Comments on the Sasha Wass Inquiry on Child Sexual Abuse in St. Helena and Ascension

The general and somewhat vague account of some of the social welfare/human rights issues on the British Overseas Territory of St. Helena and Ascension copied at the bottom of this message has been overtaken by the long-awaited publication of the Sasha Wass Inquiry on Child Sexual Abuse in St. Helena and Ascension, commissioned by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office to investigate accounts of incompetent government response to child abuse allegations in St. Helena has overtaken the widely disseminated “Social Work …” article copied at the bottom of this posting. The Sasha Wass Enquiry report is over 300 pages long and may be downloaded — for now at least — at <>. 

Commentator Bob Conrich of Anguilla passes on this  Summary of the Sasha Wass Enquiry, with the caveat that the FCO distillation of the report is somewhat distorted, and that in turn, the Wass Enquiry may be deficient. Read the whole report above.

The Sasha Wass Inquiry on child sexual abuse in St. Helena and Ascension was released yesterday.  Four hours later, the FCO Minister for the Overseas Territories issued an
official statement that picked out the favourable parts of the 314-page report.  He made it sound like St Helena is an unblemished paradise for children and the adoring Saints.

Every subsequent press report in the UK that I’ve seen is either based solely on this misleading and deceptive ministerial summary, or emphasises a similar point of view. Finally, today, we have what I consider to be an accurate story from today’s St Helena Independent, which I post below.

I’ve said this before and it’s important that I repeat it: I’m not aware of any child sexual abuse in Tristan.  There are vast social, cultural, economic and historical differences between St. Helena and Tristan.

But the two islands have the same Governor, and the Head of the Governor’s Office is Sean Burns, the secretive previous Administrator of Tristan.  So they have the same management.  Or mismanagement, if I may.

Following last week’s Joint Ministerial Council in London, the Governor and his wife wisely disappeared “on leave.”  So much for leadership.

I continue to believe that the good people of all three islands deserve better.


The Governor and the Queen’s Counsel
by Vince Thompson of the St. Helena Independent

The Wass Report

On 20th November last year it was announced there will be an
Inquiry into allegations of child abuse in St Helena and that
Sasha Wass QC will lead the Inquiry. The Wass Inquiry Panel
visited St Helena in March 2015 for a period of 16 days to
conduct the most important phase of the Inquiry. March 2015
was the original date the Inquiry was intended to be com-
pleted and submitted to UK Government ministers. Progress
with the Inquiry was delayed for two main reasons, one of
which was the St Helena Attorney General claiming the In-
quiry had no legal authority in St Helena and the Inquiry Panel
would not be allowed access to the St Helena Government’s
police and social services files. The legal argument about the
Inquiry Panel’s rights of access to all St Helena Government
files continued until a few days before the Inquiry Panel was
due to travel to St Helena. The Panel’s solicitor stated Gover-
nor Capes, as the Queen’s representative, simply had to di-
rect that all files are to be made available to the Inquiry Panel.
The Wass Report states, ‘The approach by the St Helena
Government bypassed that singular solution, causing a delay
in the resolution of access to documents.’

On 28th November, eight days after the announcement of the
Wass Inquiry, St Helena Government announced that a new
Safeguarding Directorate was to be established; the first Safe-
guarding Director arrived in St Helena in January this year.

Since that time various improvements, new initiatives, addi-
tional facilities, extra staff and specialist training have been
put in place. Extra funding has been allocated to St Helena
by the UK Government to enable these various improvements
and changes.

Findings of the Wass Inquiry Panel

Lack of Continuity

The Wass Inquiry found the failings in the system go back at least 14 years and also identifies what some of the failings are. Lack of continuity is one of them. Arrangements for handover from one manager to another and from one governor to another is a main cause, Officials have not established procedures for maintaining best practice and are often inexperienced or ignorant of best practice concepts and how to establish the required procedures. Lack of continuity meant that several previous relevant reports were unknown to officials arriving to take up posts after they were published. The St Helena Government is also criticised for not advertising key professional posts until weeks after the previous post-
holder has left the Island.

