Just how do you rehabilitate a society where two thirds of the adult males have been jailed for sexual offences? Where more than half the population are dependant pensioners, and where, within the next seven years, that ratio will rise to two thirds? Who will keep the society functioning whilst those males are jailed? Who will ensure the safety of the children when those males eventually serve their sentence and are released into the population?
These are questions that our island will have to answer eventually, if we are to continue to actively pursue a policy of jailing every man alleged to have had sexual contact with a person below the age of 16 during the 60s and 70s. Chris Grayling revealed that we currently have 11,000 sex offenders behind bars and eight of our prisons are reserved for sex offenders. This British Isle has a higher percentage of their citizens in jail than any other West European nation, and a rapidly ageing population, so the question is not idly posed.
Nine thousands miles away from the hub of Operation Yewtree lies a two mile by one mile outcrop of volcanic rock that has been forced to address these issues. I have written of Pitcairn Island before – I visited there as a child and retain an interest.
Walter Brodie wrote of the island:
“There is neither wealth nor want, a primitive simplicity of life and manner, perfect equality in rank and station, and perfect content”.
It has been a British colony, bound by British laws since 1838, populated by the descendants of ‘The Bounty’ in 1790 – though Britain had taken so little interest in the 56 inhabitants, each belonging to one of four families, that amongst other omissions, nobody had thought to tell the islanders that the ‘age of consent’ in Britain had been raised from 12 to 16 in 1885. Some 95 years after the original inhabitants had last set foot in England.
Thus began the saga of a young English policewoman, Gail Cox, being sent to this virtually inaccessible lump of rock (the quickest journey is by sea from New Zealand 5,000 miles away, and then by long boat through the turbulent surf – and Gail started from Maidstone in Kent!) to carry out Operation Unique.
Gail’s £30,000 a year posting came about as a result of an incident in 1996 when the 11 year old daughter of an Australian, temporarily staying on the island, said that she had been raped. Two officers with Kent county constabulary, Detective Superintendent Dennis McGookin and his colleague Detective Sergeant Peter George were sent to investigate. They found that there was no case to answer, and returned home – but with tales of many other ‘crimes’ occurring on the island. Unlicensed firearms, and alcohol offences…
“There are more guns on that island than anyone needs. The islanders need to get their act together, or someone is going to be killed.”
Nobody had been of course, unless you count the 13, all occurring in the first three years of the islands life 1790 – 1793! The magistrates court had not sat for 20 years and a three-cell jail, built for the island’s bicentenary in 1990, had never been used for prisoners, although it had proved useful for storing lifejackets. The role of island ‘policeman’ was a revolving one of community service, to ensure that sometimes, should you report the theft of your prize banana plant, it wasn’t, of necessity, to the uncle, brother, father or husband of the thief. Remember – just four families.
There was no airstrip, no hotel, no telephone, no TV.
Just Gail Cox, and a mission to end crime on Pitcairn…in a language she didn’t speak. Pitkern, a form of pidgin, enjoys its own unique vocabulary. A gun is still a ‘musket’ and a banana is a ‘plan’ (possibly derived from ‘plantain’); ‘I ca wha’ means ‘I don’t know’. ‘Uwas’ is ours.
The islanders, all Seventh Day Adventists, are a tight-knit community, suspicious of outsiders. Gail appears to have employed an interesting interview technique:
The British police officer who unearthed the initial allegations of child sex abuse on Pitcairn tried to obtain information from an islander by getting him drunk, Supreme Court judges in Auckland heard yesterday.
Constable Gail Cox of Kent Police, who was sent to the British overseas territory twice in the late 1990s to train locals in community policing, admitted that the episode involving Dennis Christian was “an unorthodox approach to policing” and “totally unethical”.
The prosecution wailed that “It’s been very difficult to keep the complainants on board. The police have been working round the clock to keep them,” a Norwegian lady, Kari Young, married to one of the islanders later claimed that the British government offered women “com pensation if they had stories to tell, whether about themselves or their neighbours” and “put pressure on the women to fabricate stories”. When women did come forward to tell police what happened to them, they made it clear from the outset that they did not want their interviews to be used as evidence.
Although the British Government put up £500,000 in compensation ‘for the abuse suffered’ they limited application to those who had co-operated, thus none of the 17 women that Gail Cox had spoken to on the island were eligible.
The British Government has never supported Pitcairn Island, it is dependant on a (very Libertarian) ideal of self governance and self reliance. The UK claims no responsibility for it in respect of say the European Convention on Human Rights; it is outside of the electoral system and has no vote, nor is it subject to the same system of taxation, social security, or minimum wages. Yet now 6 men were to be jailed by order of that British jurisdiction, in jails which they must, of necessity, build themselves – for they represented half of the islands workforce. The trial alone cost £4 million – and the Foreign Office was forced to advertise for three prison officers to undertake guard duty and ‘supervised community work, to include the essential ‘digging up the annual arrowroot crop, cutting cane for molasses, and launching the longboats’.
How do you come back from that position?
