A three-month investigation by The Mail on Sunday has revealed: David Rose reports:
- The main witness behind Harper’s decision to begin the search for bodies was a woman with a known history of psychotic fantasy and alcoholism. She named children she said she had seen jumping to their deaths from Haut de la Garenne windows and hanging from trees in the garden, where she said she also found a severed hand. None of these claims were true.
- Eddie the sniffer dog – the animal that had supposedly found the ‘scent of death’ in the Portuguese flat where Madeleine McCann disappeared – no longer had a licence for UK police forensic work when Harper started using him in Jersey. Eddie, whose owner, Martin Grime, was paid £93,600 for less than five months’ work, triggered the first excavations by barking at a spot where Harper’s team then unearthed what was claimed to be part of a child’s skull. In fact, as a Kew Gardens expert has now confirmed, it was a piece of coconut shell.
- Financial investigators have spent months poring over the inquiry’s costs. They have found they were massively inflated – not only by Harper’s mismanagement, but by frequent trips to London, where he and his colleagues claimed expenses for lavish meals.
Harper also retained the island’s only police car equipped with a numberplate recognition device for his own personal use, and its driver, PC Andrew Linsell, as his chauffeur. He ordered Linsell to pick him up from home each morning, and sometimes kept him on duty late in the evening to ferry him around.
- Earlier this year, Harper defied a Jersey Royal Court order to return to the island to give evidence in an Haut de la Garenne abuse trial and to produce his ‘day books’ – the notes every UK Senior Investigating Officer (SIO) is required to make about everything he does and to store with inquiry records. Harper claimed they did not exist because Metropolitan Police security experts had advised him not to keep day books. A Scotland Yard spokeswoman denied this, saying the Met told Harper they were essential.
The bungled inquiry into allegations of child abuse and murder at a Jersey care home will cost taxpayers on the island at least £20million, a Mail on Sunday investigation reveals today.
Lenny Harper, the controversial detective who initially headed Operation Rectangle, also spent thousands of pounds of public money staying in four-star hotels and eating in some of London’s top restaurants.
His handling of the Haut de la Garenne children’s home probe has been described as
a ‘shambles’ by Mick Gradwell, the detective drafted in to replace Harper.
The evidence of lavish expenses claims and extraordinary financial waste includes paying £93,000 to Martin Grime, the handler of the sniffer dog Eddie, who was charged with the grim task of finding children’s bodies that were supposedly entombed in concrete in the institution, known as ‘the Jersey House of Horrors’, which closed in 1986.
To date the ‘human remains’ that triggered the storm surrounding the case have turned out to be a piece of coconut shell.
A leaked report by financial auditors into the investigation shows Grime received £750 a day for the first seven days’ work his dog did and £650 a day for 136 days thereafter.
But it has come to light that he did not have a UK licence for the job. Grime said this
did not matter as Jersey is not in the UK.
Meanwhile, colleagues of Harper have told how he clocked up a huge expenses bill by flying to London regularly to hold meetings with Scotland Yard officers.
In total, Harper and his colleague PC Andrew Linsell, a Jersey traffic officer whom Harper appointed as his personal chauffeur, made 49 claims between January and August 2008 on their force credit cards for meals costing more than £50.
More than £5,700 was on Harper’s card alone.
Only one member of staff who worked at Haut de la Garenne has been convicted as part of the investigation so far. Gordon Wateridge, 78, was found guilty of eight indecent assaults on teenage girls and jailed for two years in August.
Just 11 days before Jersey’s deputy police chief Lenny Harper made the island a byword for horror by claiming to have found the ‘partial remains of a child’ beneath the Haut de la Garenne former children’s home, he was adamantly refusing to dig for bodies.
‘We have not a shred of evidence to suggest there is anything there,’ he told his forensic services manager Vicky Coupland in an email dated February 12, 2008 and obtained by The Mail on Sunday.
According to any ‘reasoned assessment’, Harper added, it was hard to see how a child could have been entombed in concrete in an institution full of children.
He said: ‘There is going to be blood from spotty teenagers. We could end up being massively distracted by small bits of blood that have no relevance. In all the statements and intelligence we have not even a suggestion that there may be or have been bodies.’
If only Harper had stuck to that view, he would have prevented much expense and anguish.
Last month, Gordon Wateridge was jailed for two years for abusing children – to date, he is the only former Haut de la Garenne staff member to be charged with or convicted for offences relating to the treatment of children at the home.
But there were no bodies and, according to a Jersey government spokeswoman, the total cost of the investigation is likely to reach an incredible £20million – half the cost of the complex investigation that snared the gang plotting to blow up airliners with liquid bombs.
