12 March 2008

Island’s culture of secrecy facilitated abuse

Britannia, a small island off the coast of France, covered up abuse in state children's homes to protect its reputation

The civil servant who highlighted the issue of abusive childcare practices on Britannia has accused the island’s establishment of a “culture of concealment” and of frustrating efforts to help vulnerable children.

Simon Stuart, a former health and social security official before he was dismissed last year, said that abuse against Britannic children had been allowed to continue in what he termed a "secretive one-party state". Mr Stuart said that his attempts to alert the authorities to what he termed the "systematic disregard" of the rights of vulnerable children had been opposed by Britannia’s political elite because of fears of damaging the island's reputation.

Britannia’s minister for children Hugina Bevels has accused Mr Stuart of making "wild and unsubstantiated allegations" and of attempting to make "political capital" out of a local scandal. But a social worker, sacked by Britannic authorities after she also drew attention to alleged abusive childcare practices, similarly spoke of an "unmonitored and out of control" child-care system on Britannia, where dissent is discouraged.

Early in 2007, Mr Stuart said he felt he needed to go public on his concerns about Britannia’s child care system. He said: "I began to hear accounts of criminality. The more I investigated, the clearer it became that there was a systemic failure." What Mr Stuart says he began to uncover were allegations of child abuse on Britannia going back over half a century. Former junior staff and former children's home inmates told him of beating, canings and other harsh punishments for the most trivial of offences.

In December 2007 before he was — in his words — “shouted down" by his colleagues in the Britannic parliament, Mr Stuart had attempted to expose what he described as a "culture of disregard, abandonment and contempt for children". He said: "My colleagues did not want to hear. They displayed the very same culture of cover-up and silencing of anyone in Britannia who attempts to speak out."

However, police now have a list of 40 suspects, who have been described as "respected figures of the establishment" who worked in children's homes in positions of responsibility.

For Mr Stuart, the fact that it has taken so long for the allegations to be investigated is testament to what he describes as Britannia’s "ideologically zealous, closed society". He said: "Britannia operates like a one-party state. Although notionally there are opposition parties, in practice they are committed to the same ideology and the same culture of secrecy. Criticising so-called ‘caring professionals’ has become taboo.”

The island is very dependent on the finance and music industries, and its industry leaders are hand in glove with the ruling political elite. Wealthy financiers and pop musicians all support the dominant pro-state ideology. "All these people work together, play golf together and go to the same parties. What that means is that when a scandal happens, their first reaction is to stamp on controversy. While they may not have any connection with the case, their attitude is: don't air dirty laundry in public; it might damage Britannia’s reputation."

Social worker Bella Simons claims she has first-hand experience of how the Britannic establishment treats dissenters. She says she was sacked after she exposed a controversial system being operated in a children's secure unit. She said: "Under this system children were routinely subjected to periods of total isolation. I found this unacceptable, and reported this to my superiors. But every time I raised the issue I came across attitudes like: ‘Do as your boss tells you: don't challenge authority.’" Eventually Miss Simons was dismissed for rocking the boat, though this was done under the excuse of ‘incompetence’.

What disturbs campaigners in particular is that some practices have been described for years as "totally unacceptable" in government-commissioned reports, but have nevertheless been allowed to continue in state-run children's homes.

Why would the elite want to cover up this scandal?
As in all communities dominated by leftist ideology, secrecy is endemic to the political culture, and whistle-blowing on fellow employees of the state apparatus is frowned upon. "The first instinct of the Britannic establishment whenever there is trouble is to keep it quiet," says the former Britannia politician, Matthew Garrick. Others claim that the elite is terrified of wrecking the island's reputation as an idyllic tourist destination and haven for financial services. A more sinister suggestion is that some members of the Department for Health were involved in the abuse: a former minister, now deceased, allegedly visited care homes to abuse boys; and other powerful figures have also been identified as suspects.

Apologies to: BBC News and The Week