Alphonse Le Gastelois
|Alphonse Le Gastelois|
14 October 1914|
|Died||3 June 2012
|Education||St Martin's School|
|Occupation||Agricultural worker and fisherman|
|Height||1.6 m (5 ft 3 in)|
Alphonse Le Gastelois (14 October 1914 – 3 June 2012) was an agricultural worker and fisherman from Jersey who lived in self-imposed exile on the Ecréhous reef for 14 years after being wrongly accused of a string of child sex attacks. Fearing for his life, Le Gastelois felt compelled to leave Jersey to live on the small island six miles to the north east of Jersey, having been treated as a criminal and ostracised by many who lived on Jersey. Ten years later, on 10 July 1971, the real criminal, Edward Paisnel, nicknamed the Beast of Jersey, was caught and on 29 November 1971, was sentenced for 13 sex attacks, ending an 11-year reign of terror.
Suspicion and arrest
In a documentary, a journalist described how Le Gastelois liked to roam the country lanes at night. Stan de la Haye of the Honorary Police described Le Gastelois as a loner who wore a dirty old raincoat tied up with a piece of rope - thus matching the description of the wanted man.
Unfounded grudges against Le Gastelois were formed in fear, and fueled by the local police force in Jersey not speaking out to trample gossip. As the hysteria reached fever pitch, Le Gastelois' unconventional lifestyle led him to become one of 30 suspects arrested during an investigation by Scotland Yard. He was released after 14 hours of questioning due to a lack of evidence. His clothes were sent for forensic examination at Scotland Yard, and on release he was issued with ill-fitting clothes. Unlike the other suspects, Le Gastelois' name was released to the public, and became a scapegoat.
In the documentary, Le Gastelois said that the police had searched his house 12 times in 12 months.
In 1961, Advocate Denys Richardson took Le Gastelois out to the reef in his boat, where Le Gastelois took on some work refurbishing the hut belonging to Advocate Richardson, and doing odd jobs for other hut owners. He described his life on the reef as "paradise compared to what I've been through."
Reclusive life on the reef
From May 1961 until April 1975 and despite Paisnel's capture, Le Gastelois continued to live a quiet life of solitude on the islet of La Marmotière, explaining that he had become so used to it and it was his home with all his possessions there with him. His story became a cause célèbre and the bearded character soon established himself as the "King of the Ecréhous" and became an attraction for those visiting the reef.
The huts on the reef have no running water nor electricity. During the bitterly cold winters, there would be no visitors to the islands for months at a time. To survive, he lived off the land as best he could, becoming expert at finding lobsters in the expanse of rock pools at low tide. He collected rain water, and his diet also included seaweed and seagull eggs. Visitors to the reef would often bring him supplies and books from Jersey. He said in an interview that he did not like the fish but preferred the seaweed. To keep warm he would pull two tables together, cover them with a blanket to make a tent and then light a candle or small fire inside it.
King of the Ecréhous
Exonerated, Le Gastelois remained on the Écréhous where he formed the firm conviction based on what he had read in the law books given to him by visitors that the archipelago could become an independent entity since they were not permanently occupied. He claimed that status pursuant to Norman law in force since Rollo in 911, which provides that a person can claim possession of a deserted place if he lives there for 10 years. His request was formally submitted to the Queen, not as Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland but in her capacity as Duke of Normandy. His request was unsuccessful and the Écréhous remained a possession of the Bailiwick of Jersey.
Accusation of arson
After 14 years living as a hermit, in 1975 a posse of officials from Jersey went to the reef to exterminate rabbits which were said to be destroying what little vegetation existed there. As they were returning to Jersey, the biggest building on the reef, a hut belonging to Lady Trent caught fire and was destroyed. The rabbits were a source of food for Le Gastelois, who was arrested and accused of lighting the fire as an act of revenge. He was imprisoned for 3 months on remand, but at his subsequent Royal Court trial he was unanimously acquitted by the 24-strong jury who took just minutes to reach their 'not guilty' verdict.
Return to Jersey
Despite saying that he had no reason to go back to Jersey, Le Gastelois did not return to the Écréhous and remained in Jersey from 1975 until his death in June 2012. He moved into a single room at the rear end of a cottage in Dumaresq Street, St. Helier owned by the States of Jersey. He mostly kept himself locked in. He suffered severe back pain which impaired his ability to walk very far. Having received no pension he was living in extreme poverty.
Later he lived at Victoria Cottage Homes for 3 years, then Guardian Nursing Home for another 3 years and then the last 18 months of his life at Palm Springs nursing home.
