The Journalist Who Was Arrested for Investigating a Pedophile Orphanage
Jersey is an island of around 100,000 people nestled into a cozy nook between Guernsey and the coast of Normandy. It’s mostly been recognized in recent public memory for its potatoes and the fact that it’s basically in France but everyone there speaks English. In 2008, however, small human remains were found at Haut de la Garenne, a former orphanage on the island. A subsequent investigation exposed a history of sexual abuseat the orphanage, tainting the good name of the people of Jersey in the world’s media.
The list of suspects in the case included British government officials and—according to the detective who led the three-year child abuse probe—Jimmy Savile was also investigated by police, four years before the full extent of his crimes would eventually be exposed. The problem is, because Jersey is self-governing and has its own, slightly unorthodox courts system, decades of potential crime against children in the orphanage remain almost entirely hidden, unexamined, and untried. Since the initial media Mardi Gras, international interest has faded and locals who have continued searching for justice—including bloggers, senators and police—have been shouted down.
When American journalist Leah McGrath Goodman heard about the story she made plans to write a book about the orphanage, but was met with resistance. In July 2011, she went to Jersey’s immigration office to check that the apartment and office space she was leasing to help with her research was in order. The officer assured her that everything was fine and they were happy to help, until she told him about her specific interest in the orphanage. The officer left the room and returned with his boss, who repeatedly told her to get a “writer’s visa.” These are hard to obtain in Jersey, primarily because they do not exist.
That September, after stopping in London on the way to Austria, Leah was held under arrest in Heathrowairport for 12 hours, searched, and granted no opportunity to contact her consulate or family. The UK Border Agency said it was all being done at the request of Jersey. Leah was then sent back to New York and banned from the UK. A year and five months later, with the help of a petition and parliamentary member John Hemming, Leah has permission to re-enter, so I thought it would be a good time to ring her for a chat.