Monday, 25 August 2014

Bloggers Excluded by Jersey Child Abuse Inquiry.

Bloggers (Jersey's only independent media) have been excluded from reporting from the Jersey Child Abuse Inquiry at 11-15 Seaton Place St Helier.

Regular readers will know that the Inquiry Team came up with the idea of "Media Accreditation" when it published its protocols earlier this year which can be read HERE. The Inquiry Team then decided to scrap the media accreditation after only receiving 5 applications. So rather than act in the positive and accredit the applicants which were three State Media and two Bloggers (VFC and BOB HILL) the team decided not to accredit anybody and give us all the same access to the media room at Seaton Place.

During this time the inquiry team were being made aware that the majority of the abuse survivors, and potential witnesses, to the inquiry, do not trust the local State Media who stand accused of  complicity in the Jersey cover-up. The team were also made aware that the latest local social survey showed that sixty per-cent, of those surveyed, do not trust the local State Media. In contrast the majority of Abuse Survivors DO trust this, and Bob Hill's Blog, as do a growing number of islanders. The inquiry team were also aware that VFC have not broken a single protocol or breached any Press Release Embargoes and the same can't be said for the Jersey Evening Post (JEP) who breached an embargo and the BBC who were, contrary to the protocols, filming inside the hearing's building, at the bottom of the stairs where any unsuspecting victim/witness would, and in one case was, confronted with a BBC camera, pointing at them when attempting to leave the building.

Tuesday 12 August 2014 was a usual public hearing where Bloggers, and State Media, were sharing the facilities in the media room as had been the case since the hearings begun back in July. It had become a little cramped in the media room due to the BBC having, at one point, five employees in the room, to include a camera man and a national BBC reporter, who was on holiday here, not reporting on the hearing.

The BBC Reporter was Robert Hall who, as part of his original application to the Inquiry Team for accreditation wrote;

"In closing I’d like to thank you once again for the way in which you are dealing with media interest, and close with one thought; I note from local web activity that some non-accredited interested parties are eager to gain accreditation.
Should space be as limited as you fear, I foresee difficulties on busy days if such accreditation goes beyond recognised media organisations......just my view...."(END)

All applications (including Mr. Hall's) can be viewed HERE. 

So the BBC crowds the room with five of its employees, at least two of which had no place being there, and the Inquiry Panel make a ruling to EXCLUDE the only two Bloggers who applied for media accreditation and have been using the facilities from the start without incident. All State media who applied for accreditation were granted it with the same ruling.

The ruling was made almost overnight with those being granted accreditation (State Media) being informed of their accreditation on Wednesday 13 August, the night before the next public hearing. The two Bloggers (VFC and Bob Hill) who had been refused accreditation were not informed of the ruling and had to suffer the humiliation of being turned away from the media room on the Thursday morning. (Humiliation is a subject I will come on to further in this posting.)

But the real reason for banning Bloggers overnight could have more to do with former Health Minister and anti Child Abuse Campaigner, Stuart Syvret, who was in the media room, for the first time, on Tuesday the 12 August. Stuart was tweeting from the room that was challenging the competency of the hearing and its questioning (or lack of) of the witnesses. The Inquiry Team would not have taken well to his criticisms, which in fairness could have been communicated a little less robust, but were perfectly valid observations that need addressing. This gave the Inquiry Team the excuse, we believe it has been looking for, to exclude Bloggers from the media room. It was a typical knee-jerk reaction from the Inquiry Team to ban Bloggers which will ensure the State Media (who don't question anything) have exclusive rights on reporting from the Inquiry building.

So we know the Panel can react with lightening speed in excluding Bloggers, in making a ruling overnight, yet when this Blogger attempts to appeal the decision, e-mails and questions are ignored. Since the day of the banning I have been attempting to find out how to appeal the decision and have all but been ignored.

Back to Thursday 14 August, at the hearing, after suffering the humiliation of being turned away from the media room, I was sat in the public hearing room. The public are not allowed to have any electronic appliances (Tablets/ipads/iphones/laptops phones etc) switched on in the room.

I have never mentioned my disability on this Blog as it is something I don't talk about but there comes a time when it has to be mentioned and this is the time.

Some years ago I suffered a horrific accident where my dominant right hand was wrenched from my arm and has left me an amputee and coming to terms with my disability is something I still struggle with on a daily basis. I can barely write with my left hand and I certainly can't write at any speed that would be legible, indeed when not writing at speed it is barely legible. 

So there I was sat in the public hearing room feeling absolutely useless and humiliated. I could not even pretend to be writing something down on a pad as I didn't have a pen, or pad, as I had no idea the ruling had been made to ban me (and Bob Hill) from the media room and indeed I don't even carry a pen and pad because of my inability to write (at speed anyway).

