at the centre of the Jersey inquiry tells Gordon Rayner he will not be cowed by threats Doing what we
have to do': Deputy Chief Officer Lenny Harper was unprepared for the 'venom' directed against him
Bent cops. Hostile politicians. Buried bodies. And at the centre of it, a maverick lawman who has received death
threats for daring to uncover dark secrets from the past.
Sounds familiar? It is, of
course, a formula that has been endlessly revisited by film and television scriptwriters. But for Deputy Chief Officer Lenny
Harper this is real life in the unlikely setting of Jersey, as he and his team try to discover the truth about appalling physical
and sexual abuse allegedly meted out to more than 100 children in a former care home.
Harper is considered a hero by those who trust him enough to reveal the details of their childhood at the Haut de la Garenne
home, there are those on the island who see the Ulsterman as an enemy of the state, an "outsider" poking his nose
in where it is not welcome.
Since he became involved in the investigation, he has had more
than 140 poison-pen letters - one even threatening to burn down his house and firebomb his car.
in the island's parliament have ridiculed him, referring to him as "Lenny Henry", and earlier this month Jersey's
two most senior politicians used keynote speeches to suggest that the real scandal was not child abuse but the media coverage
of the case which Harper has unapologetically courted.
Until now, Harper has refused to be drawn into a fight, but on Wednesday he could barely contain his anger as he
faced the cameras to rebut suggestions that he had deliberately withheld a laboratory report that suggested a "skull
fragment" found at the home might in fact be a piece of wood or coconut shell.
had he not seen the lab report, he said, but cuts on some of the 30 pieces of bone and seven milk teeth discovered so far
by his team pointed to "a homicide or unexplained death". He even produced one of the teeth to press home his point.
His message was clear: no amount of criticism will prevent him from pursuing the truth.
In his most candid interview to date, Harper, 56, admits that the increasingly personal attacks on him have taken
their toll and concedes that his retirement later this year will come as a relief.
no mistake, this is the most stressful job I have ever had," says Harper, who worked for the Metropolitan Police, the
Royal Ulster Constabulary and Strathclyde Police before taking this posting in Jersey six years ago.
"It's more stressful than working in south London, Glasgow, the Springfield and Falls Roads in Belfast.
"I have had not only threats to have my house and car burned, there have been rumours spread about my private
life, letters written by people suggesting I'm having an affair… It's just constant. People have called me
a liar, and at one point a letter was circulated to the newspapers in London saying I was guilty of abuse.
"So yes, I have taken it personally and I am finding it quite difficult."
the old-fashioned copper he is, Harper has, on the whole, refused to take up valuable police resources investigating the smear
campaign, or even the threats against his property.
He finally drew the line, however, when
one critic persistently made obscene gestures at him when he was out with his wife, Christina - and made sure the person in
question was given a warning.
"It's had an effect on my wife as well… it's
not pleasant and it's just unremitting," he says. "I do not have a problem with the job and doing the job, but
it's all the surrounding nonsense.
"There are those who are just waiting for us to
make a mistake. We are doing what we have to do, and there is no way we can backtrack on that. A child or children lies buried
in the cellars under Haut de la Garenne, and no one would expect us to just walk away from that, even if it eventually turns
out that those bones are very old."
Speaking in the TV lounge of Haut de la Garenne,
Harper admits he was unprepared for the "venom" directed at him, and has been surprised at where it has come from.
While he has had widespread support from "ordinary people", and singles out the
island's home affairs minister for praise, he adds: "I don't need to comment on the rest of the politicians;
what they have said speaks for themselves."
He is too discreet to mention anyone by name,
but it was Jersey's health and social services minister Ben Shenton (whose job is to combat child abuse) who sent an email
to cabinet colleagues in March ridiculing Harper and saying: "My wife keeps referring to Lenny Harper as Lenny Henry
- I don't think she's far wrong."
The question has also been raised publicly
as to whether Harper had ever been investigated for "adult abuse".
month the island's bailiff Sir Philip Bailhache (who acts as the speaker in Parliament) said in his annual Liberation
Day speech that many journalists continued to write about the island's "so-called child abuse scandal.
All child abuse… is scandalous, but it is the unjustified and remorseless denigration of Jersey and her people
that is the real scandal". The Chief Minister Frank Walker, the equivalent of Jersey's prime minister, has also rounded
on those who have drawn attention to the case, accusing them of "trying to shaft Jersey internationally".
"They don't like me," says Harper. "That much is obvious. I don't know the reason why. I'm
quite sure none of them has got any connection with it but it's beyond me."
the Second World War, Jersey, which as a Crown Dependency makes its own laws, has been ruled largely by a political elite
of businessmen and bankers who appear to have transplanted the Jersey financial sector's culture of silence into all branches
of the island's establishment.
Harper says he first encountered this omerta when he was
investigating several corrupt police officers who had variously been accused of taking bribes, accessing police databases
as favours for associates, and passing on intelligence files.
Is it simply that Jersey's
political elite are fearful that negative publicity will damage the island's banking and tourism?
"They don't like bad news, and I don't suppose they like the fact that the bad news is coming from elsewhere."
Meaning from someone who's not Jersey-born? He nods.
The Deputy Chief Officer has a wicked
sense of humour and a throaty laugh, but they do not disguise his determination to seek justice for the 116 people currently
regarded as victims of abuse on the island.
Tragedy struck his own family four years ago when
his son-in-law was killed in Iraq while serving with the Royal Military Police. His daughter Raqual was pregnant with the
couple's second child at the time.
Harper is close to his two grandchildren and, like
any parent or grandparent would be, he is sensitive to the suffering which children have been through in Jersey's dark
"Regardless of whether this becomes a murder investigation, we are dealing with
victims of alleged child abuse, and some people seem to forget that," he says.
a defiant dig at some of his predecessors, he adds: "Many of the victims have had no contact with the police previously,
other than hostility, and they are telling us they have come forward because they trust the inquiry team. That is a great
source of pride for me and for the team."
He also cites the alleged victims as the reason
for his controversial decision not to go public with doubts about the "skull fragment". "If I had announced
it, the knives would have come out," he says.
"The inquiry team would have been
attacked… and my view was that that would have done the abuse victims no good at all. Now I have given my detractors
twice the stick to beat us with, but the truth is they didn't need an excuse."
will retire on August 31, when the inquiry will still be wide open. Will he have mixed feelings? "It will be a huge relief
in some ways to leave the pressure behind," he says. "I will miss the people who I'm working with on this inquiry
It is the best inquiry team I've ever worked with. But if I can tell myself
that I've done everything I can do for the victims and for the people working for me then I will be quite content."