I have been sat pondering the wisdom of my commenting tonight, I feel I should speak out given that I am angry and saddened by the portrayal of this lovely Island and its people, but on the other hand wonder if I should keep my council on what is after all a political issue, and one who’s history and complexity goes far beyond my experience on the Island. Given that I now have a large readership I feel though that I should try to right a few wrongs which I believe have been made.
Some of you will no doubt be thinking “what on earth is he talking about” and so I reluctantly refer you to the very recent article in the Daily Telegraph (both print and online) reporting on the sad story of child abuse on St Helena. I will not provide the link to said article as I don’t wish to be promoting its readership directly through my own blog, but I have no doubt it will be easy enough to find.
Before coming to the Island we have been made aware of a now infamous report on child abuse on St Helena and its systematic covering up by the government for a number of years. I do not wish to pass comment on this issue particularly, suffice to say that clearly terrible mistakes and choices were made, the depth of which I do not know. I for example do not have any knowledge with regards to St Helena government and its actions prior to August 2014. I can tell you that since our arrival Child Protection has clearly been at the top of the agenda for St Helena Government with numerous new jobs in the sector, a new government department and new buildings.
I cannot pass comment as to what happened in the past when the Lucy Faithful report was being written, and a quick search on line can fill you in as to what was contained within that report. What I can pass comment on is my opinion of wider systematic problems. Problems of a system of governance that means that none of the people implemented in that report, nor indeed any expatriate government worker in post at the time of said report its period of investigation and period of alleged abuse and cover up, is here now. The St Helena Government operate on short term contracts, which, is in my humble opinion a huge problem with the overall system and political distrust that exists on this Island, but that is a conversation for another day.
So instead of passing comment on the government, the political system or other things in this world that I have little knowledge of, I wish to comment on the article in question, the things I know enough about, and why I sit here now feeling sad for the many good people of St Helena. I do not wish to contest the “facts” within his story, the court cases and convictions quoted, the numbers of cases or of prisoners, I have no doubt they are correct, but the damaging and inflammatory style of writing is unnecessary and largely skewed, twisted and unrepresentative of the people here. Should author Tom Rowley actually lived here for any period he may of known this, or indeed had he spoken and referenced a wide range of people, but of course a balanced representation, like the truth, does not always sell papers. I wish also to make it clear that I am not trying to deny wrong doings, nor would I condemn any such criminality or cover up thereof if this were the case, simply that I do not know and would therefore concentrate on what I do know.
In essence my great sadness is the overall picture that has been painted of the Island and its people, one of sexual predation and of a dirty seedy place of the night, all of which could not be further from the truth. Now I am not trying to deny that wrongs were done in the past, and neither do I know whether wrongs continue now, but I do know that this article does not reflect St Helena and its people today, in 2015 at the start of a hopefully bright new era.
To quote from the article
“They call themselves Saints…….. Of course, some deserve the tag more than others”.
Or alternatively that most are deserving of the tag in my opinion, and a small, very small few may not. Indeed, whilst the Telegraph chooses to concentrate on the proportion of abuse cases it neglects to tell you that St Helena also has one of the highest proportions of people honoured in the Queen’s birthday honours list for services to the community. I have no comment as to the rights or wrongs of such a list and have no doubt this fact is open to cries of corruption, but none the less a high number of Saints must be deserving of being on the list, and in far greater proportions than elsewhere in the British Empire (the suns still never sets on the Empire you know). “What has that got to do with child abuse” I hear you ask. Nothing I agree, but my issue on this article is the unbalanced way that the local people here, many of which Im pleased to say are now friends, have been portrayed and I hope to redress the balance.
“Beneath the treasure map names, daily life can be rather less charming. “People think it’s just some English village in the South Atlantic,” says one regular visitor. “Actually, it’s more like a suburban estate, with all the problems that come with that”.
No one has claimed there is a fairy tale here; its names have history attached to them. Should the quaint names of Dorset, England for example, mean that there is some fairy tale going on and that normal everyday problems of working life are somehow to be used against the people of a village because its name happens to be quaint. And if anyone believes that an Island, in the middle of the Atlantic, in the tropical southern hemisphere is “just some English village in the South Atlantic” they need to re-look at England!
