February 24 2008
– Prison-like on its hilltop above Jersey’s east coast, Haut de la Garenne must have seemed a frightening prospect to the children sent to live there.
And it seems that for many troubled youngsters, their fears were all too well founded.
Today it has been modernised and refurbished, but thousands of young residents must have quaked as they approached its austere Victorian walls.
The full extent of the unbearable acts children – many with special needs – reportedly had to endure until its closure as a home in the mid-Eighties is still not known.
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As police search for bodies in the house and grounds, some former residents claimed to have been raped and assaulted.
Others say solitary confinement and other ‘dubious practices’ were among the appalling hardships endured by children in desperate need of care.
Last night one local described the alleged abuse as the ‘worst thing that has happened on the island’.
Haut de la Garenne was built in 1867 as the Industrial School for ‘young people of the lower classes of society and neglected children’.
It was meant to reduce juvenile delinquency by taking neglected children from their homes and placing them in a boarding school.
According to historians, poor behaviour led to severe punishments, with flogging or solitary confinement reserved for the worst offenders.
During the occupation of Jersey in the Second World War, the Germans used it as a signal station.
After the war, it became a school, an orphanage and then a children’s home housing up to 60 boys and girls with special needs, before closing around 20 years ago.
More recently it featured as a police station in the television detective series Bergerac.
Senator Stuart Syvret, Jersey’s former minister for health and social services, was sacked after voicing concerns about children’s services on the island.
He claimed violent and sexual abuse in various children’s homes had been going on for 60 years and a culture of concealment had ensured it did not come to light.
Senator Syvret says he has spoken to two alleged victims of assault at Haut de la Garenne and they knew of others who claim to have suffered sexual abuse.
He said: ‘I have seen documents that show children were kept in solitary confinement for days and sometimes weeks on end and one child was kept in solitary for two months.
‘I have spoken to two victims from Haut de la Garenne, they told me of being flogged by canes, locked in cells in solitary confinement and I have been told of sexual abuse at that home.’
Today Haut de la Garenne, which is on Jersey’s list of historic buildings, is the island’s first youth hostel.
A £2.25million refurbishment transformed the two-storey building into a 100-bed hostel, which opened in 2004. But the house’s new identity cannot disguise its past for those who lived there when it was a care home.
In September last year, just before the police investigation was made public and when attention was focusing on a different children’s home scandal on the island, a social worker named William Emslie wrote to a website.
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He had been a graduate social worker during the Eighties at a home on Jersey looking after youngsters who had lived at Haut de La Garenne before it closed.
His words give an insight into life in the home, which he described as ‘monolithic’ and run by ‘mainly untrained, unqualified staff’.
He said: “There, solitary confinement, corporal punishment and many other dubious practices were rife.
“On its closure, young people deemed ‘workable’ were farmed out, leaving us with damaged, institutionalised adolescents.”
But Mr Emslie added: “I like to think that we broke the mould.
“After two years, we had a small community of ‘unplaceable’ children who had a real investment in their home. Most are leading productive lives with decent jobs and families. All have stories to tell.”
Some of those stories from Haut de la Garenne will doubtless be of interest to detectives.
– Beth Hale & Arthur Martin