigated.

The victims of abuse at the home say their allegations were never taken seriously.

"Most of us were vulnerable children who were taken into care through no fault of our own," one told me.

"But as soon as you went into Haut de la Garenne it was assumed that you were no good. It was our word against theirs and nobody believed us."

Until 2006, that is, when police began investigating the claims. Last November they went public with it.

When I was a boy my mother threatened to send me to Haut de la Garenne when I was naughty

At the same time Jersey's former health minister, Stuart Syvret, launched an outspoken attack on the institutions of government in Jersey of which he had once been a part.

They had, he said, engendered a "culture of disregard" to the protection of vulnerable children and accused the island's senior politicians of covering up the abuse.

Mr Syvret has been accused of tarnishing Jersey's reputation abroad. But he is popular as well.

"He deserves a knighthood for coming out and saying it," a former resident of Haut de la Garenne tells me.

The building itself ceased operating as a children's home in 1986.

Since 2003 it has been a youth hostel, but for a certain generation its name will always be associated with darkness.

"When I was a boy my mother threatened to send me to Haut de la Garenne when I was naughty," said one man in his 50s.

"She was joking, but it doesn't sound funny now."


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