Last night Mick Gradwell, the detective chief superintendent from Lancashire who took over the investigation after Harper retired, said that when he arrived to pick up the threads a year ago he found Harper had left a ‘shambles’, and had flagrantly ignored the basic rules of modern criminal investigation.
‘There was no planning, no strategy and no control of costs,’ Gradwell said. ‘Worse, there were no proper records. Lenny pumped up the media to expect a house of horrors. But as he himself had recognised when he wrote those emails, the evidence was never there.’
The absence of the day books means that where Harper’s recollections of crucial events differ widely from those of others, there is no way of checking his contemporary record.
Harper refused to comment last night, saying anything he might want to say was contained in a 15,000-word account he recently posted on a website run by a Jersey senator, Stuart Syvret, who has described Harper’s critics as ‘scum’ trying to cover up child abuse.
Harper’s article does not address the new evidence revealed by The Mail on Sunday, but states that any criticism of him is ‘ nonsense’ based on ‘lies and half-truths’.
Operation Rectangle, Harper’s inquiry into ‘historic’ allegations of child abuse in the Jersey care system, began in September 2007. There was compelling evidence such abuse had occurred, and that the island’s police had not dealt with it appropriately.
For example, in 2003, two years after Harper became deputy police chief, his detectives learnt that a former resident of Haut de la Garenne was saying he had been taken on boat trips between the ages of six and ten and subjected to repeated and serious sexual assaults.
But instead of investigating the alleged abuser, the police charged the victim for trying to blackmail his assailant.
At first, Rectangle was a low-key affair and attracted only local publicity. By February 2008, Harper’s team had received some claims about possible murders at Haut de la Garenne, a children’s home for 86 years until it closed in 1986. But they were far from reliable.
Besides the statements by the psychotic woman, the police had been told by a Jersey lawyer that one of his clients had claimed children had been killed there. However, Rectangle detectives had already interviewed this man and he had said nothing about murders.
It was true that in 2003 builders at Haut de la Garenne had found bones, but they were from animals. Moreover, there had never been a single contemporary report of a child going missing.
Gradwell said: ‘Even children in care have families, friends and teachers, none of whom had ever reported a disappearance. Lenny has said one of his problems was the Jersey records were patchy and incomplete, so it was hard to be sure who had actually been there. In fact, they were excellent and very detailed.’
As the emails to Coupland demonstrate, at first Harper displayed a healthy scepticism. So what made him change his mind? According to a senior detective who worked on Harper’s team, one factor was sniffer dog Eddie’s handler, Martin Grime.
‘Grime made a presentation, showing him [Harper] a video of the dog finding the “scent of death” in Kate and Gerry McCann’s car,’ the detective said.
‘They were still formal suspects and the case had got worldwide publicity. It seemed to get Lenny very excited. I think Grime kind of bewitched him.’
Dave Warcup, Jersey’s acting chief police officer, told The Mail on Sunday that he had appointed an independent team of auditors to examine Harper’s spending. It includes two forensic accountants and a police expert in seizing criminals’ assets.
The team’s interim report, seen by this newspaper, reveals that Grime was paid £750 a day for the first seven days he spent on the island and £650 a day for the following 136 days.
Yet Grime, who had left South Yorkshire police in July 2007 and was selling his dogs’ services through his private business, had failed to keep up the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) licence that certified Eddie as a police ‘cadaver dog’.
Grime did have a second sniffer dog, Keela, but its licence expired a fortnight after they arrived in Jersey.
ACPO rules governing UK police dogs state: ‘Dog and handler teams that fail to remain in-licence are deemed “not competent”.’
Grime admitted to The Mail on Sunday that the dog’s licence had lapsed. He said: ‘After I retired, my dogs were tested according to my own standards which are more stringent than ACPO’s. But Jersey is not in the UK, so they were in their rights to employ whoever they wanted.’ He said his fees were ‘all agreed’ and that he had given Jersey a ‘discount’.
Asked about the ‘human remains’ found by Eddie that turned out to be coconut, Grime said bizarrely: ‘People aren’t right 100 per cent of the time. Otherwise they wouldn’t be human.’
The auditors’ interim report concludes: ‘It was an expensive mistake to bring in Mr Grime. It would have been far preferable and much cheaper to have tried to obtain appropriately trained dogs and handlers from UK police forces.’
Harper, it adds, did not consider this option. For much of the time Grime spent on Jersey, the report reveals, he was not even working with his dogs, but as an assistant to the Haut de la Garenne crime scene manager – duties for which he had no qualifications, and which did ‘not justify the payment to him of £650 a day’.
