On Wednesday, Jersey's chief of police resigned. Much of what we have been led to believe about Haut de la Garenne, a former children's home on the island and the subject of and extensive child abuse investigation, is completely untrue. The remains of a child’s skeleton turns out to be a small piece of coconut shell. The shackles are a rusty piece of metal. The underground torture chambers, holes in the floor.
Apparently, the police had adopted a PR strategy of releasing as much information as quickly as possible in order to reassure the victims of abuse that they could be trusted. They hoped that this would encourage more former residents to come forward with information. Also, it was hoped that this 'tell all' strategy would to prevent the authorities from covering up damaging revelations.
The media then went on to embellish the stories. So, with in a few days, an item 25mm long, which could have been a piece of human skull became, in all the papers, the partial remains of a girl’s skeleton. An underground space has become four torture chambers.
We were told yesterday that, in fact, no murders had taken place, that much of this previously released evidence was misleadint. That no children were murdered is, of course, good news, but doesn’t take away from the fact that terrible abuse went on in this home for many years and there are very many victims coming forward now to say so.
However, what deeply shocked me yesterday as I listened to the report on BBC Radio 4's PM, was the hypocrisy of the media. The very people who have exaggerated this story beyond recognition were having a field day exclaiming, "how could this have possibly happened?" PM's presenter interviewed their own reporter who had been in Jersey to cover the story, although she was not asked if she had embroidered the facts, and I can only assume that she, or someone on the editorial team, is as guilty as the rest of embellishment. An expert author who was then interviewed stated that no news desk would thank a reporter who only reported the facts and did not enlarge the story to keep up with all the other news agencies; instead, they would be 'ticked off'. Journalists are, apparently, highly trained to be sceptical. He went on to say how he had been suspicious of the four torture chambers from the start. Why would you need four? One, he argued, was believable, but not four. If there is a choice between a good story and a true story, he said, they will always chose the good. The implication being that this kind of, well, lying is normal and we were fools for going along with it.
I feel taken for a ride, manipulated, and deceived. I also feel angry that the same presenters who had offered up this story and discussed it with deep concern, were now pointing the finger at everyone but themselves as to how it could have been so misleading. Surely, if journalists are professionally trained to be cynical, this self-same, well-respected presenter should also have known the story had been exaggerated. But the only person being held accountable for this is Jersey's chief of police.