Wednesday, 31 August 2011
FACTS, FICTION & A LITTLE BIT OF IRONY...
Below I publish a letter sent from the Scrutiny sub-panel to Channel Television, though it is relevant to all our mainstream media when one considers the way this whole issue has been reported this past year or two. As I have been at pains to stress again and again, the panel has allegiance to no particular camp or perspective in all of this. All we are interested in - as should surely be the media - is reporting hard facts and being fair to all involved. If failings are evident then report them as such. But do not adopt a scatter gun approach that can only result at best in the blurring of fact and fiction; and at worst in undermining and denigrating that which should deserve no such criticism.
Indeed, it is interesting to note that in speaking to the Scrutiny sub-panel the representatives of BDO themselves stressed how they had praised the handling of the Historic Abuse Inquiry in nine specific areas - yet little if any of this appears to have found its way into the mainstream media's reporting. Of course, as BDO also pointed out they have no control over how the media - or, I should add, the Home Affairs Minister - subsequently presented or spun their report. As is outlined in the letter below the sub-panel has already found significant concerns in the way this review was undertaken to fully justify our initiating it. Our report later in September will make these quite clear in both findings and recommendations.
To conclude on a slightly different aspect. I must comment to readers that both the sub-panel and the Scrutiny office has found it deeply concerning to say the least that BDO has subsequently attempted to present Scrutiny with a bill in the region of £14,000 - kindly discounted from around £26,000 - for their participation in the Scrutiny interview process. It needs to be made quite clear that Scrutiny, as with Select Committees the world over, do NOT pay witnesses for hearings where people are only invited because they have some relevant involvement; further still where they could actually be subpoenaed to appear by law. Scrutiny will NOT be paying this bill. To do so would undermine the whole future Scrutiny process as it would result in panels being intimidated out of tackling contentious issues through fear of incurring a huge bill that Scrutiny simply does not have the money - taxpayer money let us not forget - to spend in such an inappropriate way.
I must end by stating that I personally really do find myself asking if accountants do not perhaps understand irony. The original review was, after all, effectively into whether or not public money had been spent appropriately. Yet BDO now even attempt to charge Scrutiny and the taxpayer for the cost of them writing a letter seeking to remove me from the Chairing of this investigation! An attempt I should also remind readers that was thrown out along with the Home Affairs Minister's identical complaint as groundless. Similarly, charging Scrutiny for a meeting held for their benefit to discuss some of their apparent concerns. As someone used to say - you really couldn't make it up…
Our Ref: 516/29(5)
30th August 2011
Education and Home Affairs Scrutiny Sub Panel review
Issues surrounding the review of financial management of Operation Rectangle - CTV coverage of public hearing with Mr. G. Power, dated 17th August 2011
The Scrutiny Sub Panel wishes to express its strong concerns about the coverage given to the public hearing with Mr. Graham Power last week.
The programme chose once again to highlight aspects of alleged overspending by the Police and in particular Mr. Harper during the Historic Child Abuse Enquiry, referring to Michelin-starred restaurants, 4-star hotels, first class flights to London and Australia, the costs of the dog handler and police overtime.
The CTV commentary used the figure of £7.5 million twice, unqualified in any way, alongside statements about restaurant bills etc ‘which the tax payer unwittingly had to sign for’. It was suggested in this way that that sum was all somehow unjustified or tainted. The impression clearly left with the viewer was that the Police had wasted £7.5 million.
Furthermore, it ought to be noted that the £7.5 million figure was never all down to the decisions, right or wrong ones, by Mr. Power and Mr. Harper. Half of the spending on the enquiry was committed after their time leading the investigation.
The programme attempted to characterise the public hearing as a ‘blame game’ between the Home Affairs department and the States of Jersey Police centred on who was responsible for the £7.5 million bill.