Meanwhile, Harper approached the National Police Improvement Agency (NPIA), the body that co-ordinates all UK national police functions and training, asking for advice about forensic experts and equipment such as ground-penetrating radar.
He went to London and met its chief executive, Peter Neyroud, a former Thames Valley chief constable and a seasoned murder investigator. ‘The narrative he gave me was that there had been abuse, maybe murder, and a cover-up by Jersey’s establishment,’ Neyroud said.
He explained that in a case like this, detectives would normally need weeks of painstaking preparation before they started to dig.
The SIO’s ‘bible’ – the ACPO Murder Manual – says planning a formal ‘search strategy’ is a ‘key priority’: instead of merely ‘fishing’, investigators should direct searches in the light of other evidence.
Neyroud said: ‘You certainly don’t go rushing in. I must say, I was surprised by how fast Lenny moved.’
Once Eddie started sniffing, any notion of a strategy disappeared. Karl Harrison, one of the scientists Harper brought in from a UK company, LGC Forensics, summed up the inquiry’s approach in a comment to the financial investigators.
He said: ‘We followed the dog. Where the dog barked was dug up.’ This, says the interim report, was ‘a fundamental error’.
Harper had not worked as a detective since 1991. In his website article he claims he was experienced at investigating child rape, ‘execution-style’ slayings and terrorism. In fact, he served as an SIO only in less complex cases, such as domestic murders.
The gaps in his knowledge were huge. The report says he had ‘little idea’ of how to use the HOLMES computer system, for years the mainstay of every major inquiry, and in one email to a colleague he asked: ‘What role does the analyst play?’ Analysts have been central to big investigations for almost 20 years.
Meanwhile, even before the ‘skull fragment’ was found, Harper was apparently thinking about how to achieve maximum media impact. Neyroud said: ‘He said he was getting local media coverage, but complained he hadn’t got traction beyond the island.
I recommended he talk to an experienced national reporter. I also said, “If you’re going to dig, you need to plan what you say to the media very carefully.” The last thing a sensitive inquiry like this needs is the kind of rampant speculation that was soon on every front page: you need to be very cautious about what you say, and to whom.’
Later, Anne Harrison, the NPIA’s head of operational support, paid several visits to Jersey with a former Met commander, Andre Baker. In his website article, Harper says these visits are evidence that his conduct of the case was ‘fully endorsed’ at UK national level.
However, asked whether he had ‘endorsed’ Harper’s actions, Baker said through a spokeswoman: ‘The investigation remains the sole responsibility of the investigating force, the Senior Investigating Officer and the chief officer.’
As for Harrison, said Neyroud, she was appalled to see Harper had completely ignored crucial parts of the Murder Manual and the NPIA’s advice about dealing with the media. Neyroud said: ‘Working out and sticking to a media strategy is also vital. Harper simply didn’t have one.’
Harrison sometimes found it difficult to see him, Neyroud added, because he was spending hours each day giving interviews to journalists. When Harper did make time to see Harrison, he said: ‘We do it the Jersey way here.’
Harper basked in the media attention. ‘Once we’d found the piece of “skull”, the excitement of telling the Press overwhelmed him,’ a former Jersey detective said. On one occasion, he said, he saw Harper punch the air, saying: ‘What a job to go out on!’
Harper, says the report, was rarely seen at the incident room in the police station in St Helier, where detectives were assembling evidence of non-lethal child abuse.
The detective said: ‘He usually just went straight to Haut de la Garenne. I had to drive out there to find out what was happening because he just wasn’t briefing us. It developed into two separate jobs – the sex-abuse inquiry at the police station, and the sexy scene at la Garenne.’
The report quotes another detective who said: ‘There was nothing fed from the scene into the incident room. God knows how they knew what they were looking for, because they had no idea of what was in the system.’
In his website article, Harper insists he was told by Jersey’s government that the eventual cost of his investigation was ‘irrelevant’ and that he should spend whatever he needed. Presumably the island’s leaders did not expect to have to subsidise Harper’s expensive habits.
The report says that between January and August 2008, Harper made six trips to Scotland Yard in London on expenses. He was always accompanied by between one and four other officers. The trips accounted for 18 days of Harper’s time and 41 days of his colleagues’ time.
None of the meetings at the Yard took more than two hours. Ostensibly, they were held to assess the possible security risks to Harper’s inquiry. But one Jersey detective who was there said: ‘If there was a discussion about assessing risk, it was so brief I hardly noticed it. It was mainly small talk, and discussion of where we were going out that night.’
