Police in Jersey have begun to uncover the secrets of the former children’s home at the centre of a child-abuse investigation that they fear could turn into a mass-murder inquiry.
A key part of their investigation has focused on the house and grounds of what is now the Haut de la Garenne youth hostel in St Martin, but which was a care home for children until 1986.
A specially trained sniffer dog, which can detect the scent of human remains, and equipment that can scan underground were brought in — and several areas were identified for investigation.
Former residents of the home at Haut de la Garenne have alleged they were locked up, drugged and systematically abused in cellars under the building. Police dug into the first cellar on Wednesday and have discovered a second bricked-up chamber that they are trying to enter. Neither of the rooms appeared on site plans of the building.
The dog, which is trained to detect human remains, barked at an area next to an object attached to the floor of the first cellar, but police refused to reveal what the item was.
Police said the room had been filled with rubble and dust and would take several days to search.
The child abuse investigation at Haut de la Garenne involves more than 160 victims over a 40-year period.
Search teams found a child’s skull and remains at the site on February 23. They are being analysed in Britain.
Deputy chief police officer Lenny Harper said what had been discovered in the first chamber was in line with some of the evidence from alleged victims, although he denied that shackles were found. He said: “The initial look at what is in there certainly corroborates some of the victims.”
A builder who helped to transform the then dilapidated home into a youth hostel four years ago said workmen discovered a trapdoor leading down to a windowless room in which a single chair and shackles remained.
Harper said: “There is another room of the same size that appears to have been bricked up. “Some of the bricking up appears suspicious but there could be an innocent explanation for it.”
Police believe both cellars measure about 3.7 metres by 3.7 metres.
There are now more than 200 alleged victims and witnesses in the investigation. Police have received more than 70 calls since the human remains were discovered, with Harper saying that many only came forward after they had seen others do so because they feared the repercussions.
One suspect, a 76-year-old man, has been arrested and charged with indecent assault for allegedly abusing three young girls at the home from 1969 to 1979. The investigation extends as far as Australia and Thailand, where witness statements have been taken.
Unsettling questions are being asked: Are there more victims buried on the grounds or hidden in a bricked-up cellar discovered inside the building? Could the perpetrators of abuse be a friend, a neighbour or other acquaintance?