On 10 December 2015, Official Report, column 56WS, I informed the House that the UK Government had published a report by Sasha Wass QC on allegations surrounding child safeguarding issues on St Helena and Ascension Island. The report was independent and comprehensive, and I welcomed its conclusion that no evidence had been found of corruption or cover up in the St Helena police service, the St Helena and Ascension Island Governments, the FCO or DFID.
However, the report did find evidence of systemic failings by social services and police in the past. The report made a number of recommendations in relation to child safeguarding. The Government accepted all of its recommendations, and on 29 January 2016 the FCO appointed Ms Ginny Ferson to St Helena as UK Government special representative: Wass inquiry implementation. Ms Ferson went immediately to St Helena, visiting Ascension Island en route. She established good relationships with local Government officials, police and other stakeholders and worked alongside them on implementing the Wass inquiry recommendations. This included an analysis of previous reports commissioned by the FCO and DFID to determine which previous recommendations remained outstanding but valid. Those recommendations that remained valid but outstanding have now been implemented.
To ensure full transparency, the St Helena and Ascension Island Governments collated the recommendations of the inquiry report into a risk-rated action plan which has been published on their respective Government websites. Ms Ferson’s report will be available on gov.uk.
Good progress has been made in implementing the recommendations of the inquiry report. The UK Government have increased the funding they provide to the St Helena Government for child safeguarding and for health and social care more generally, and improved co-ordinated efforts are bringing about real change. For example, Jamestown hospital is undergoing a £2.8 million refurbishment of its medical wing, due for completion by the end of July 2016. In addition, a funding uplift has enabled the rebuilding of a dedicated community nursing team and re-opening of three local health clinics. The safeguarding directorate and police service have rolled out a locally adapted version of “Working Together 2015” based on the UK model. The Ascension Island Government have done likewise. All schools now have a designated child safeguarding lead. Most recommendations have been fully implemented, others are on course to being completed. One relating to secondments to a UK police investigations team will be implemented as soon as staffing levels allow.
It is important that the improvements are sustainable and Ms Ferson includes advice on future-proofing in her report which we, alongside the St Helena and Ascension Island Governments, have taken on board.
We are determined to build on this work on child safeguarding across our territories. The FCO’s child safeguarding unit has promoted the recommendations of the inquiry report throughout the overseas territories to maintain focus on continuing to strengthen child safeguarding measures. We have intensified our work with key UK departments and bodies such as the National Crime Agency, Crown Prosecution Service and social work experts, to provide additional expertise to territory Governments on improving safeguarding measures across the board.