Interviews and documentary
In 1999, The States of Jersey debated a proposition brought by Senator J.S. Rothwell to pay Le Gastelois £20,000 in compensation as a token of support to redress the injustice that he had suffered. In a BBC interview, he was quoted as saying "What can you do? You can't rebuild my life, you can't rebuild me. I don't want much now, only want to be left in peace." He said of the proposed compensation: "It's a bit late in life but it will help."
The Finance and Economics Committee presented written comments to the States, expressing their sympathy for Le Gastelois' circumstances but in their opinion paying compensation could establish a precedent. After the States voted in favour of holding the debate in camera, Senator Rothwell withdrew his proposition.
Le Gastelois never married, and he left no children. His nephew William Du Heaume and wife Valerie Du Heaume along with their family still live in the island. Valerie Du Heaume looked after him when his health failed. She has called for the States of Jersey to make a public apology, and for a memorial to him to be placed on the reef.
Amongst the many friends that attended his funeral were 9 expert mariners from Normandy who had been amongst Le Gastelois' most frequent visitors during his exile, including Alain Blancheton, former harbourmaster of Carteret who gave the eulogy.
Shortly after Le Gastelois' death, a Facebook group was set up to gain public support for a suitable memorial. St Martin's honorary police also expressed interest. The Facebook group has suggested "Wrongly Accused; forgive us" as a suitable epitaph. A letter to the editor of the Jersey Evening Post suggested that Jersey Heritage which each year commissions a portrait of one of the Island's well known citizens should select Le Gastelois as its next subject.
Scriptwriter Andrea Earl has written a play about Le Gastelois' life. It was performed for the first time at Jersey Opera House on 28 October 2014, the month being the 100th year anniversary of his birth. 
- "Jersey Heritage Trust". Jersey Heritage Trust. Archived from the original on 2012-06-12. Retrieved 12 June 2012.
- Histoire des Minquiers et des Ecréhou, Robert Sinsoilliez, St Malo 1995, ISBN 2-905970-97-9
- Article in Jersey Evening Post This is Jersey 3 June 2012
- Jersey Witches, Ghosts & Traditions, Hillsdon, Norwich 1987, ISBN 0-7117-0371-X
- "King in exile who fled from an Island's curses". Jersey Evening Post. 14 June 2012.
- http://www.channelonline.tv/channelonline_jerseynews/DisplayArticle.asp?ID=499845 Article online Channel Online TV Announcing his Death in Jersey 3 June 2012
- "'Sex exile' compensation call". BBC News. 14 September 1999. Retrieved 11 June 2012.
- Rothwell, John Stephen (10 August 1999). "Alphonse Le Gastelois: Ex Gratia Payment". States Greffe. p. 3. Retrieved 13 June 2012.
- "Frankly Speaking: Alphonse le Gastelois - 1968". Channel Television. Retrieved 7 September 2012.
- "A 1998 documentary 'King of the Ecrehous'". Channel Television. Retrieved 11 June 2012.
- "States Assembly Minutes 14th September 1999". States of Jersey. Retrieved 13 June 2012.
- "Death of falsely accused exile Alphonse Le Gastelois". BBC Jersey. 8 June 2012. Retrieved 11 June 2012.
- "Beast of Jersey falsely accused Alphonse Le Gastelois dies". BBC Jersey. 7 June 2012. Retrieved 11 June 2012.
- "Alphonse Le Gastelois: Ex-Gratia Payment (p.111/99): Comments". States Greffe. 14 September 1999. Retrieved 13 June 2012.
- "Alphonse family demand apology". Jersey Evening Post. 23 June 2012. Retrieved 23 June 2012.
- "Friends from Normandy recall regular visits to Ecrehous exile". Jersey Evening Post. 14 June 2012.
- https://www.facebook.com/pages/Alphonse-Le-Gastelois-Memorial-Group/312958635455442/ Alphonse Le Gastelois Memorial Group
- Duhamel, E (18 June 2012). "An official portrait would be a fitting tribute to this man". Jersey Evening Post.
- Kay, Gill (2013-06-20). "The stage is to be set for the life of a recluse". Jersey Evening Post (Jersey Evening Post). p. 48.
- Kay, Gill (2014-10-28). "The life and death of a king". Jersey Evening Post. p. 48.
- BBC radio report by James Ingham
- YouTube video of a yacht arriving at Les Ecréhous, showing Alphonse Le Gastelois on the island
- "Le seigneur des Ecréhou tire sa révérence" - obituary on French TV channel "France 3"
- "Manche Libre" - Alain Blancheton, historien, raconte Alphonse Le Gastelois, ermite des Ecréhou
- Jersey Evening Post leader "To the beat of his own drum"