Even if the meetings had all been essential, it would have been easy for Harper to fly to London and back on the same day. Yet he and the others always spent at least one and usually two nights in a four-star hotel.
This made some of his companions ‘uncomfortable’, the report says. But trying to get out of the trips ‘did not go down well with Lenny’.
Jersey police expenses policy sets a ceiling for dinner of £25.22 per head. It allows alcohol to be claimed only for ‘essential’ business entertainment. Officers must submit fully itemised restaurant bills.
These rules did not apply to Harper. For example, the report reveals that during a trip at the beginning of February 2008, he and a colleague submitted force credit-card receipts for three meals totalling £1,100.
As on later visits, they dined at the Bombay Brasserie, a high-end restaurant in Soho, and at Shepherd’s near Victoria, long favoured by politicians and senior officers from the Yard.
Sometimes the bills were extraordinary. On May 1, a dinner at Shepherd’s cost Jersey taxpayers £699, split among three police credit cards. As usual, there was no itemised receipt.
Harper was paying for an additional guest that night – a reporter from a Sunday newspaper. Given her presence, the report comments: ‘We do not see how this occasion can possibly be regarded as a business dinner within the terms of the policy.’
The other officers present told the investigators they believed Harper told them to put the cost on several cards to disguise how much they had spent.
Meanwhile, Harper was also claiming dinners in Jersey, at restaurants such as Chateau la Chaire, billed on its website as ‘truly one of Jersey’s finest country-house hotels’.
In all, the investigators found 49 separate claims between January and August on Harper’s and PC Linsell’s force cards for meals that cost more than £50. More than £5,700 was on Harper’s card alone.
The report contains other examples of Harper’s waste. Large sums were spent on overtime, with some officers claiming tens of thousands of pounds. Then there is PC Linsell, Harper’s chauffeur, who normally worked as a traffic officer.
‘He was required to be at Mr Harper’s disposal throughout the day and sometimes into the evening,’ the report says, ‘until Mr Harper decided he wanted to go home. The police vehicle would then have to be returned to police headquarters before PC Linsell could go off duty.’
There might be times when an SIO would need to be driven somewhere, the report says. ‘However, to have a personal chauffeur is a very different matter – not even the chief officer has a driver. The deployment of PC Linsell in this way could be regarded as an abuse.’
If Harper were still serving, his use of Linsell might well constitute a breach of the police discipline code, the report says.
Against this background, with Jersey the focus of the world’s media, the discovery that the ‘skull fragment’ found on February 23, 2008 was vegetable rather than human posed a big problem for Harper. He resorted to denial and exaggeration.
In his web article, Harper claims: ‘I had never said there was evidence of murder – only evidence that there was something that needed investigation.’
But on May 17 last year, when he was contacted by The Mail on Sunday about the ‘skull’ actually being coconut, he said the real story was that newly dug-up fragments ‘have been positively identified as being very young children’s bones’, buried as recently as the Eighties.
He added: ‘The anthropologists are saying we have dead children there, not a dead child.’ There were also teeth, and ‘experts are saying that these teeth could not possibly have come out naturally before death because there is so much of the root attached to them’.
The claims were false. On May 2, Harper had also emailed three senior Jersey officials saying he now had proof that a second child had been buried at Haut de la Garenne: ‘The bone fragments are from the skull of a child… The expert’s initial findings are that the child died fairly recently – confirmation will mean that a homicide inquiry will have to [be] launched.’
Last week, Harper and his supporter Syvret claimed this email was tampered with. But his former secretary, Vickie Ellis, has said in a police statement that she sent it exactly as he dictated it.
Two years after Operation Rectangle began, there is little to show for the £20million.
Besides Wateridge, a former resident of Haut de la Garenne has been convicted of assaulting children there and given probation. Another man, Claude Donnelly, got 15 years for raping several children, but these offences were not related to Haut de la Garenne. Two other men – who did not work at the home – have been charged.
For Mick Gradwell, who retired last month after 30 years as an officer, the only way to clear up the mess is to hold a public inquiry into both Harper and Jersey’s child abuse. He said: ‘This is one of the worst policing fiascos of modern times, and those responsible need to be called to account.’
Meanwhile, nothing infuriates those still serving more than the claim there has been a cover-up.
Dave Warcup said: ‘The inquiry team numbered between 40 and 50 experienced officers made up of both local officers and personnel seconded from the UK.
‘The majority of the team had no previous association with Jersey. These assertions are clearly fanciful. They are insulting to every individual who has worked in and around the inquiry.’