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Child Safeguarding: St Helena and Ascension Island

Volume 603: debated on Thursday 10 December 2015

Last year the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs announced the establishment of an independent inquiry into alleged child abuse and associated cover up on the British Overseas Territory of St Helena and Ascension Island, Official Report, column 13-14WS, 20 November 2014, to be led by Sasha Wass QC. Today, the UK Government have published her report. I would like to thank Sasha Wass QC and her inquiry team for producing this detailed and comprehensive report.

I welcome this independent, comprehensive report and the inquiry’s finding that there is no evidence of corruption or cover up in the St Helena Police Service, the St Helena and Ascension Island Governments, the FCO or Department for International Development. The inquiry also found that there is no evidence that child abuse is either endemic or routine in St Helena or Ascension Island. These are the key issues that the inquiry was constituted to investigate and it is an important milestone for the people of St Helena and Ascension, and for those with whom the inquiry engaged that these serious allegations have been found to be without any basis.

But we cannot be complacent. The inquiry found evidence of systemic failings by social services and police in the past, although noted the significant progress in safeguarding in general, and social services provision in particular, since May 2014. The inquiry makes a number of recommendations in relation to child safeguarding institutions and procedures; the recruitment and induction of key staff; and the implementation of specialist advice on child safeguarding.

Protecting children from abuse is an absolute priority. We will continue to build on the progress that has been achieved in recent years. DFID has allocated an additional £1.2 million for safeguarding in 2015-16 on top of its contribution (£4.0 million) to the funding of the St Helena Government health and social care, leading to: the creation of a new safeguarding directorate; a reinvigorated child safeguarding board; more police officers, social workers, family centres for victims; and training for all St Helena Government employees who work with children.

The Government accept all the recommendations in this report. We intend to appoint a senior UK official, to be based in St Helena, specifically to oversee the implementation of the recommendations in the report. We will announce the details shortly, and expect the appointee to be on island in early 2016. We will update the House on implementation of these recommendations within six months.

More broadly, we are determined to build on the foundations already in place to address issues raised by the report, and to continue to meet the reasonable assistance needs of the population of the island.

I want to underscore the UK Government’s commitment to working in partnership with all territories to build vibrant and flourishing communities. I convened a joint ministerial Council last week of the elected leaders of the overseas territory Governments, where we reiterated our shared commitment to a zero-tolerance approach to child abuse in all its forms, and to ensuring a child-centred and co-ordinated approach to safeguarding based on multi-agency working, information sharing and robust risk assessment.

There are ongoing police investigations relating to issues addressed in the report. There is also the possibility of further police investigations into serious criminal offences in the future. In order to avoid prejudice to current and future investigations, the published version of the report has been redacted to remove much of the contents of Chapter 9 and associated references in the body of the report. The report will be re-published with the redactions related to Chapter 9 removed as soon as circumstances permit.