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OPINION: Oh what a tangled web they weave!

OPINION: Oh what a tangled web they weave!

Tuesday 20 April 2021

OPINION: Oh what a tangled web they weave!


If ministers and civil servants in the UK were embroiled in a scandal like 'Gatland-gate', they would resign, writes Tim Chesney.

"The moment of hubris has arrived for the CCA (Civil Contingencies Authority).

Draconian rules have been enforced by the CCA on all of us over here as never before with the full might of the law thrown at anyone who infringes any rule.

As Mr Whitfield (the Chief Executive of the States of Guernsey who sits with the CCA) reminded us: "those who travel with an essential permit will still be required to adhere to all of the Bailiwick travel restrictions including self-isolation and testing rules.......it won’t be a soft approach, we will be strict in ensuring any journey that isn't essential is declined. We know that this will leave some people unhappy."

People have been unable to see loved ones off island for more than a year now, even in extremis including end-of-life moments. There has been immense mental anguish. The CCA's response is unnuanced, with harsh punishment for any infraction, no ifs, no buts. Even pensioners have been sent to prison [Editor's note: for failure to pay self-isolation fines].

Virtually nothing is deemed essential, unless, it seems, some of those on the CCA [Editor's note: Deputy Peter Ferbrache was the only voting CCA member consulted by senior officers and CCA advisers] wish to meet and eat with Warren Gatland, head coach of the British Lions. It is then an 'essential' visit. Rules enforced on us seemingly become a la carte for others. 

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Pictured: Deputy Ferbrache said on Friday that his team had been "a little clumsy" in its communication of the decision to grant Mr Gatland a special exemption to travel to Guernsey without having to isolate.

Dr Nicola Brink, Director of Public Health assured us after (note 'after') Mr Gatland's visit, and I quote as reported in the media: "This was a short visit over two days that was very tightly controlled, so we were comfortable it could be done safely. Measures including a post-travel test result, test on arrival, testing on each day, remaining in a hotel room with room service for meals and only leaving to visit a specific location or drive around the island in a car, were put in place."

So a specific public reassurance was given by Dr Brink that rules and regulations were not broken. Although an exception from 14 days' quarantine was granted, we were told that Mr Gatland had had his meals in his hotel room with room service and there was no unnecessary mixing. 

But hold on a minute, it wasn’t like that at all, was it?

No it wasn’t, because we learned from the media after the visit that the Chief Minister and Chairman of the CCA, Deputy Peter Ferbrache, Dr Brink and Mr Whitfield met Mr Gatland for a sandwich lunch. A group of people (including Mr Whitfield and others unnamed) then attended a dinner with Mr Gatland at the hotel where he was staying.

ITV News reported: "this new information from Guernsey's government (i.e. about Mr Gatland having meals outside his room with others) contradicts an earlier statement from the Director of Public Health, which was sent to the media detailing the arrangements which had been put in place."

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Pictured: Warren Gatland was given an exemption to visit for two days without isolating, providing certain requirements were followed including daily negative tests for Covid-19.

We heard from Bailiwick Express that "an original press statement which said Mr Gatland had room service deliver meals to him in his hotel suite throughout his two-day visit was shown to be untrue, as Mr Gatland ate with the Chief Minister Peter Ferbrache, States CEO Paul Whitfield and Public Health Director Nicola Brink at Footes Lane before being invited to a private dinner with 'a small group of people' at the hotel he was staying at.'"

Is this not rank hypocrisy? 

If the truth had not filtered out the long suffering public would probably never have known what really happened. What else has conveniently slipped under the public radar?

There seems some obfuscation about who made the decisions, but the exact decision-making process really doesn't matter. The fact is those three key people who sit at CCA Press Briefings must have known about what happened (we now know that these three people attended at least one of the meals with Mr Gatland). 

We know that Peter Ferbrache, Dr Brink and Mr Whitfield - who have all been instrumental in using emergency powers granted to them to enforce the rules that apply to the rest of us - met with Mr Gatland and others for a meal and, by doing that, drove a coach and horses through the regulations that the rest of us have to adhere to.

CCA decision making is opaque; no minutes of any meetings are disclosed, despite numerous requests. But we do know that decisions about visits to the island and rules that apply (always punitive in nature with inflexible quarantine) emanate from Dr Brink and her team. It is always minimum of 14 days' quarantine. Mixing with anyone outside your 'bubble' is punished severely.

st pierre park

Pictured: Despite an original press statement to the contrary, there was actually two meals at Footes Lane and St Pierre Park, pictured. 

The excuse now made for the meals with Mr Gatland, as if it were just a storm in a teacup, is that the 'comms' were bad. It has nothing to do with bad 'comms'; it has everything to do with behaviour. It goes to the core of trust in those who exercise power, and even worse, near absolute power. It is the classic example of one rule for the rest of us, but these rules are now apparently voluntary for others.

The unvarnished truth is that meals with Mr Gatland were attended by those people and others unnamed, presumably enjoying the star dust from mixing with a celebrity who has come over from the UK, but who has not quarantined. 

If ministers and civil servants in the UK (or any democracy) were embroiled in a scandal like this, they would resign. The pressure of outraged public opinion and a free press would make that happen. This should now apply to Deputy Ferbrache, Dr Brink and Mr Whitfield, and to any other members of the CCA or advisers if they also attended those meals.

They should do the honourable thing, which is to apologise to the thousands who have suffered locked away over here, unable to see their loved ones for over a year, and resign. They have forfeited our trust. In April 2020 Dr Catherine Calderwood did the right thing when she resigned from her post as Scotland's Chief Medical Officer after breaking Covid regulations. 

The conduct of at least certain members of the CCA during the Gatland visit has done no favours to our island because it has attracted widespread negative publicity.

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Pictured: The now infamous 'room service' quote from the original media release was attributed to Dr Brink, who apologised to the community at Friday's media briefing. 

As for Mr Gatland, no wonder he opted for Jersey. Why would he have given one further thought to bringing the British Lions to Guernsey when he has unwittingly been entangled in a scandal that is completely the fault of his hosts? 

The CCA drills into us endlessly, every week, their dire warnings and directions, insisting on absolute compliance with the regulations they have imposed on us - and that is why the conduct of at least some of these people during the Gatland visit is a hammer blow to the community solar plexus. It is seen by many people in Guernsey as an astonishing example of hypocrisy and double standards, a betrayal of trust that must not be allowed to be brushed under the carpet by any political spin. 

Emergency Powers should be rescinded immediately - there is no longer an emergency - and transparent democracy should resume."

  • Tim Chesney was educated at Elizabeth College. He studied at university and worked in the UK before returning to Guernsey and starting an international tyre company. It grew to become on of the leading tyre companies in Europe. He sold a large part of his company in 2010. Today, he is Chief Executive of Compass Group Ltd, one of the biggest trading companies in the island, which now has a diverse multi-jurisdiction property portfolio, as well as other companies in the Group.

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