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10 September 2015

A former Jersey politician who served on the Health and Social Services Committee has given his evidence to the Inquiry.​

Paul Le Claire was elected in April 1999 and held roles as a Deputy and Senator until December 2011.

Counsel Patrick Sadd asked Mr Le Claire to describe how the committee system of government, in place until 2005, worked, in particular to outline what was done to ensure liaison between the different committees involved with a child in care.

Mr Le Claire said he'd had "no expertise" in the remit of health and social services, but believed he'd been appointed to the committee to prevent him speaking out on controversial issues. He told the Inquiry it was: "...deemed inappropriate for one to be speaking out of harmony with the committee."

When Mr Le Claire joined the committee, Stuart Syvret was a member and Dick Shenton was its President. He said there were "numerous occasions" when clerks were told not to minute parts of the meeting. One example was about a case where children were feared to be subject to abuse. Mr Le Claire said: "This usually happened when something controversial was being raised, or something that could potentially damage the reputation of the States."

Mr Sadd asked about the way in which policies were formulated in Jersey and whether there had been annual reviews in relation to children on the island, in the way that there was over health. Mr Le Claire remembered briefings about the Jersey Children Law that came into force in 2005.

He described Children's Services as the "poor brother or sister of the committee", behind health services, when it came to the allocation of funds.

Mr Le Claire described a culture of "fear, control and cover-up" in Jersey politics. He was asked how that might impact on the oversight of Children's Services and said: "...speaking out is not done. If you want to look after your own career, you shouldn't do it.....you and your family members will all feel the wrath of the States if you decide to reveal things that are embarrassing to them publicly."

The former Senator recalled a committee meeting in which the head of Children's Services told members about the abuse of children in what was called "an open house" for paedophiles. Mr Le Claire had wanted to call the police and for the children to be taken away from their parents. He'd been told the police were informed and that "the last thing" Children's Services wanted to do was to take the children from their parents.  Explaining why he'd taken no further action, Mr Le Claire said that, as laymen, "we always referred to our officers, who were paid highly to give us advice."

He told the hearing that "oversight of the committee at the time in relation (to child protection) was certainly insufficient and poor at best."

Mr Le Claire said he believed Stuart Syvret's career as a politician was ended not because of abuse or the safeguarding of children but because he had fallen foul of the establishment by speaking out on issues of finance, Jersey's dominant industry. He also suggested that former Chief of Police, Graham Power, and Deputy Chief, Lenny Harper, were "effectively got rid of" over concerns about Operation Rectangle.

When invited to comment on how child protection procedures might be strengthened, Mr Le Claire called for the appointment of a Children's Minister, along with improved accountability. He said the message needs to be communicated that: "This sort of culture of cover up, concealment, bullying and intimidation is no longer the way we do things."

The full transcript and supporting documents will be uploaded to the website as soon as they're available.

Tomorrow's hearing will begin at 11 am.​

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