One convicted sex offender, Terry Young fell ill with appendicitis – the only means of getting help was a passing yacht – he died at sea en route to hospital. The other five are now released from their jail sentences and back at work in the community. The Foreign Office have responded to this threat of ‘half the men on the island’ being ‘convicted sex offenders’, by a) not allowing visiting yachts to land on the island if there are children under 16 aboard, and b) not allowing Foreign Office staff, of which there are now 11 on secondment, to have accompanying children with them.
Thus ensuring that the 10 children on the island (yes, that is more than one ‘outsider’ engaged in child protection per child!) never meet a normal child not subjected to this level of supervision. Those Foreign Office secondments include social workers, and specially trained police officers, and add up to an annual cost of £2.76 million – which works out at £56,000 for each man, woman and child on Pitcairn – though they did throw in a supply boat to visit the island four times a year (presumably as much to ensure rotation of staff as anything else). The 10 children now follow the New Zealand school curriculum, so will be fully versed in the economics of sheep production – not that they have ever set eyes on a sheep.
Pitcairn has become the most heavily policed community in the world. Two rotating Ministry of Defence police officers – one sergeant and one constable – are now permanently posted on the island, together with two more investigating officers. Two social workers specialising in child protection are sent out from New Zealand on three-month contracts. Under a new Child Protection Ordinance, they’ve been given the power to remove a child from its family if they fear for its welfare. All have had houses built for them (by the island men – funded by Britain) which include flushing toilets and other luxuries never before seen on the island.
The men have now reverted to their original positions on the island (there was no one else to take them) so Shawn Christian (convicted sex offender) has now taken the role of Mayor (previously held by his Father Steve Christian – convicted sex offender), Jay Warren (convicted of putting his hand down a teenage girls bikini bottom some 20 years beforehand) is once more a councillor – and the men have had their .22 rifles returned to them – nobody had offered the islanders any other means of getting their dietary mainstay, the breadfruit, out of the high trees without employing marksmen to shoot the slender stem and release the fruit.
The British Government have employed Solomon Leonard in New Zealand to produce glossy brochures of ‘Strategic Development Plans’ for Pitcairn, which sound marvellous when brought up in debates in the House :
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to encourage immigration to Pitcairn; what are the targets for immigration to Pitcairn; and what they consider to be the obstacles to such immigration.[HL1839]
But when you burrow down into those reports, you find that the ‘target’ for increasing the population of the island was:
“five immigrants as set out in the Immigration Policy has not been met in 2013, the PIC is already on the back foot. This means that the target for 2014 is now nine immigrants.”
The report acknowledges the difficulty of attracting migrants of working age, without children below the age of 16, who wish to live a subsistence lifestyle and have the requisite sharp shooting skills to get their dinner out of the breadfruit tree.
In reality, no-one will migrate to Pitcairn Islands for purely economic reasons as there are limited government jobs, a lack of private sector employment, as well as considerable competition for the tourism dollar.
Another survey, conducted by Solomon Leonard amongst those who had left the island, inquiring whether they might return, revealed some of the reasons why they were only able to get 33 responses to their survey, despite strenuous efforts to contact many of Pitkern heritage:
Verbal comments revealed that in recent times disclosing their Pitkern heritage has had very severe negative social impacts and has also affected business and employment for many. One respondent gave an example of having to stop dealing with a major NZ supplier because of the verbal abuse he received in relation to Operation Unique each time he visited to pick up supplies.
The situation is not likely to improve – a few months ago, Meg MunnMP asked whether she could have a copy of the third Pitcairn Child Safety Review on those 10 children. She was told that she couldn’t, but there ‘is a summary available’. A month later she was back asking about the progress of recommendations in that summary. James Duddridge gave her an answer:
Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) has upgraded its presence on the island with a newly arrived Administrator. Officials visited the island in 2013 and had detailed discussions on child safeguarding with the Council. Child Matters Trust, a New Zealand based Non Governmental Organisation, visited the island in 2014 to deliver training. The new Governor based in New Zealand has re-iterated the importance of child safeguarding during his first visit in November.
There is a stronger partnership between HMG and the Pitcairn Island Council on child safeguarding. We work closely with the Council to implement all the recommendations. Our commitment to strengthen the protection of children, young people and their families on Pitcairn remains a top priority. Established policies and procedures are in place for handling child protection concerns. This includes the retention of a restrictive applications process for visits to Pitcairn by minors. There is a community of professionals on Pitcairn, including a police officer, a trained social worker, a teacher and a doctor, who all play an important role in child safety. Until such time as a future report shows no risk to children on the island, the very robust safeguarding measures will remain in place.
The European Convention on Human Rights has yet to be ratified in respect of Pitcairn Island, a curious and ominous omission – however they are bang up to date in other matters. The British Government has ensured that they pass a law allowing those 10 children to marry others of the same sex when they become 16….a notice was stuck up on the door of the one and only shop telling them so – this is the British Government finally getting round to telling them about changes in the law!
Given that the only pastor on the island is a confirmed Seventh Day Adventist, bitterly against same sex marriage, as is the rest of the population, and I can’t find any evidence that anyone told them that homosexuality was now legal, I doubt there will be a queue to take up this offer.
Here is another link to a fuller piece describing the original charges.