The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has been forced to admit it made an "erroneous" report to the United Nations in which it denied the South Atlantic island of St Helena had problems with child abuse.
Two UK social workers who went to work on St Helena – which, together with Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, forms part of a British Overseas Territory – were shocked by what they found on the island.
Claire Gannon and Martin Warsama went to work on St Helena but say they were victimised, ignored and finally forced out for whistleblowing about child abuse. They are now suing the FCO and Department for International Development for constructive dismissal.
They are now suing the FCO and Department for International Development for constructive dismissal.
On learning of the social worker's claims, the FCO commissioned a report by children's charity the Lucy Faithfull Foundation. The report's draft findings – leaked to the whistleblower website - included:
- Saint Helena has a culture of acceptance of child abuse.
- There are a number of serial child sex offenders and serial victims on the island.
- Female victims of child abuse are dubbed 'slags' by islanders and persecuted.
- Juries only convict the most serious sexual abuse cases.
- Puberty, rather than the age of consent, is considered acceptable for sex.
- Police are too accepting of older men's relationships with underage girls.
- Brutal sexual conduct is considered the norm.
The report also raises concerns that a British-funded airport due to open in 2016 could make St Helena a magnet for sex tourists who wish to have sex with young girls: "Existing vulnerabilities and confusions on St Helena in respect of sexual conduct might prove ripe for exploitation by more sophisticated visitors."
The report was not published. When the FCO was asked by the UN about the island in 2013, the FCO said the report found "no evidence of sexual exploitation".
The FCO has now told the Sunday Times: "It was a former member of St Helena government staff who included the erroneous line in the report, and we have now changed the clearance process so it can't happen again."