The programme picked up on one point made by Mr. Power in which he alleged that Home Affairs had been responsible for signing off expenses claims, linking this to the total £7.5 million cost of the enquiry. The reporter approached the Home Affairs Chief Officer for a comment on this allegation and was told that the Chief Officer would be speaking to the Sub Panel to explain the position. It is therefore perplexing to note that CTV failed to cover the subsequent hearings (on Thursday 25th August 2011) to discover the answer to their own questions.
Broadcast media have a special responsibility to use the few words that they have carefully in order to avoid false impressions being left in the minds of the public.
No attempt was made during the course of the programme to present an accurate and balanced picture of the Scrutiny Sub Panel’s review.
We wish to make it quite clear that our review is not about re-examining the actual costs of Operation Rectangle nor disputing that there may have been overspends. These matters have been fully examined previously by others. We are looking at a broader picture of whether or not the BDO Alto review gives a fair picture of the way this developed through 2008, given the fact that they didn't have access to the views of the two people at the heart of the SOJP management.
The Scrutiny review is an attempt to examine whether the independent external review of financial management of the Historic Child Abuse enquiry (Operation Rectangle), carried out by local firm of accountants, BDO Alto Limited, presents a fair and balanced view of the cost problems that have been identified in the police investigation.
Our review also includes examining the way aspects of the review were leaked to the media and the way the media has chosen to portray the enquiry as a result of these leaks.
The Sub Panel’s interest began with a determination to find out why Mr. Harper was not interviewed at any stage of the review and how information from the review was leaked to both the local and national media and used apparently to denigrate the enquiry.
Our review has already revealed a number of problems with the way the external review was conducted, not least the fact that Mr. Warcup, the Acting Chief Officer at the time, was unaware that the Mr. Kellett, the police consultant, had been directed by Mr. Gradwell, the SIO, to work on a joint report with BDO Alto and was unaware of the instructions which Mr. Warcup had originally set out for him. Mr Warcup told us that he believed that the work carried out by this consultant was ‘overly focussed on Mr. Harper, lacked objectivity, had the potential to be unfair to Mr. Power and could have seriously undermined the investigation by Wiltshire Police’.
In the public hearing Mr. Power gave us his perspective on how the Police Force had tried to establish an effective system of financial control in the midst of a highly pressurised enquiry. This was unavailable to BDO Alto because of the parallel timing with the disciplinary enquiry being carried out by Wiltshire
Mr. Power also told us: ‘I have been frustrated, as a lot of people have, that whenever the debate seems to shift towards where it probably belongs in my view, which is towards to the victims and to asking the hard questions about how it was that it was not challenged for so many years and why it took some rather exceptional police interventions to keep it within the criminal justice system, the conversation seems to be turned away to restaurant bills in London and who has had a second helping.’
The Sub Panel is seeking to understand and evaluate the substance of these comments and it was essential to give the Minister and the Chief Officer of Home Affairs the opportunity to respond.
We will fully address all the above issues when we publish our report next month.
In our view your programme serves to illustrate a point made by Mr. Power during the public hearing. He said: ‘This whole business about personal expenses has, I think, been used in particular to trivialise what ought to be a rather more serious debate.’
Our concern about your programme then is that, by focussing on the issue of expenses, it has simply reinforced a stereotypical image of the Police handling of the Historical Abuse Enquiry and largely missed the serious points raised during the hearing with Mr. Power. The emphasis on the hospitality expenses and air flights risks implanting the impression that the entire expenditure on Operation Rectangle was badly managed.
The reporter appears to have undertaken very little background research into our review and has resorted merely to replaying earlier versions of CTV coverage of the matter. We suggest in future the reporters contact the Scrutiny Officer to discuss relevant background information before attending hearings so that they are better prepared to understand the issues under discussion.
We are well aware that ultimately these are matters for editorial judgment and would not seek to dictate how this should be exercised. However, given the immense controversy and polarisation that surrounds these issues, we believe that balanced and well informed reporting is crucial.
Deputy T. Pitman
Chairman, Education and Home Affairs Scrutiny Sub Panel