Page last updated at 19:34 GMT, Wednesday, 21 May 2008 20:34 UK

Q&A: Jersey abuse inquiry

Police in Jersey investigating allegations of abuse at former children's home Haut de la Garenne say bone fragments found in the cellar could suggest homicide.

The BBC's Alex Bushill, in Jersey, explains the significance of the new information.

How important are today's revelations?

On the face of it, this could be a major development - with confirmation by Jersey police that they have found the remains of at least one child, possibly more, in the cellar of Haut de la Garenne.


Alex Bushill reports from Jersey on the latest findings

Archaeologist and specialist police teams have been excavating four rooms under the former children's home for the past four months.

To date, they have unearthed 30 fragments of bone and seven milk or baby teeth.

Because these fragments were found by a fireplace in the cellar and appear to have been both burnt and cut, the police officer in charge, Lenny Harper, has said this evidence shows "signs of homicide".

Added to this is the fact that many of the milk teeth that have been uncovered are still attached to their root.

For the police and forensic experts, this is a clear sign that these teeth could not have been extracted naturally or indeed accidentally. As a result, the police are now treating this as a suspicious death.

Is this the first time the police have said they have found human remains?

No. But it is the first time they have said on the record that they have found the remains of one child, possibly more.

The process of excavating the complex of cellars is painstaking. Teams of specialists are still sifting through tonnes of rubble in the third and fourth cellar.

It is a challenging task: most of the bone fragments are no bigger than a 50 pence piece and soon adopt the colour of the rubble they are buried in.

The first time the police did announce human remains had been found at the site was when they thought they had discovered fragments of a child's skull under a staircase in Haut de la Garenne itself back in February of this year.

Why isn't this being treated as murder?

Forensics expert at Haut de la Garenne
Forensic experts excavated cellar rooms in Haut de la Garenne

Simply because although all the evidence shows signs of homicide, as the police put it, they cannot pinpoint how old these human remains are.

DNA testing and carbon dating at two laboratories on the UK mainland have so far only revealed that these bone fragments could have been placed at the former children's home as early as the 18th Century or as late as the 1980s.

Establishing exactly when these fragments were buried and whether they were buried no later than the 1960s, when the alleged abuse is thought to have begun, will decide whether this investigation becomes a murder inquiry.

Why has the police inquiry been criticised?

This police inquiry has been criticised for not admitting sooner doubts over the first piece of skull fragments found at Haut de la Garenne.

Specialist teams have found seven milk or baby teeth
It may be that the fragments of skull that sparked the excavation could be nothing more than a piece of wood.

Defending himself at a media conference on Wednesday, the officer in charge, Lenny Harper, dismissed that criticism as "codswallop".

He argued that it was an irrelevance as that fragment had been ruled out of this inquiry for being too old, as it dated back to the 1920s.

He insisted the focus of the investigation now had to be the human remains that have been discovered.

Overall, how is the inquiry going?

For the island of Jersey, this inquiry is unprecedented in scale and scope.

A fifth of the island's police force is working on the case with officers from the mainland having been drafted in.

Above and beyond today's revelations, this criminal investigation continues to examine allegations of abuse at Haut de la Garenne dating back from the 1960s until 1986, when the home was closed.

In all, 160 people have come forward alleging sexual and physical abuse at Haut de la Garenne.

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