Torn from his parents as a child, illegally trafficked from Morocco to Jersey and “failed at every turn” by the Children’s Services...a heartfelt letter from a young man’s foster parents has shone a light on the “shocking” backdrop to the drug offences that landed him behind bars.
Now a British citizen, the young man is listed on Royal Court documents as Elias Campbell Benyoucef, but, as a result of being illegally trafficked from Morocco to the island aged five, the 23-year-old doesn’t know his real name or who his biological parents are.
Elias was yesterday jailed for four-and-a-half years after he was caught ‘minding’ large quantities of cannabis and ecstasy as well as being in possession of various personal amounts of the drugs and other utensils for the substances – offences which put him in breach of a previously imposed community service order.
At his sentencing hearing, his lawyer – Advocate Michael Haines – described his client’s upbringing as “uniquely troubled” and “shocking”, recounting to the Court how he was just five years old when he was brought illegally to the island without knowing one word of English.
Pictured: The young man was brought to the island illegally when he was just five years old.
Describing the young man as having been “failed by the Children’s Service”, Advocate Haines called upon the Royal Court to take his client’s difficult background into account when imposing their sentence.
As part of his defence, the young man’s foster parents – who cared for him when he was a teenager – penned a reference letter cataloguing the ways in which Elias was “failed at every turn” by a system they slammed as being “dysfunctional” and “broken.”
They said that, during their time as foster parents, they "witnessed failure at every level and in catastrophic ways by not meeting basic human rights needs for our young people”, adding that due to this, they “could fight no more.”
Speaking to Express after the sentencing, his foster mother elaborated on her concerns: “When you’re up against a service that is not fully looking after a child, you don’t stand a chance. Elias didn’t stand a chance… It’s very hard to live with what’s happened to him, really.”
Pictured: Elias Campbell Benyoucef was sentenced in the Royal Court for various drugs offences and breaching his community service order.
In their reference, his foster parents speak of Elias as “the funniest, sweetest young man you could ever wish to meet” whose troubled circumstances and lack of support has meant he could never live up to his promising potential.
Speaking to Express, the woman fondly reminisced that Elias “just made you laugh every day. He was a clown… he’s got the sweetest smile and he’s got the most beautiful manners – he’s got better manners than my own kids!"
So perturbed were Elias’s foster parents by what he went through with the Children’s Services that it contributed to their decision to resign as carers after around a decade of welcoming children into their home.
Hoping that it would “give [the Court] a glimpse into what Elias has had to suffer all these years”, they enclosed an extract of their 27-page resignation letter, which was sent to Children's Services' senior management in January of last year.
The extract, penned by his foster mother, documents a series of alarming examples of when Elias was let down by the institutions designed to help him.
Pictured: The letter documents a catalogue of failures which befell the young man prior to him ending up in Court.
“Quite honestly, we truly believe he would have fared better if he had been returned and even dumped on the streets of Morocco,” she states.
Teamed with her foster son's abandonment issues, she explained that a lack of familial or Government supervision led him to socialise with “the wrong people” and ultimately saw him “drifting into a drug culture” - a far cry from the reaching the potential he showed as a performing youngster.
“This amazing young man who made us laugh so much, who raised the roof at the Opera House when he won the Eisteddfod drumming competition, who rapped in the most beautiful voice at the Rock School with the Youth Service, who had amazing friends who all went on to do great things, who we all loved, and had so much promise, was failed at every turn," his foster mother wrote.
She welcomed Elias into her home for around two years when he was 15, but as he got older it was later agreed that he would benefit from a more formalised pathway for those leaving care - a system she believes did not provide him with adequate protection for beginning adult life.
“I will live with the regret of letting him go as we now understand this system is broken and not fit for purpose," she stated.
According to Elias’s former carer, his story is one of many cases she witnessed as a fosterer where the care system "continued the neglect" experienced by children like Elias in their upbringing rather than alleviating it.
“What happened to this young boy will stay with us for the rest of our lives. There are many young people like him, kept on the bottom rung of the ladder, scrapping a life; future benefit dependents, prison users, drug users, mental health users, wasted lives. Trying to survive not thrive. What a huge cost to us all.”
Pictured: Elias has been jailed for four-and-a-half years for the drugs offences.
Now, his foster mum is committed to finding Elias’s biological family in Morocco and has been working with the newly-named Children, Young People, Education and Skills (CYPES) department to make this happen.
“Elias has no one and is rotting from inside – I simply cannot imagine not having a soul to call your own. He has a mother, somewhere, not too far she just needs to be found…”
Handing down the Court’s sentence, the Bailiff addressed Elias directly, acknowledging his previous struggles but reminding him: “You are a young man; your life is ahead of you… you can turn it around.”
When approached by Express for a response to the concerns raised about the Children’s Services in the foster parents’ letter, Director General of CYPES Mark Rogers said: “Although we cannot comment on individual cases, we would like to take this opportunity to reiterate that the Government of Jersey recognises that, in the past, it has not done enough to protect, support and nurture vulnerable children and young people. We are currently making wide-ranging improvements to address the historic failings so that every child in Jersey has a bright future.
“The Government’s ambition is for Jersey to be the best place for children to grow up in but we acknowledge that progressing from a low base isn’t proving either quick or easy. Our practices, systems, processes and reputation all need improving, which is a long-term endeavour but one that we are fully committed to bringing about.”
Pictured top: A younger Elias at his school prom when he was still in his foster family's care.
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