“The island has always been a place of outcasts,”
Surely a modern journalist should do better than this. Using Napoleons exile or that of Boer prisoners as a yard stick to measure its people by is just cheap. The Island was of course a place where the British empire sent its best men to conquer an defend, a place where the British spent uncountable sums of money to place people from all over the world here, to defend, work and manage the Island in its heyday,
“In HMP Jamestown, seven out of 11 prisoners are paedophiles”
To me, this could just as easily read, the authorities are now doing their best to correct this situation, 7 out of 11 prisoners on the Island are being held for crimes of abuse. I do not know if the authorities are doing their best, but simply point out that this comment from Tom is not necessarily a negative as he suggests and can be construed either way.
“And nobody believes all the culprits have been caught. “I suspect there are still quite a few skeletons in the cupboard,” says Nick Thorpe, an entrepreneur and chairman of the heritage society. “There are a lot of people looking into it.”
One person does not represent everybody, nor nobody and therefore cannot be used to claim nobody believes all the culprits are caught, in fact neither Bev nor I were interviewed by Mr Rowley, so that’s at least two people that he cannot use in this statement. Although he may or may not be right, this is conjecture, not factual reporting. And if there are a lot of people looking into it again this would suggest that great efforts are being made to improve the situation.
“I spent a fortnight on St Helena, speaking with 51 locals – more than one percent of the population of 4,500”
Despite his grand claims of 1% of the population, lets be frank 51 people is not a lot, its even less on this Island where one would normally chat with at least 20 or 30 people a day just passing in the street and certainly not enough to say that nobody believes in something. A fortnight is such little time on St Helena, but clearly not enough to cast a picture of a place and its people.
Again I do not know nor wish to comment on what if any abuse is commonplace or apparently accepted at the moment, quite simply I do not know but I’d like to question and put some of Mr Rowley’s selected quotes in context
“a middle-aged woman is talking about rape. People didn’t call it that when she was a child,”
“Lolly Young, 43, a former deputy head of the high school, recalls her school years”
“Men thought they could have any girl, touch any girl and nothing was ever said about it,”
Each of these and all of the other direct quotes from victims, are talking about events that occurred at least 25 or more years ago and this should be put into context. Unlike the UK, 25 years ago St Helena had no internet, no TV channels, and even telephones had only just arrived, it was a British territory in name only. One has to look at attitudes towards women in many parts of the world that still blatantly, and wrongly of course, exist today to understand that St Helena must have been a very different place 25 years ago. To his credit Tom Rowley hints at this himself.
“Television only arrived on the island in 1995, and several Saints say they knew little of outside norms until then. “There was no reference point whatsoever,” says one. “It was never discussed, it was just something that was expected to happen.”
“With no mobile phones and little internet access, the island has grown seemingly more remote as the world has converged.”
This again presents a very skewed vision of the Island. St Helena has seen more change and development in the last twenty years than almost anywhere on earth. Just 20 years ago donkeys were still the main way of moving goods around the Island, telecommunications didn’t exist, now I sit talking to you through my blog, online, and skype my family thousands of miles away. People drive round in modern four by fours and at weekends can enjoy jet skiing.
At the risk of becoming repetitive I will move on to the part of the article which I believe is most inaccurate and in the context of encouraging tourism the most damaging for the Island. It also paints an untrue picture, and is in fact, the part I know most about.
“Friday night in Donny’s bar by the seafront. As I sip my beer, a group of women, some well into middle age, are playing a rather different version of musical chairs. The music is the same; the “chairs” are five men, thrusting their bottoms in the air.
When the music stops, each woman dashes to straddle the nearest man, whooping and slapping his bottom with varying degrees of enthusiasm.
“That’s the governor’s driver,” observes one drinker of the most eager participant.
What Tom neglects to tell anyone is that the night in question was ladies night, a special one off where ladies were invited to let their hair down and be a little naughty, even the middle aged ones are allowed fun you know Tom. Show me a hen do, or ladies night in the UK that does not get a little saucy. It sounds as though the reality is that Mr Rowley would quite liked to of been more involved, or at least that it may of done him some good to be. The governors driver referred to here is one of several drivers to my knowledge, and presumably must be a paedophile, in fact given that she was in a bar at night having fun, she should be arrested immediately!
