An independent inquiry into sex abuse on St Helena prompted by reports in the Daily Mail has concluded that the paper was misled by two alleged whistleblowers.
The inquiry was prompted by three Daily Mail stories. The first, published in July 2014, was headlined: “A culture of sex abuse of children” and quoted an unpublished report which claimed child sexual abuse, domestic violence and sexual exploitation were rife in the UK overseas territory.
An article the following day reported claims from the unpublished report that “teenage girls are traded for food” on the South Atlantic island and reported that it was “a safe haven for sex offenders” and a “sanctuary for paedophiles”.
A third article published on 24 July revealed the source of the paper’s coverage to be a “Social Services Manager” who had asked not to be named, who was recruited from the UK for her expertise and moved to St Helena in February 2013. It quoted her saying that “corruption was everywhere among the authorities on the island”. And she warned that St Helena could “become a Gary Glitter type tour destination”.
An independent inquiry was ordered by the Government in response to the articles led by Sasha Wass QC.
The inquiry has published a 314-page report which said: “ As the Inquiry progressed, it became increasingly clear that two… individuals were largely responsible for the more salacious allegations and the resulting furore.”
Wass said: “St Helena and its people have been grossly and unfairly tarnished by the allegations which the inquiry was asked to investigate. I hope that this report clears away the wilder, unsupported accusations.”
The report said that the Daily Mail articles which acted as the catalyst for the inquiry “contained sensational criticisms about the people and Government of St Helena, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development”.
It said: “The contents of the articles were lurid, shocking and damning. These articles unwittingly gave a totally misleading and distorted view of the people of St Helena and of the institutions that serve them.”
Much of the Daily Mail coverage was based on an unpublished report by the Lucy Faithfull Foundation.
The Wass report said: “The directing hand behind the Daily Mail articles was Claire Gannon, as she later admitted to the Inquiry Panel.
“Claire Gannon had leaked to the Daily Mail a copy of the confidential Lucy Faithfull Foundation report to back up her own inflammatory claims.
“The report, together with the statement of the Social Services Manager who had recently returned from St Helena, provided enough disquiet to justify publication by the newspaper.
“What the Daily Mail was unaware of, and could not have discovered, was that the contents of the confidential Lucy Faithfull Foundation report, which was leaked by Claire Gannon, had been compromised by Claire Gannon herself.
“This device, of obtaining publicity for a story (in this case leaking the Lucy Faithfull Foundation report) and then using that story to support false allegations, has routinely been used by disaffected individuals seeking to manipulate the news.”
On the subject of corruption, the report concluded: “There is no evidence of corruption in the St Helena Government, the St Helena Attorney General’s office, the St Helena Judiciary and Courts’ Service, the St Helena Police, Prison, Immigration and Fire Services, or the schools.
“For the avoidance of doubt, in all the aspects of the administration of St Helena and Ascension Island that we investigated, we found no corruption at all.”
On the allegation that St Helena was a “sanctuary for paedophiles”, the report said: “[A]lthough there are instances of child abuse on the island, these are of a specific intra-familial type largely confined to deprived families living in remote parts of the island.
“There is nothing on St Helena which we consider would attract sex tourism. In response to the Daily Mail headlines, the Inquiry Panel found no evidence that child abuse was either endemic or routine.”
It said: “The allegations made by Claire Gannon and [her former colleague] Martin Warsama were taken extremely seriously by the Inquiry and much of the Inquiry’s time was spent investigating what they said in order to establish whether it had any foundation.
“Having conducted this detailed exercise, the Inquiry Panel was able to demonstrate that there was no truth in the sweeping assertion made by Claire Gannon and Martin Warsama that St Helena was a 'paedophiles’ paradise' or that the police and government were corrupt."
The report added: "Inevitably, we examined the conduct of Claire Gannon and Martin Warsama themselves.
“The panel was left in no doubt that each of them was professionally incompetent and unable to fulfil the terms of their employment.”
The pair had made claims for unfair dismissal after losing their jobs as social worklers on the island.