With regard to the change-over from one governor to another
the Report states, ‘The handover from one Governor to the
next is clearly inadequate in both scope and depth. The cur-
rent Governor, Mark Capes, told the Inquiry Panel that he
was not made aware of the previous reports into child safety
prepared on St Helena until after he assumed office in 2011.
Governor Capes said: “I can’t speak for why those reports
were ignored…St Helena has been neglected for decades…by
the UK government.”

Failure to Act Quickly and Decisively

The Wass Report also states, ‘Governor Capes’ attention was
specifically drawn to matters which required urgent consid-
eration by an email from Viv Neary, the Child Protection Co-
ordinator for British Overseas Territories, in March 2012. These
included the lack of a formal arrangement for fostering chil-
dren on the island; and the fact that the only qualified social
worker was due to leave in May 2012 with no replacement
ready to take over. Neither of those two matters was re-
solved by the Governor, and his failure to heed the warnings
given to him directly impacted on the complications that arose
during the Child F adoption case in late 2013 and early 2014.’

Uninformed and Out of Touch

The Wass Inquiry Panel covered a wide range of organisa-
tions, departments and community interests during their 16-day visit to St Helena. During those 16 days it appears they
learnt more about St Helena than the governor had in three-
and-a-half years. The Report states, ‘On St Helena the In-
quiry Panel ‘looked in detail at the Police Service, the Social
Services Department, the four schools, the health service,
the criminal justice system, the prison service and the Gov-
ernment. We conducted formal recorded interviews with the
Governor, the Head of the Governor’s Office, the Chief Secre-
tary, the Assistant Chief Secretary, the Attorney General, the
Solicitor General, the Chief Magistrate, the Chief of Police,
the Public Solicitor, the heads of the various directorates and
other office holders.’ While discussing public health issues
with Governor Capes the Wass Report tells us, ‘Governor
Capes visited Barn View at Christmas 2011 in order to present
the staff with a cake. When asked by the Inquiry Panel about
the condition of the establishment, Governor Capes said:
“What impressed me was the level of care and the atmos-
phere of the place then was very very good.” The Inquiry Panel
was unanimously at a loss to explain how the Governor could
have come to this conclusion. Within months of Governor
Capes’ visit, the Police Development Officer in charge of safe-
guarding prepared a report for the St Helena Government de-
scribing some rooms in Barn View as being “akin to those of
solitary confinement in prison films: stark, cold and despair-

When discussing the arrangements for medical evacuations
when the airport is operational the Wass Report states. ‘Gov-
ernor Capes told the Inquiry Panel in March 2015 that there
was no arrangement in place for St Helenians to receive medi-
cal treatment in Johannesburg.’ After having used this infor-
mation later to criticise St Helena Government the Wass In-
quiry was told, ‘The SHG Health Directorate has already com-
pleted an assessment of potential Private Healthcare Provid-
ers in Johannesburg and Pretoria with the view to concluding
a comprehensive service level agreement for healthcare for St
Helenians in South Africa. It is expected that there will be an
invitation to tender in December with the intention of having a
contract in place when flights commence.’

The lack of an air link between St Helena and Ascension was
also raised with Governor Capes. The Wass Report quotes
the Governor’s response as follows, ‘Any new link is not go-
ing to be subsidised and we’re going to pay full cost. Who’s
going to pay the full cost? That has to be the employers on
Ascension who are willing to help share the cost of that serv-
ice. And the signs are that some may not want to do that’.
The Wass Report notes that, ‘On 9 October 2015, the As-
cension Island Government and the St Helena Government
selected Comair Ltd as the preferred bidder for the provision
of a monthly air service between St Helena and Ascension’.