Sat next to me, in the public hearing room, was a member of the Jersey Care Leavers Association, (JCLA) and good friend of mine, Jill Garcia, who said that the JCLA have a room in the building where, just like the media room, it has a video/audio feed to the public hearing room and I am welcome to use the room, where I could type up any notes on my ipad, if the Inquiry Team agreed.

We asked, a very helpful Tina Wing, if it was OK and she saw no problem as I was a trusted associate of the JCLA and its members. This was a great relief as it got me out of the public hearing room where I was, as mentioned above, feeling humiliated and embarrassed. 

I spent the rest of the morning/hearing in the JCLA room where I was able to use my electronic devices and make notes. The hearings stopped for lunch and I popped out to get a sandwich, and can of pop, which I could take back and eat/drink in the JCLA room during the lunch-break.

Upon my return to the hearing building I had to ask to be let back into the JCLA room as the doors need a pass card held by the Inquiry Team. It was at this stage I was told, by a not so helpful member of the Inquiry Team, whom I believe to be, Ms. Natalie Minott  that I am NOT allowed in the JCLA room because it is for "interested parties" only. As spurious and unconvincing as the explanation was, of course I had to adhere to it. This is after being told that there was no problem being in the room only an hour or so before by Ms. Wing.

I was stood in the main reception with my sandwich in my one hand, and can of pop secured in the joint at my inside elbow and bicep on my right arm. I asked, as there was no-one around, in the rooms, could I just go in the JCLA room with JCLA member Jill Gracia, who was eating her lunch in there, and eat my lunch with her? To which Ms. Minott refused, so I asked, as it was lunchtime and no-one around, could I eat my lunch in the media room, or even the public hearing room? Again Ms. Minott refused. So I asked am I to be made to go and eat my sandwich in the street, (bearing in mind I can't physically enjoy my sandwich and drink at the same time unless I have somewhere to put one of them down) to which Ms Minott replied "there are plenty of establishments who have seating areas in town" (or words very similar.)

This was even more humiliating for me, than having to sit in the public hearing room, not being able to write up notes. Now this "care" inquiry team is forcing me to go on the street and eat my lunch rather than allow me ten minutes to do it in the building where others were eating their lunch.

It was at this point that I began to suspect the banning of Bloggers from the media room was not a decision made on any professional grounds, it was made on personal grounds. For reasons only known to Natalie Minott, or the Inquiry Panel, they want to make life for me, at the building, as difficult as they possibly can. Why would a team investigating "care" act so callously towards a disabled man?

Since attempting to come to terms with my disability this experience has got to be one of the most humiliating I've ever suffered.

If this is not a personal issue on behalf of the "care" inquiry team then one has to question the real motives behind excluding the only people (Bloggers) who have been a voice for victims and uncovered the truth that has been, and is being, buried by the State Media from media accreditation? Notwithstanding the Inquiry Team is aware that a number of witnesses have only come forward because of this Blog and that of RICO SORDA. Witnesses who WOULD NOT have come forward if VFC and Rico Sorda had not convinced them. Indeed there is a strong argument to suggest, if it wasn't for the Bloggers, there would be no Inquiry at all. We (unlike the State Media) HAVE questioned "The Party Line" and supplied official documents to the few brave politicians who speak out against the Child Abuse cover-up. We have strongly lobbied those former, and present, politicians to keep this subject in the political and public arena. We have been instrumental in the formation of the TOR's the Committee of Inquiry are now working to. It also seems ironic that Bob Hill should also be banned, because if it was not for Bob's amendments to P19/2011 it is almost certain that there would not be a Committee of Inquiry. P19/2011 and its amendments were covered, in-depth, by VFC HERE.  

The "care" inquiry know how trusted the Bloggers are and it knows how untrusted the State Media is yet it bans the trusted Bloggers.

We asked (although we knew the answer) back in March this year if the Bloggers were going to be marginalised by the Inquiry in a Blog posted HERE. The answer is a clear "yes" and if one looks at that link they will see why, if anybody should be excluded from media accreditation, it should be the State Media. The question readers should be asking is why has the State Media got exclusive rights and the Bloggers silenced if the "care" inquiry wants to get the truth out there?

In light of what appears to be an undisclosed, if not nonexistent, appeals process, this blog stands as a challenge to the Inquiry Team to stop banning those who seek to inform the public on the proceedings of what is meant to be a "public" Child Abuse inquiry.

Reasonable minds can certainly agree that to politicise access to key facilities needed to cover these landmark hearings harks back to some of the most concerning problems plaguing the island and, again, shows a terrible insensitivity to the victims, as the "accredited" news organisations approved by Inquiry Judge Oldham have repeatedly denied the extent of their abuse.

It also calls into question the direction of what the island has been repeatedly promised is supposed to be a neutral and independent inquiry. VFC awaits a response as to why it and other independent news sources have been banned and will publicise this matter until it is properly rectified. This inquiry has already struggled to get victims to trust it and to come forward. If it wants the island to truly believe it represents the public interest, it will stop playing politics with news coverage and focus on doing its job.