And finally, its 6pm, yes I have no doubt it was, because on St Helena the bar closes at midnight, there is no 24hour drinking, no fights at the taxi rank at 3am, much to my disappointment it is not even possible to buy a late night doner kebab!! People enjoy a drink at Donny’s for Sundowners, i.e at sunset, an open air, waterfront bar with stunning views of the sun which sets at, funnily enough 6.30pm.
On any other Friday night, had Mr Rowley bothered to check, he would of found me, and my family sat at Donny’s at 6pm, with a quiet pop style music in the background, where families of Ex-pats and Saints alike enjoy an early evening drink. He would of found a true family holiday type atmosphere, one of the only places in the World I have been to where Bev and I feel comfortable to have a quiet drink with friends whilst the children play with others outside of the bar area in the open spaces nearby.
“During the week, work stops at 4pm”
yes, and starts at 8am!
“On Fridays and Saturdays, the town is transformed. Young women in sailor outfits dart from pub to pub and music spills across the street”
I have only seen sailor outfits on this one night, ladies wear short skirts like any other weekend night in the UK, has Tom ever been out in Newcastle I ask myself. Darting from pub to pub is not a game that would last very long, given that there is only five drinking holes in Jamestown, one of which is a hotel, and only two of which are pubs. Music indeed spills, but only out of the open air bars of Donny’s and the Mule Yard,(it used to be a stable) the latter of which features live bands and both of which sit on the waterfront, in a non-residential part of town where the lively music, fun, welcoming and friendly atmosphere make for a great night out.
“Saints make fun of a very British “no loitering” sign, but still they loiter: men sitting inside unlit cars or huddled on doorsteps for hour after hour, apparently waiting for something to happen. Everything has an edge”
The very same no loitering sign that this “Brit”, not Saint made fun of in his blog a few week earlier, that everyone on the Island has had a giggle at due to its placement obscurely in a park of all places, the exact location where one might be expected to be able to loiter. As for men sitting in cars this is pure fabrication, a man may of sat in a car, but I guess that’s enough. Most of all, nothing has an edge, other than this report. Jamestown at the weekend is one of the most relaxed, enjoyable friendly nights out I have had, and as my Mum will testify I have had a few.
I could continue, much of the remaining article is simply hearsay and further conjecture, but I wish now to turn attention to the articles comparisons between England and Wales and St Helena. This latest article claims England and Wales uses very specific figures. My first objection is the comparison of the UK as a whole to St Helena, perhaps a look at a small impoverished fishing town, or deprived estate of 4000 people would be more comparable. However, even taking England and Wales as a whole, is the use of these figures in this comparison fair, or even accurate, The Telegraphs own article from 2000 would suggest otherwise claiming that 1 in 200 men in England and Wales are paedophiles, a higher proportion than it is claimed are on St Helena. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1379946/UK-has-250000-paedophiles-says-police-study.html This article also suggest that at that time, only 5% of offenders in the UK were caught and convicted, I suggest that rate makes St Helena look very favourable given the numbers that have been convicted here.
It is also worthy of note that St Helena has the highest proportion of Swedish people outside of Sweden. How many of them are there you would ask, twelve, that I know of, including children, which just goes to show that on an island with such a small population, a few people can make for interesting statistics without actually containing any useful information, Lies, damn lies and statistics as they say.
I do not contest the facts within this article, the cases that have been brought, the apparent cover ups, the whistle blowing stories and subsequent job losses make for very difficult reading. It is clear that things are changing and that perhaps it was only a short time ago that abuse was more accepted than it should be. But let’s be clear, St Helena is one of the safest places I have ever visited. Its people are lovely and friendly, my children can play outdoors without fear of cars, kidnapping or indeed abuse. As I watched the hard-working Saints leaving Bev’s school today, every one of which is nothing short of wonderful giving their time and energy to ensure a better future for St Helena, earning a relative pittance compared to the UK (a person can earn more making bread than teaching here) I felt saddened that they would return home to find their good names blackened with stories like this. Tom Rowley, please report the facts, not stories, bring cover ups to light and ensure bad people get punished, but don’t drag down a society of good people with them.