The Journalist, the Jerseymen, and the Trillion-Dollar Island (with Leah McGrath Goodman)
To protect its anonymity, Jersey will go to extremes, including the illegal detention of reporters at airport black sites.
ON SEPTEMBER 11, 2011, Leah McGrath Goodman arrived at Heathrow Airport, where she was taking a connecting flight to Vienna. No stranger to Great Britain, she’d flown to that airport on numerous occasions. She held a Tier-1 U.K. work visa and had lived for a while in London.
But this time was different.
“Come with us,” the officious immigration officer told her. “We want to ask some questions.”
They took her to a room. They collected her luggage—that was strange. They brought her to a different room, an underground holding cell. When asked why she was being held, she was handed a slip of paper that read: “You have been detained under paragraph 16 of Schedule 2 to the 1971 Act or arrested under paragraph 17 of Schedule 2 to that Act,” which was neither terribly helpful nor particularly reassuring. They photographed and fingerprinted her. When she asked to speak to her lawyer, or to the American embassy, the official refused. “You are not in the United States,” he said. “And you are not in the United Kingdom. You are nowhere.” And he left, locking the door from outside.
“Heathrow Airport,” Goodman told me, “is a black site.”
She would spend over 12 hours in that godforsaken place—well past the legal detention limit. When they finally released her, they revoked her visa and deported her to the U.S.
Leah McGrath Goodman, a journalist, had been eighty-sixed from the U.K.—for two years. It took some doing to get the ban lifted.
Two years later, the detention of another foreigner at Heathrow—David Miranda, husband of controversial columnist Glenn Greenwald—would make international headlines. But Greenwald was the de facto PR flak for Edward Snowden, a Russian intelligence tool whose acts of espionage comprised the worst national security crime in recent U.S. history. Miranda was carrying a flash drive to Greenwald’s colleague, Lauren Poitras, that American officials believed contained documents Snowden had stolen. Whatever you think of Miranda’s detention—or, for that matter, my characterization of Snowden as a seditious spy and not a heroic whistleblower—the fact remains that the United States had, at the very least, a legitimate national security reason to detain Miranda and seize the flash drive. The British High Court and Court of Appeal both agreed.
But Goodman was not suspected of ferrying flash drives of filched NSA data. Neither U.S. nor British intelligence wanted anything to do with her. She was a working journalist with a book out and a spotless record. So what gives?
She was flagged by officials from Jersey, a 45-square-mile island off the coast of France that is a British Crown Dependency. She was flagged because she was investigating the scandal involving the human remains found at Haut de la Garenne, the now-notorious orphanage on the island. She was flagged because she was asking questions on the ground that the Jerseymen did not want asked, let alone answered. What better way to silence an American investigative journalist than to bar her from entering the country?
“You realize,” she told the Londoner interrogating her, who seemed just as puzzled as she was by the proceedings, “that I’m here because I’m writing about the child abuse scandal, right?”
In Jersey, silence is golden. This is a jurisdiction where child sex abuse is tolerated, where money laundering and tax evasion is encouraged, but where any attempt to investigate said child sex abuse or financial crimes is met with fierce, powerful, and often nasty resistance. These people play dirty. The Jersey tactics would make Roger Stone tip his chapeau. And the kicker is: the individual ultimately responsible for the bad behavior on Jersey is—improbably, but indubitably—Queen Elizabeth II.
As I wrote a few week ago in “Jersey (Off) Shore:”
There’s a place in the English-speaking world where a small group of wealthy and influential elites, working at the behest of an absentee monarch, hold absolute sway over the legislature, the judiciary, the media, and law enforcement—and where absolute power, to paraphrase Lord Acton, has led to absolute corruption. That place is the Bailiwick of Jersey, one of the Channel Islands off the coast of France. That group of elites gives succor to some of the worst criminals on the planet, who park their ill-gained loot on the island. And that absentee monarch is Great Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II.
Goodman’s years of investigation into the child abuse at Haut de la Garenne culminated in a BBC documentary she executive produced, called Dark Secrets of a Trillion Dollar Island: Garenne, that aired earlier this year. That documentary
tells the extraordinary story of the child abuse scandal that erupted on the idyllic island of Jersey in 2007. For a long time, the victims’ voices had remained unheard, but when widespread allegations of sexual abuse resurfaced in the late 2000s, Jersey’s then health minister Stuart Syvret spoke out about the scale of this historic child abuse and the damage done to the victims.
Syvret’s words sparked a moment of reckoning for the small community, whose leaders were determined to protect the island’s reputation, home to a trillion dollars in offshore investment. This discreet offshore tax haven found itself in the middle of a major police investigation as the world’s media descended on the island, creating a media circus. In the midst of all this, the community became divided, with one group fearful that the scandal would drive investors away, and another demanding justice for the victims.
Even now, after Garenne aired, the Queen and her ministers continue to obfuscate. The hope seems to be that no one really cares about this, that the storm will blow over, and that Jersey will once again enjoy the off-the-beaten-path discretion that has made it the world’s pre-eminent tax haven.
“If you had told me the Queen would be mixed up in this, I would have laughed,” Goodman told me.
But there is the rub: in a Crown Dependency like Jersey, Elizabeth Part Deux is not a figurehead but an actual, functioning monarch, with powers bordering on the dictatorial. She could clean up the mess there with a few waves of her primly-gloved hand. But she does not. Instead, she pretends to be hapless, while bestowing knighthoods upon the ministers who cover up the crimes, granting residential status to well-heeled Russian oligarchs like Roman Abramovich, and siccing the proverbial dogs on honorable island politicians like Stuart Syvret and pesky foreign reporters like Leah McGrath Goodman. Whatever she might claim, the Queen’s abominable actions and non-actions with regard to Jersey make her position perfectly clear. It’s an ugly business, made uglier by the utter contempt the Crown displays for truth, decency, and rule of law.
As Syvret writes, in Jersey, “a poisonous mish-mash of toxic spivs, liars, charlatans, rapists, bent ‘judges,’ racketeers, fraudsters, arms-traders, corrupt cops, serial murderers, child abusers, gangster lawyers, and mafia syndicates was able to ‘play’ the monarchy's ‘court’—and thus win-out over victims of child abuse, victims of rape, victims of attempted murder—and those who were on their side, such as good police officers and good politicians. So when we look at the British monarch—understand this—we are looking at the world’s premier anarchist.”
Not quite anarchy in the U.K., but anarchy in the Crown Dependencies? Absolutely. When you’ve made a career and earned a knighthood by covering up child sex abuse, the rule of law ceases to have any meaning. Illegally detaining an innocent journalist is small potatoes.
Description: The Bailiwick of Jersey, the British Crown Dependency in the Channel Islands, has long been a tax haven for corporations, criminals, royals, and rich people who don’t like to pay their fair share. It’s also one of the most corrupt places in the Western world. Greg Olear talks with investigative journalist Leah McGrath Goodman—author of the recent article “The Heiress, the Queen, and the Trillion Dollar Island” and the EP of the BBC documentary “Dark Secrets of a Trillion Dollar Island: Garenne”—about her years of reporting on the island, as well as Bitcoin’s founder, 2020’s oil market chicanery, Goodman’s new Arianna Huffington biography, and NYC umbrellas. Plus: A word from our sponsor, the Bank of the Badda Bing.
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Photo credit: CCTV footage of Leah McGrath Goodman being detained at Heathrow Airport.