The chair of the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry has stressed its autonomy in its mission to establish what went wrong in the island’s care system.
In her opening address at the start of the public hearings on Tuesday (22 July), Frances Oldham QC said: "We will conduct our work independently; independently of the States of Jersey, independently of the Police and independently of any other organisation or individual in Jersey.
"We are not partisan and we favour no particular group or individual," she added.
She repeated her call for all those who have a contribution to make to come forward and give their account.
"A public inquiry is only as effective as the evidence placed before it. We need to hear your voice. This Inquiry provides a unique opportunity for everyone involved with the care of children to reflect upon what happened."
Ms Oldham stated that it had taken less time than many other public inquiries to reach this stage, but time had been needed to commission and equip the Seaton Place premises with the necessary IT and to provide the right environment for witnesses. She added:
"Witnesses need time to give their statements. There is no pressure and a priority for the Inquiry team is the wellbeing of those who recount, possibly for the first time, their experiences in childhood."
Ms Oldham introduced Barbara Machon from Jersey Victim Support, explaining that the Inquiry can provide free independent witness support both on and off Jersey; details available on the website.
"We are focussed on one task – to establish what happened in the care system in Jersey and thereby provide assistance and protection for children in the future. This Inquiry is the opportunity for you to have independent scrutiny of past events.
"If what happened was wrong we will say so...that is our commitment to you." she concluded.
Counsel to the Inquiry, Patrick Sadd and Harriet Jerram, then set out details of Phase 1 of the Inquiry.
Ms Jerram stated that a lot of work had been done behind the scenes in order to start the hearings. She took the opportunity to ask again for anyone who has evidence to come forward and tell their story - including senior managers, support staff,doctors, police officers, teachers - indeed anyone coming into contact with children in residential or foster care.
"Some of those witnesses may be hesitant about coming forward, fearing they would be blamed or tained by association," she said.
"We would say that this is your chance to put your version of events, to tell your story and to right any wrongs from the past. We ask you please for your help."
Speaking on behalf of the Jersey Care leavers' Association, Alan Collins told the Inquiry: "From what we have heard so far today, we are encouraged that the omens seem good and we hope from the hard work we have been hearing about, witnesses will be encouraged to come forward and assist."
The Inquiry then adjourned until 1000 Wednesday 22 July, when Advocate Lacey and Advocate MacRae will be giving opening addresses.
Full transcripts will be available to read and download via the IJCI website.
If you have information about Jersey’s care system please contact the Inquiry:
Freephone from Jersey/UK: 0800 735 0100
International: +44 (0)1534 828 798