The Wass Report’s Assessment of Governor Capes as Governor

‘The picture that emerged to the Inquiry Panel was that St
Helena was still being run as a colony, with the Governor
acting as the Queen’s representative and delegating the day-
to-day responsibility of managing the island to others. The
island has a population of approximately 4,000. This is the
size of a small English village or a medium-sized company.
There is no justification for a disconnect between the Gover-
nor and the practical issues of day-to-day management. The
Governor’s dual role on St Helena is as de facto head of state
and his primary day-to-day role as Head of Government. It is
easy to appreciate that the two roles can conflict. The Gover-
nor, as head of state, effectively delegates tasks to himself
as Head of Government. It is essential that as Head of Gov-
ernment he follows up delegated tasks to ensure that they
are fulfilled. The Inquiry has seen evidence that Governor Capes
ignored warnings given to him about the management of the
island and has responded to the Inquiry on more than one
occasion that he had delegated certain tasks as if that were
the end of his responsibility. The Governor of St Helena’s role
in such a small community with limited resources requires
active and involved management such as the Inquiry found on
Ascension Island. The august title belies the need for a shirt-
sleeved manager. Matters of great concern cannot be effec-
tively dealt with from Whitehall. The commissioning of further
reports should be a matter of last resort, not a routine solu-
tion to local difficulties.’
:: Ends ::

The full report may be downloaded at:


Social work on a small island: safeguarding adults in St Helena

By Gerry Nosowska

St Helena is a volcanic island in the middle of the South Atlantic, 10.5 miles long by 6.5 miles wide, with a population of around 3, 700. Currently the only way to and from the island is the Royal Mail Ship which visits every month from Cape Town. It is a self-governing UK overseas territory and people there are British citizens.

Shaken by scandal

Last year the island was shaken by scandal when allegations emerged of covered up child abuse taking place on a large scale.

When I visited the Safeguarding Directorate responsible for children’s and adults’ social care set up last year, I found that its main focus has been child protection following the painful exposure of abuse. But I wanted to learn about how adult social care was being carried out amidst this pressure, in such a remote and remarkable setting.

St Helena has the advantages that small communities bring of strong relationships and opportunities for creative work. Research on social care in remote places shows that they encourage relationship-based work and community involvement, flexibility and joined up work with other agencies.

Small community

People on St Helena look out for each other, they talk to each other and they include one another. While I was there, people knew what I was doing, they asked me how I was getting on, helped me, waved to me and offered me lifts. There is nobody on the island whose need would not be noticed. People exchange expertise, barter and offer reciprocal help.

On the other side, remote places face issues from lack of resources, including expertise. Staff there need support for their development and with managing the tensions that arise from working with people they know well.


Adults’ services on the island have real potential. Vulnerable people currently have care and support from families and friends and, when needed, from sheltered housing, supported living and the Community Care Centre. There are disability living allowances and carers’ allowances; and there are close links with the hospital and community nurses.

However, there are no formal systems, no policies and procedures, and no community services. Much work is needed to create real choice and control for service users, to develop care workers’ skills, and to ensure everyone is safeguarded.

Person-centred work

I think there is great scope on the island for person-centred ways of working, and for care and support that builds on individuals’ and the community’s strengths. This needs to start with developing individual, responsive care for people who currently have very limited choice and control, particularly those who have been in institutional care.

The island’s new manager for adults’ services, Paul, aims to draw on local expertise and ensure local involvement so that services fit St Helena and are sustainable. For example, currently if someone has a concern about someone, they stop the social worker on the street and mention it. More formal systems might put people off raising issues.

Lessons to learn

St Helena has the opportunity to develop adults’ services that are less bureaucratic than in the UK, more approachable and more personal.

There is a lot to do in St Helena and a lot it can learn from the UK about what has worked here, including from Making Safeguarding Personal and Think Local Act Personal.

But I think we too have lessons to learn from this remote island about how to do good community social work.

Link to <>

About Bruce

Work for sustainable development of small islands and the Chesapeake Bay; ex-Peace Corps (Volunteer and staff) in LA & Caribbean; cruised Caribbean on S/Y Meander for three years; like small tropical islands, French canals, Umbria, Tasmania, and NZ. Married 52 years to the late Kincey Burdett Potter (see President of the now-sunsetting Island Resources Foundation.
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