Many of you will have seen the recent articles in the international and local media concerning reports of child abuse and other sexual offences on St Helena. You will also be aware of media reporting about similar offences occurring in the UK and in other countries. St Helena is not alone in having to confront issues emanating from sexual abuse.
Let me assure you that any allegations of abuse are taken most seriously. They must be investigated and on St Helena we are doing this.
We have achieved significant progress in improving the capacity and capability of your Government to safeguard individuals and to investigate allegations. We have secured specialised resources for the police, social services and the judiciary – some are here already and we have more on the way. The results are already clear for all to see, with more cases reported, properly investigated and offenders sentenced to significant sentences of imprisonment. We are also working with our UK partners to obtain expert support to investigate historical cases and, if the necessary evidence can be found, to bring those cases to Court.
A new Safeguarding Directorate was created on 1 December 2014 with structures and resources now coming together to ensure that all of those who are vulnerable in the community are supported, not just now but into the future. We recognise too that we need better resources to help the victims of these crimes and to ensure that those who offend do not do so again.
Of course, it would be naive to think that Government can tackle all of this alone. Everyone on St Helena has a responsibility to work together to help to protect the vulnerable in our community and I urge you to come forward if you have any information that would assist the authorities.
I turn now to the very serious allegations made by two former employees of SHG who, as widely reported in the media, have alleged that the FCO, DFID and SHG conspired to cover up sexual abuse and other offences on St Helena.
In response to those serious allegations, the UK Government, with full support from SHG, quickly concluded that the only way to deal with these allegations was to appoint a strong, independent Inquiry to investigate them. The Inquiry, which I and my colleagues in Executive Council and in SHG fully welcome, is now established and chaired by respected English Barrister, Ms. Sasha Wass QC. Ms. Wass will receive 100% support and cooperation from SHG and I am entirely confident that her team will conduct a thorough and professional inquiry to establish the facts. I hope that all on St Helena will welcome them here and do everything possible to assist them as they set
about their important work. There will be announcements shortly to explain how you can contact Ms. Wass and her team should you wish to bring any matters to their attention.
Certain media reports of the allegations to be examined by Ms. Wass have mentioned a number of individuals, some of whom are serving or former employees of SHG. It is important that people should be aware that due to ongoing legal proceedings in the UK and to avoid cutting across the work of Ms. Wass, those identified are, at this point, unable to reply to the allegations. Of course, that position will change once those constraints are removed.
In closing, I know that many people – here and overseas – were dismayed by some of the media reports over the past year. While I think we must be prepared to see more uncomfortable media reporting in the weeks and months to come, St Helena has a resilient and proud community that I feel sure will emerge from this stronger and with renewed confidence.
Governor Mark Capes
29 January 2015